“I AM NOT WHAT HAPPENED TO ME , I AM WHAT I CHOOSE TO BECOME,”
Meet Shraddha Shinde a spirited young woman who has completed her engineering and now works at IIT. A flashback amidst the round of applause takes us through her journey of struggle for survival and trails to make her dream a reality. Time stood still with Shraddha’s father’s sudden death, the only earning member of the family. Studying in 11th grade, her life suddenly “ plunged into darkness.” Shradha’s mother, Snehal was devastated but not defeated. Snehal decided not to let this grief consume their lives. “if I had broken down my children’s future would have been affected.” Snehal gave herself and her kids only 24 hours to mourn. “ I had to move on, what had happened was beyond my control but what was to come was my choice.” At such times community can get clannish and discouraging but Snehal decided to pay no heed to social do’s and don’ts . Being a girl , conventionally Shradha would have been expected to quit school to support her mother , but this discrimination never crossed Snehals mind .“ I do not discriminate between a boy and girl. Both my children had exams the next day and I persuaded them to go for it.”
As she gathered the fragments of her life financial crisis was her first major roadblock. Her husband’s government job entitled them to receive pension, but it would take time and a lot of paperwork. “ I sold my mangal sutra to get money & my son started working in order to support the family .” Snehal too did piecework such as stitching garments, threading, making designs on jeans to keep the fires burning. But soon she developed spondylitis and found it difficult to continue this work. Nevertheless pain did not break her spirit of survival. Things eased out as the pension came in but it was not enough to put Shraddha and her elder brother Shashank through college. Not one to lose faith the Shinde family found their angel in the form of Akshara . Lost and lonely Shradha attended a workshop with the NGO which helped shed her shell of sadness,” I found friends with whom I could share my experiences, my happy and sad moments. Pressures of life and house started receding as I participated in more camps. Akshara become my comfort zone, my second home.” With scholarships offered by Akshara coupled with a bank loan , Shraddha joined an engineering college to pursue graduation in Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering. Akshara was instrumental in helping Shraddha become aware of the importance of women education as also gain confidence to battle gender bias . She assessed her life with Renewed vision. Her mother Snehal’s unfulfilled dreams of education, of how she had forfeited her studies with marriage, kids and house responsibilities dawned on her. “ We never took tuitions our mother taught us everything despite having studied only till standard 9. Not once did we feel she was not educated,” recalls Shradha . A fresh thought buzzed in her mind,” If I can study why not my mom? This was further fuelled by ‘ Khulla Asman ‘ a workshop conducted Akshara where she met many girls whose mothers had taken to studying . Amidst life’s insecurities and anxieties Akshara became a platform for Shradha’s courage .
Here’s a family that linked hands to inspire and encourage each other. Switching roles Shraddha now took up the task of encouraging her mother to complete her education. It did not take much to convince an already motivated Snehal. She found a night school but the challenge was to convince the authorities to give her admission. “ At 50+ ,age was against me , the authorities felt I would not be able to cope . The school was worried that If I failed their records would be affected.” It needed a lot of persuading and promising before the school agreed to take her in. “ Age does not limit, its all in the mind . If you don’t use your mind it stops working.” It was back to school for Snehal as she studied for a year with children one-fourth her age. It was not easy as Spondylitis made it difficult for her to sit for long hours . But not one to give up she continued by intermittently sitting and standing in class. There was no stopping her , she took medical help , sat in the gardens to study , made friends with the classmates and just walked on to her goal. As the saying goes ,’ tough times never last ,tough people do .” The Shinde’s worked as a united force , Shraddha and her brother, divided the domestic chores among themselves. Shraddha is proud of the fact that her brother did not refrain from traditional ‘feminine’ chores such as cooking!
After an academic hiatus of more than thirty years, Snehal passed her exams and secured her SSC certificate. All along Akshara remained Snehal’s strength and support. Every time she faltered the staff helped her overcome her fears and walk her path with conviction. Her study plans were kept under wraps to avoid any kind of social intervention. Her success sent shockwaves but stronger sentiments of awe and admiration superseded and she became a superwoman in her social circle . Chirpy and cheerful Snehal set a trend, which many of her friends decided to follow. A trailblazer of sorts, there is nothing ordinary about her or her thinking. The Shinde journey has just started and each one is a benchmark for the other,” we compete with each other.” As Shradha nurtures dreams of further education Snehal too matches steps by aiming for a Bachelors degree. ‘Live simple dream big’ is Snehals mantra for life . The Shinde family dreams big as they juggle their life between daily chores and financial constrains . Snehals eyes light up as she ponders over her daughters future , “ I want her to do something extraordinary . I want people to appreciate that despite so many difficulties she has reached this level. Shraddha must be a yardstick for other girls . We have big dreams , now lets see what happens ..” If her smile and her fortitude is anything to go by then we know that the Shinde’s are sure to Shine . Two determined women backed by a committed organistaion could turn the tables of destiny… They dared to dream.
Written By – Monisha Pratap