"My father just lies about, like his father before him... I'll be a driver like him, but will work hard and honestly like my mother. Then I'll buy some mini buses, and start a school-bus service, in which only women will be drivers, cleaners, and conductors," says Mayuri Somnath, 15, who attends a municipal school in a suburb of Pune.
Mayuri's father is unemployed even though he is an experienced driver. He drinks every night, and lounges about at home all day. He used to beat his wife, but he stopped after Mayuri threatened to make a police complaint.
An average student, Mayuri is sometimes absent from school, when her domestic worker mother needs a helping hand with her younger children. Mayuri is not interested in higher education, but she is determined to study so she gets her Class 10 (SSC) school certificate, and learns how to speak English. She aims to get a driver's license when she turns 18 so that she doesn't have to "sweep and swab people's floors."
For thousands of girls in rural and semi-urban Maharashtra, the positive role models are their mothers, aunts and grandmothers. For the past few generations, it is a mother, an aunt or a grandmother who has shouldered all family responsibilities - both economic and domestic.
But the same cannot be said about role models for boys. Unfortunately, a lot of boys from the same milieu (as that of Mayuri) have had rather poor male role models around them. Fathers, uncles or grandfathers who have not inspired or motivated the boys to either work hard, or respect the hard work put in by the women in the family - at home or at their jobs. In fact, male role models have been overwhelmingly negative: Men who get away with drinking, wife- beating, earning little or nothing, and having no concrete aspirations.
Although there is this serious lacuna which perhaps requires systematic social intervention by NGOs and the education process itself, there are a few organisations in Pune which have made limited but effective efforts in this direction.
Activist and trade union leader Baba Adhav, for instance, got a batch of boys of Rajewadi, a slum in Pune, to take a unique 'oath'. During the Indian Republic Day celebrations (January 26) a few years ago, these boys pledged that they would wash their own clothes every day. By doing so, says Adhav, they became instantly connected to issues relating to water and its conservation, a recognition of how much the women in their family slogged, and an appreciation of personal hygiene.
Gender-sensitisation is, in this way, finding its place in the larger agendas of social activists, as essential for personal and community growth.
Another NGO, whose focus is primary education for the girl child, found that one of the reasons for girls dropping out of schools was that their brothers or fathers would prevent them from going to school, saying that they have to do house work. Says Audery Ferreira, a social activist with the India Sponsorship Committee (ISC), "We decided to draw the boys into activities to gender-sensitise them, to help change their perspective. For instance, we got them to 'shadow' their mothers or aunts for one whole day, and to record all the work that goes into keeping house - right from drawing or carrying water, gathering firewood, standing in a queue for rationed fuel, cooking, cleaning and so on."
With this and other such activities, they get the boys to appreciate that housework is hard work, and that it needs to be shared by all family members. At the same time, boys learn that educated girls are not a threat to the family - in fact, they raise the standards of living, health, and well-being of the family. While ISC's main programme is oriented towards the girl child, an almost equal number of boys - about 200 boys from four schools in the slums of the outskirts of Pune - have been going through the gender-sensitisation programme each year for the past three years.
The corporate sector in Maharashtra is also playing a constructive role in this direction. The Bhartiya Yuva Shakti Trust, run by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), is active in Pune. In the process of providing loans to young people (mostly men) from underprivileged sections to set up small businesses, the Trust programme also assigns a mentor to each loanee.
Most of the mentoring and advise involves helping the young person with marketing, financial, and other business issues, says Christopher Dias, a Pune-based entrepreneur who is on the advisory board of the Trust. However, explains Dias, this close interaction does translate into an involvement with social, personal, family, and health matters between the mentor and the young person that he is assigned to. And gender-sensitisation does find a place in this interaction.
While efforts of the kind introduced by Adhav, ISC and the CII-run trust may be small in scale, they definitely indicate the potential of improving the gender-dynamics in rural and semi-urban Maharashtra on a large scale.