Anger bubbled inside me. I was the part of the audience listening to a school principal at Panipat (Haryana) telling the crowd how girls should not be given “too much freedom.” He then added, “They can study but some girls return home late at night and bring shame to the family.” This, after witnessing a play that spoke about a girl’s right to education, freedom of mobility etc.
I work with Google in California and am in India to volunteer with Breakthrough. The street play I witnessed was organised by Breakthrough. The play addressed the same prejudice that the school principal openly perpetuated. It seemed like he poured water over all their efforts. I felt I could not just sit still and watch this atrocious man talk down about women. Somehow, I mustered the courage to stand up.
I spoke to Barnali (from Breakthrough) and expressed my desire to speak to the crowd. I was very nervous but I stood up in front of the villagers and decided to put my point across. I told them that I am from Pune and then asked them if they knew where Pune was. (I was surprised that no one knew. This was a hilarious reminder to me about the vastness of India and how tiny Pune is in comparison). Anyway, after it was sorted out where Pune was (I had to say it was near Mumbai), I went onto say the following.
“My Puneri Hindi won’t be as good as yours but I’m still going to try. I grew up in Pune and studied engineering. I left my parents’ home to live abroad all alone. I am that girl. who now is doing a job (job kar rahi hoon) and I send money home. My parents are retired and I support them financially. Please don’t say ‘girls should not have too much freedom’ (छूट) as it sounds like the girls are trying to do something wrong. See, I focused on my studies, and today I work for Google which is one of the best companies to work for. So please just focus on your studies. I am a living example of what women can become after studying.”
I was madly in love with my field of study— mechanical engineering. After my graduation, I wanted to study further and also support my family financially as we were not too well off. After some struggle, I went to the US and pursued a masters in Industrial Engineering. I finally got through Google and have been with them for over 7 years now.
My co-worker Lisya, from Turkey, did not understand a word, but she was so moved that she was in tears. The sudden discovery of courage within me overwhelmed me, but what surprised me was my nervousness. My hands shook as I stood to speak to the crowd. I am someone who has had the privilege of international education and job experience. If someone, who has enjoyed these privileges could feel so nervous to the point of doubting her confidence, I cannot imagine what girls deprived of these opportunities could feel! They would be needing much more support and encouragement from all of us.
Nupur works with Google and volunteered with Breakthrough as a part of Google’s reach programme that helps NGOs on short-term projects. In her free time, she maintains a food photography blog and is very passionate about playing sports.