Refused to marry, stayed hungry: A fisherman’s daughter’s quest to study

Chennai: With a thriving fish market at Kasimedu harbour in Chennai, the morning hours are always abuzz. Women are tough sellers here as they haggle for every penny that can help them feed their families.

18-year-old Shalini Munuswamy is among them. Eight years ago, she was taken off school to help her family in the fish market.

She, however, stubbornly held on to her dream of completing her studies.

Cleaning prawns does not disturb her any more as Shalini is now among the few women at the fish harbor who have completed higher secondary.

Brimming with confidence, she tells NDTV, “I want to pursue BSc, do a course in nursing and become a good nurse. I have got a lot of respect after I completed my class 12th. Education is very important.”

At her home, however, the situations are not favourable. Her three elder sisters and mother do not support her and want her to marry instead, like they did and women in their communities do – sometimes, even before they turn 18.

“We were not allowed to study after class 10. She has even completed her class 12 and wants to go to college now. We won’t allow that”, says Malathi M, Shalini’s elder sister.

Unable to take the pressure, Shalini breaks down at times, but fuelled by her hunger to pursue a degree, she soon recomposes herself.

After her class 12 results in May, Shalini refused to eat. This, she felt, was her only resort to convince her family to allow her to study.

Her former teacher at Karunalaya, R Prameela says, “Of the 100 students I teach, only 40 are girls and at least 20% of them drop out every year.”

“Most of the girls in this locality are victims of broken families, their fathers have given to alcoholism,” Prameela adds.

Shalini is no exception. But despite being an alcoholic, her father is her only support.

“We don’t have any money for now. Next year if she gets admission in a good college, we’ll send her”, says her father Munuswamy V.

Shalini spends her morning cleaning fish so that her father could sell them and during evenings, she dons the hat of a teacher in a school where she once studied. She saves a portion of her monthly salary of Rs 3,500 for her higher education.

For her friends like 15-year-old Selvy, who dropped out of school, Shalini is a huge inspiration.

“Parents now say they want their daughters to re-enrol in schools like Shalini did. Everywhere we go, we share her example. Shalini’s stand has brought a fresh perspective in her colony”, says R Prameela, her former teacher.

Shalini is the first teacher from her colony and her determination to study is shaping young minds of the next generation.

Her 7-year-old student R Sanjana says,” I want to study like Shalini madam and become an engineer.”

(Source: NDTV Every Life Counts)

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