A village in Gujarat has come up with a unique regressive idea — to burden underage girls with the responsibility of upholding the “honour” of the village. Notwithstanding Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Digital India’ drive, the panchayat of Suraj village recently imposed a ban on minor girls using or owning mobile phones.
The move, the panchyat believes, will stop vulnerable girls from getting ensnared by anti-social elements. Ironically, Suraj village is located in PM Modi’s native district Mehsana.
At the surface, the ban might seem legit to some extent; girls under the age of 18 are susceptible to cyber attacks and are quite likely to be influenced by men who wait to lure young girls on the pretext of love. Devshi Vankar, the sarpanch of Suraj Village stated that a majority of the villagers felt that mobile phones were creating problems for young girls and their parents.
The panchayat believes the ban will help girls concentrate on their studies rather than playing games on mobile phones. This is a sentiment that resonates among the parents of teenagers, notwithstanding the rural-urban divide. It’s an undeniable fact that mobile phones take away the dedication of teenagers, quite often raising clashes between the parents and the child.
But the similarity ends there. A little digging will reveal that the panchayat’s decision is not so much the hampering of education; it rather fears mobile phones facilitate the flirting or elopement of young girls. The only sensible thing that the panchayat did was spare college-going girls and women from the ban. According to Vankar, “College girls are grown up enough to understand what is good for them and what is bad.”
The fear of underage girls going astray is covered with the garb of concern; but a Taliban-like mentality does emerge clear in Vankar’s statement: “This is kalyug… where people secretly talk with each other. We have to save girls from those who acquire their numbers and harass them or try to lure them.”
The panchayat believes a fine of Rs 2,100 will deter girls from flaunting the rule. People are also encouraged to snoop; snitching on someone gets Rs 200 as reward. My only point is, if all villagers have “unanimously agreed” on the decision, then how could underage girls “own” a phone? And if they are caught using a phone, it’s her parents or guardians who will have to shell out the money. I really wonder if the hefty fine is really going to bother a teenaged girl who has no source of income.
The interesting thing is, the motivation of the mobile phone ban can be traced to an alcohol de-addiction drive that was aimed at men. As the drive progressed, the Thakor community came out with rules that put restrictions on women’s lifestyle too. This was a classic case of avenging, where community leaders felt just like liquor, the use of cell phones by young girls created a nuisance in society.
The residents of Suraj village believe in an inverted sense of equality. When men are deprived of something they loved to indulge in, could the women be spared? After all, why should girls have all the fun?