A few decades ago, a few young, passionate educators started teaching rural girls and women, from 13 to 50 years old, at the Mahila Shikhsa Kendra in a kasbah in Bundelkhand. Set in Uttar Pradesh’s “poorest of poor” districts, they determinedly developed an alternative curriculum that focussed on “the knowledge and lived reality of the women and their environment”.
Slowly, they started realising that all this emphasis on local trees, plants and soils was making the women quite restless. Bored even. Eventually, one of them said to these educators:
“We know about our forests and trees. We know the sources of water in our village and our problems around it. Tell us what you know. Show us what we have been denied. Tell us what is in the school textbooks our children read. We want to learn that.”
It’s true: learning happens when you least expect it.
Nirantar has been working on education for three decades. When we pause and think about what keeps us going, we realise it’s the process and excitement of making education—structure, pedagogy and form—feminist.
Feminist education is not as niche an idea as you might think. Feminist educators have been around for a while. Some trace their presence to the 19th century, and there must have been innumerable renegades earlier, not making into the good books of history. Savitri Bai and Jyotiba Phule come to mind, especially since their radical idea of education as the third eye baptised this platform.
Phule organised a barbers’ strike once, to prevent them participating in the tonsure ceremonies of upper caste widows. It’s not just the challenging of the ritual, which took on stigmas around widowhood, that makes him feminist.
It’s because feminist educators understand the power knowledge, and knowledge networks, carry. They help us see that like all social artefacts, education, too, is political.
Feminist educators are those who read against the grain: how do we know what we know? Whose experience becomes the basis for knowledge? What happens when we bring in other standpoints? How does that impact canonical knowledge?
Feminist educators are famous (notorious) for their desire to create. Not satisfied with just knowing, they give shape and materiality to new ideas, new curriculums, new pedagogies and new spaces.
This edition walks you through some of the critical engagements that feminist researchers and activists have set into motion to enrich mainstream academic disciplines. From expanding our understanding of the idea of ‘work’ and ‘social reproduction’ to allow us to talk about women’s labour (erstwhile invisible to theory), to unpacking social concepts of ‘family’, ‘kinship’, ‘citizenship’, the distinction between ‘public’ and ‘private’, the feminist cauldron has stewed many ideas we now take for granted.
Eventually, what led to this edition is an urge to discover what happens when one has put the two words, ‘feminist’ and ‘education’, together. What kind of walls shake? Which seams may open? What may tumble out?
We kickstart this edition with the now quaint, romanticised act of letter writing. Except that it has been an integral part of Nirantar’s pedagogy with neo-literate girls and women. If you have ever wondered what women write when they first get the word, Purnima takes you on a two-decade journey through letters from rural Bundelkhand.
In 2005, Nirantar worked with NCERT to make textbooks ‘gender sensitive’ (as the request had been phrased). Those Social Science textbooks have been in circulation and in classrooms for 15 years. In 2022, some of the work Nirantar did in chapters around caste was deleted.
We made a film about this. Making Textbooks Feminist, now live, captures the thrilling process of translating abstract ideas around women’s work, masculinity and the politics of language into a humble textbook.
Rumblings sometimes occur from within. Riya Talitha explores the world of anti-caste student activists at the IITs, to see how Ambedkar Study Circles challenge power, hegemony and Brahminism in science education. Read the reportage to gain a contemporary primer on how to educate, agitate, organise.
As a companion piece, urbanist Gautam Bhan continues his conversation with us around urbanisms, the limits of anger in pedagogy, and makes a definitive case for using joy as a pedagogical tool for change. Salted peanuts are the only thing you will need while reading this unmissable interview.
As we create and build vocabularies to speak of what has been silenced, educator and writer Vijeta Kumar, in her column Throwing Chalk, asks us to look at whether the evolution and gift of language to define experiences (intersectional much?) has made us lazy. It’s our favourite question of this edition.
Feminists have always known that education happens when we least expect it to. TTE’s Juhi visits community libraries to ask what really happens there now? Who goes there? What do they learn?
The other question we are very interested in is what do facilitators learn when they start working with communities? Apeksha Vora brings us a story from one such session, where she discovered the value of Chhed Khaani in young girl’s lives, and took some serious notes for feminist sexuality educators.
We have a new audio initiative to make literature from various languages and regions available for our Hindi audiences. We are debuting this series with Nisha Susan’s splendid short story ‘Trinity’ from Women Who Forgot To Invent Facebook, now translated into the Hindi, and available as a scintillating podcast. For those who haven’t read it, it’s the story of three girls who conquer college festivals…and then, college gets over.
In the next few months, you will also meet our EduLog, 12 contributors from across the country, who are working with us to help us answer through their own grassroots work: what is feminist education?
Our Digital Educators will also debut with their splendid maiden film production and key writings.
And as a belated Ambedkar Jayanti gift to ourselves, we asked teachers to tell us how Ambedkar influences their teaching, and them personally. You can read what they said in this delightful Life in Ten.
Let’s keep our eyes on that blackboard.