Hope Blooms Like a Flower in the Places You Least Expect: Prerna Girl Simran Taking a Flight to Her Dreams

Try to situate yourself in a fictitious space I have created for you. As you step into the inexpensive shoes of a lower middle class adolescent girl in India and find yourself amidst some of your male family members, negotiating your marriage with a stranger, all you could do is visualise yourself as one of the birds that are fluttering their wings in the morning sky outside your window. While the birds are gaily flying out of their nests, conversations are being held in the room to tether you to domesticity. Dreams of pursuing higher education and following your passion actively are coming in and out of your mind, and all your parents ask of you is a complete abandonment of those dreams that will concomitantly ensure your being the good bride the society expects you to be.

It might send a shiver down your spine to even think of inhabiting this imaginative narrative space, but this is the lived experience of millions of Indian girls and women. Systemic masculine domination weighs like the heaviest stone on their tender young souls. Without proper cognisance of their oppression, these women have been divested of narrative agency since time immemorial. This reality of many women, mostly in the rural spaces of the nation, is saturated with darkness. But does that imply we should relinquish the human instinct to dream, to search for a glimmer of light on the darkest of nights? Never so, because hope blooms like a flower in the places you least expect.

(Image Courtesy: unicef.org)

Prerna Girls’ School has become a site for women’s emancipation over the last two decades. Situated in Lucknow in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, this school is highly subsidised by Study Hall Educational Foundation (SHEF) that intends to make quality education accessible to girls from low-income families and historically marginalised communities. But the contributions of Prerna towards the empowerment of women is not confined within the spatial boundaries of academics solely. ‘Prerna’, literally translating to motivation in English, has been encouraging young girls to rise above the narrow familial and societal impediments and impositions, and write their own narratives of success. It has given birth in them the courage and spirit to voice their opinions against male members in their families, in the likes of brothers and fathers, who have left no stone unturned to literally sell girl children into early marriages conveniently. Prerna’s has been a poetry of ambition and courage, of growth and hope, to begin with.

Simran Verma

Simran Verma, a student of standard ten at Prerna Girls’ School, hails from a humble family that struggles to make ends meet. To make the family’s condition hit rock bottom, Prerna lost her father to a prolonged illness three years back, and even her extended family did not come to this hapless and helpless family’s rescue. Her mother works in the capacity of a domestic help to feed herself and her daughters. Determined to overcome all hardships that stood like hurdles on the track she has been treading, Simran aced all exams and is selected by SHEF for the YES programme to study in the US. Through the Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) programme, Simran has achieved an opportunity to work on the dream her mind has long since harboured- the dream to study and be a doctor. With Simran, Prerna celebrates their tenth girl who has made it to the US to pursue higher education. As Simran put it in an interview with Her World India (https://youtu.be/xPqcrjYG8ic) , girls like her dream, and it is the aim of Prerna to fulfil the same.

In the above-mentioned interview, Simran held the view that it is necessary for a girl to propel herself ahead, and not leave oneself at the mercy of others. The Constitution of India ensures both the sexes’ equality in their right to education, and it is imperative on every girl and woman’s part to translate this abstract idea on the pages of the Constitution to reality. The path towards this is coarse and thorny, but even with aching and bleeding feet no woman should abandon their pursuit of this trio- that of education, economic independence, and freedom. To quote Simran, “Women who were earlier afraid of speaking in their own houses, who used to be suppressed by their brothers, by their fathers can now express their views and opinions before everyone only because of Prerna” (translated from Hindi). What she has laid stress on is the need to nurture the confidence to speak even when one is not fluent in some language, acknowledging the fact that she is aware of the linguistic barrier that she might face in the US. In her time in the States, she wishes to explore new possibilities, and walk that extra mile to make her longstanding aspirations her lived experience.

Dr. Sahni

The architect of these girls’ dreams has been Dr. Urvashi Sahni, the Founder and Director of Prerna Girls’ School. She believes that young girls need to be made aware of their exploitation and oppression so that they cease to find complacency and illusory fulfilment in domestic incarceration. Through critical dialogues and other ways of communication, she seeks to dismantle the arbitrary cultural impositions on women, and teach them that being a wife and a mother should not be the sole determinants of their identity. To develop one’s self, they need to be aware of who they are and of the power buried in them. Dr. Sahni wants her girls to “learn how to fight for their rights”. She provides narrative impetus to their poetry of ambition and growth. Together with the Principal of Prerna Girls’ School Rakhee Panjwani, Dr. Sahni helps girls reclaim their lost voices. They let the young girls spread their wings, soar high up in the sky, and journey towards freedom. This image brought to my mind Maya Angelou’s celebrated poem ‘Still I Rise’, the last stanza of which begins like this-

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’ wondrously clear

I rise.

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