In one month’s time, Alte village in the Indian state of Maharashtra will have its first woman to ever assume the role of an excise sub-inspector.
Mayuri Patil, the daughter of a poor farmer, did not achieve this easily. She had to fight a long, drawn out battle against a patriarchal society, gender prejudices and social censorship to get this far.
She passed junior college, or 12th grade, in 2008 and then went on to do agricultural studies at a college in Kolhapur city, 30 kilometers from her village in the rural western region of India.
She enrolled despite knowing there would be stiff resistance from her community, which frowns upon women pursuing a higher education or even working.
“I was asked to quit my studies and get married at the age of 18. The people in our village don’t allow girls to study beyond class 10 or 12. Their parenting extends to the day the girl gets married and then she becomes someone else’s responsibility,” said Mayuri.
Fortunately, she received unflinching support of her father, Dileep. “Right from childhood, Mayuri was brilliant in studies. I couldn’t complete my education beyond class IX (9th grade), so I wanted all my children to study,” said Dileep, who farms a three-acre plot and earns just enough to sustain his family. He even took a loan of Rs300,000 eight years ago to educate Mayuri and her brother. The villagers mocked Dileep for doing this.
However Mayuri’s mother, Bharti, was skeptical about her dream. “Villagers would taunt Mayuri all the time. After a point, even I gave up on her, but Mayuri proved us all wrong. Her father was always supportive of her dreams and never lost faith in her,” said Bharti.
Mayuri graduated in 2012 and went on to pursue her masters in agriculture from the same college in Kolhapur, which she completed in 2014. The villagers continued to chastise her family for their decision to allow their daughter to study. But Mayuri had her goals set high. She decided to prepare for the Maharashtra Public Service Commission (MPSC) exam and become an agriculture or forest officer.
By this time, almost all her friends had married. After 10th grade, girls in Alte village are asked to stay home and learn household chores until they turn 18 and are married off.
“Except for one of my friends who’s an engineer, none of my school friends are working now,” explains Mayuri. In the latest Annual Survey of Education Report (ASER) findings, the enrollment gap between boys and girls increases with age. At 14, there is hardly any difference – 95.3% enrollment for boys and 94.3% for girls. But at age 18, the gap widens dramatically – 71.6% for boys and 67.4% for girls.
When giving up isn’t an option
Mayuri was determined to take the MPSC, but her father Dileep could not afford to pay coaching fees. So she shifted base for a few months to Rahuri town, 350km from her village, to prepare for the exam under the guidance of her seniors from the university. The university has a students’ forum named Krishi Ekta Manch, which makes this arrangement possible.
The MPSC exam is held in three stages and takes about one and a half years to complete. After six months in Rahuri, Mayuri returned home to study and was guided by her seniors over the phone. The villagers, ignorant about the exam process, continued to pressure her to get married, even after she explained the situation. “After a few months, I started ignoring them,” she said.
Every day, Mayuri would spend at least 10 hours studying. But civil services exams are tough to crack. She took the exam seven times in a span of three years, but was unsuccessful in every attempt. By now, her family had lost patience.
“After the seventh attempt, I was clearly told that this would be the last one, and in case I failed, I would have to get married,” she said.
Just before her eighth attempt, Mayuri came down with pneumonia. “In July 2017, I was hospitalized for 11 days. The exam was in September. I was suffering severe depression thinking how I would pass it,” she said. Determined to give it her best shot, she sat for the exam.
One day before the results were announced in January this year, Mayuri was on the verge of a nervous breaking. “Someone in my family said it was pointless educating me. Now, they wouldn’t be able to find a man qualified enough to marry me. I was asked to accept any marriage proposal, even if the guy was a laborer,” she recalled.
However, on January 8, Mayuri passed the MPSC exam, finishing 33rd among 200 women in the state. Her elated family gave up plans to marry her off.
Mayuri is the second woman from her village to pass the MPSC exam. The first was Ashwini Gore, who became an Assistant Police Inspector.
Even as she waits to assume her role as an excise sub-inspector – the paperwork takes time – Mayuri hopes she has been able to set an example that forces change among the villagers. She has been advocating education for all girls and will soon open a library for them.
“After I passed the exam, a lot of people have come to listen to my speeches in schools in nearby villages along with their daughters. This is the first ray of hope,” she says.