45 days after HC order: TS govt's inaction on KNPW's discontinued courses risks lives of young girls

"Why is the government spending on programmes like Kalyan Lakshmi and Shadi Mubarak? Instead, they can spend on the girl children's education. Why is the government sending the wrong message that marriage is the ultimate thing for a girl?" asks child rights activist Dr. Shantha.

By Nimisha S Pradeep  Published on  24 May 2022 10:29 AM GMT
45 days after HC order: TS govts inaction on KNPWs discontinued courses risks lives of young girls

Hyderabad: Anusha is a final-year student of garment technology, a three-year diploma course at the Kamala Nehru Polytechnic for Women (KNPW), one of the oldest polytechnic colleges for women in Hyderabad. She still clearly remembers the time after she completed her class X in 2019 when she had to prove to her parents that she wanted to study further. Her father and mother work as housekeeping staff at the airport and there have always been financial constraints at her home. If not for her hard work and dedication to finding an affordable course and getting a seat in the same, she would have ended up married to someone, and doing the household chores.

"I found this diploma course on garment technology at KNPW on my own after doing some research. It was way cheaper than other private colleges outside. Here, I need to pay only Rs. 12,000 for the entire course for three years whereas in other private colleges outside, I would have had to pay at least Rs. 1,50,000 per year for the same course," says Anusha who will finish her course this year.

She is worried for many girls like her who come from financially weaker backgrounds but wish to continue their education. Their future looks bleak as the government has not taken any steps to resume the four aided diploma courses at KNPW despite the High Court of Telangana, on 7 April, directing it to take action within 45 days. 23 May was the 45th day.

NewsMeter looks at the potential problems that the government's inaction poses to the lives of hundreds of girl students belonging to poor families.

How did it all begin?

In July 2021, the college's name was missing from the list of the state's polytechnic colleges ahead of the Polycet-2021. Four of the aided courses in the college – diploma in architecture, hotel management, pharmacy, and garment technology – were stopped by the college management and no admissions to these courses were done in 2021. The Exhibition Society, which runs the college, cited a lack of funds from the state government as the reason for stopping the courses.

"These courses are really good as they provide industrial standard machines, dying labs, etc. and also good job opportunities. We can start a boutique of our own and become self-empowered," says Anusha.

'Finish class X, get married'

Anusha explains how such courses are important in a society where girls are hardly given a choice to study further after class X. "If there are 100 students in class X, only 40-50 go to colleges," she says.

When the course was stopped for a brief time due to this confusion between the government and the college management, Anusha's parents asked her to get married. But she somehow held on and convinced her parents. Anusha also mentions a 17-year-old girl in the architecture course who was forced to get married when the course was stopped last year.

For over a year, Anusha has also been a part of the fight to restore the courses. The students along with the alumni have met several ministers and officials but they haven't got any positive response from any of them. "When we met the education minister's PA, he asked us to study the same course in a college outside. If we had the money to study there, we would not have come to KNPW in the first place," says Anusha. Like this, the students had to hear many insensitive comments from the officials.

'These courses build parents' confidence'

Swathi Maniputra, an alumna of KNPW who is also part of the fight to resume the four aided courses, points out how such courses are very essential for girls from poor families as they are job-oriented courses. "It is very hard to get a job after class X. These polytechnic courses assure a job immediately after the course is completed. And a job is the thing that these families look for," says Swathi, an architecture student from the 2009-12 batch.

Interestingly, she also says that KNPW is the only polytechnic college in the entire state with hostel facilities. "So, parents from both the Telugu states feel reassured and send their daughters here," she adds.

Importantly, she also notes how these courses build confidence in the parents about their daughters' abilities. "Parents of many of my friends used to persuade them to get married before joining the diploma course. But after they completed the course, they didn't bother about their marriage and also let them go for higher studies if they were interested," explains Swathi.

'Marriage is ultimate goal for a girl': Why is govt sending the wrong message?

Lawyer Vasudha Nagaraj, who appeared for the students in the KNPW issue, says that it is a valuable space that is lost for these students. "At 16, they will pass 10th and after the three-year diploma course, at 19, they start earning. For several girls, it is very important to become financially independent. It is also important to note that post-pandemic, many of these girls' families have been hit hard without a livelihood or pushed into indebtedness," she says.

Child rights activist Dr. Shantha Sinha, who filed a PIL on the issue, says that it is a very unfair and gross injustice to the girls. "As it is, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, these girls from poor families would have undergone a lot of problems. In light of all this, the government should care for these children and take steps to relieve them of child labour and child marriages. The youth of India is its demographic dividend. The government should invest in the youth. They talk of Skill India. What better ways of skilling India than supporting vocational programmes like these and absorbing this youth force in the market?" asks Dr. Shantha.

She further says, "These girls struggled hard to complete secondary school. The government must recognise the immense transformation that can come about in their lives with access to education. Further, the cost of state inaction would be perilous."

Regarding the lack of funds, Dr. Shantha asks, "Why is the government spending on programmes like Kalyan Lakshmi and Shadi Mubarak? Instead, they can spend on the girl children's education. Why is the government sending the wrong message that marriage is the ultimate thing for a girl?"

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