It’s no secret that in many parts of the country, people give little priority to educating girl children. And the possibility that a girl might go from primary school to high school, and all the way to college, becomes even more remote if she belongs to a poor family.
But, as Preethi Madambi from Kerala’s Thrissur district proved, when parents struggle to heed their children’s longing to learn, the results can be stupendous.
Days after she completed her PhD from Calicut University, Preethi wrote an emotional Facebook post dedicating her success to her father, who slogged untiringly all his life to educate her and her sister with his meagre resources as a daily wage labourer.
In her post, Preethi vividly describes the scene of her father returning from work each day.
“Every evening, a man would return home after work, with a hoe (gardening tool) on his right shoulder, and an old bag containing an empty water bottle dangling from his left. Wearing only a dirty red towel on his sweat-soaked body, he would walk up to me and give me Rs 150, damp from being held in his sweaty hand so long. ‘Go keep this in achan’s purse,’ he would tell me.”
When this man’s daughters – both bright students – grew into adolescence from childhood, he became worried about the growing expenses, writes Preethi.
Fortunately, Preethi got admission in a Navodaya School. Her father told her she should go, and Preethi did not protest. But those around them warned her father, “What is the problem with you Madambi? If girl children are sent away from home to study, won’t they go astray?”
“But my father only smiled,” writes Preethi.
In heartbreaking detail, she describes how the world opened for her at the Navodaya School. “The next seven years were amazing. It was there that I realised you could eat rice with other things besides yam, jackfruit, papaya and chutney powder. When other students complained that the curries or the rice were tasteless, I greedily gobbled them up.”
Preethi reminisces about how her father, Therath Madambi - a Dalit man who died four years ago - worked tirelessly to ensure she had a good life.
She writes about how her family made innumerable sacrifices so that she could live a dignified life as a student. “My father would not bring my mother and sister to see me, so that he could save the money that would otherwise be spent on their tickets. With this money, he would give me Rs 50 to donate for causes at school, so that I would not feel insulted in front of others.”
Even when Preethi went from success to success and completed her graduation and her post-graduation, she writes, people still questioned her father. "Madambyetta, why educate your children so much? Are they going to take a doctorate?"
This year, Preethi delivered the perfect response to the doubters. “On June 30, 2017, I received a Doctorate in Commerce and Management Studies from Calicut University. Go tell them Acha that your daughter has got her doctorate now,” she writes proudly.