“Without my sister I would not be where I am today.” Sanjana, age 12
8:57 a.m Saran
Sanjana loves to read, go to school, read stories on Saturdays and paint. If you ask her who she thinks is great, first, she’ll say, her father who is the mukhiya of the village and has tried his best to develop all five villages under his watch. Sanjana’s father has built temples and bought solar panels ensuring that all homes use solar light. He’s built roads from the villages connecting them to the main road and he’s always liked to think he treats his sons and daughters equally. Well, nearly equally.
Sanjana lives in a joint family with her parents, her sister, uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents. Her brother works in the Indian Navy and is away on his ship. Right now he is sailing along the coast of Australia. He has sent postcards from the places he has visited. Sanjana’s parents have kept them tucked safely inside their cupboards.
Not once has Sanjana been asked to stop going to school to help her mother and aunts at home. Not once has she been asked to stop studying to prepare for her wedding. She’s never been rebuked by her family when she told them that she wanted to join the police force. Everyone encouraged her. If she made it, that would be the second child in the government service, which meant a permanent job. Nobody had questioned her ability to pass a difficult exam or get a job which is mostly done by men and is considered dangerous and difficult.
It’s been 15 years since then. Sanjana has not only cleared her Indian Police Service exam, but has become a Sub-Commissioner and is posted in New Delhi, the capital of the country. She goes home twice a year and every time she arrives in her white ambassador with a security guard and the Indian flag, in her brown uniform with a cap and a feather, the entire village runs after her car and there is a gala evening with dinner for everyone at her house. Celebrations everywhere for the daughter of the village who has made everyone proud by her determination and bravery.
A beautiful story. But the true hero of our story is not Sanjana. It is her older sister Priyanka.
Priyanka was the first girl born in the family. From the day she was born, her father started saving for her wedding. But Priyanka was not to marry. At least not immediately. Priyanka fell in love with stories. She used to read in Hindi and couldn’t stop reading. She fought to be able to go to college after completing her education so that she could read more.Her parents wanted their daughter to be wed as soon as she finished school. She was the Mukhiya’s elder daughter after all, and expectations from society were high. Her parents finally gave in to her wishes, but said that they would not give her any help or money.
While she was in college she began tutoring children in her village so that she could continue her education. She went to Patna city on her own. It was six hours away by bus and she brought back a post graduation application form for Patna University, the most reputed University in the state. She completed the application form and spent an entire month speaking to her father and explaining her dream to him. Finally her father let her apply. He thought that, there was no way that a girl from the small village of Chappra could get through a Masters’ program in the grand Patna University.
Not only did Priyanka get through, but she got a scholarship as well. Her father had to let her go. She moved to Patna on her own, finding accommodation in a girl’s hostel and taking the bus home every weekend on her own. After completing her Master’s degree she got into a PhD program too. Then she passed her NET exam and started to teach in her village. There were so many girls who were not as lucky as she was, who would not have the opportunity to go out and study. She knew she would have to give them the best education while they were still in school. She proved to her father, the rest of the family and her entire village that girls could do whatever they wanted to do. Because of Priyanka, Sanjana’s father never tried to stop his younger daughter from achieving her dreams.
There is no gala or feast or celebrations for Priyanka, she lives in the village, and has not done anything extraordinary like her younger sister. She’s just aschool teacher. But her sister knows that’s not true. She’s not just a school teacher, she is the sister with the drive and determination to do something different whose actions paved the way and cleared all obstacles and challenges from Sanjana’s path. For Sanjana, Priyanka is the true hero, the one we should be interviewing, the one we should have been writing the story about all along.