Sarojini Naidu, famously known as “Bulbul-i-Hind”, was the national symbol of female empowerment. She was a fervent advocate for women’s rights in pre-independence India, believing that “until [men raised] the fallen condition of women in [India] and [made] their voices heard, India’s salvation was only a distant dream”. Her words reflect her concern for an agendum parallel with India’s struggle for freedom. Undoubtedly, her spirit and dedication had inspired many and continues to do so as we celebrate the National Women’s Day on February 13, which happens to be Naidu’s birthday.
Her vision holds true even in the 21st century as our Prime Minister Narendra Modi believes that it is essential to empower women for a nation to progress. We must break the shackles of gender stereotypes in every field and profession. Thereby, I am glad that there has been an increase of 16 per cent in women police personnel across India. On the other hand, an all-female Indian pilot team has made history after completing the longest non-stop commercial flight. I congratulate Flight Lieutenant Bhawana Kanth, who has become the first woman fighter pilot to be a part of the Republic Day parade; and Flight Lieutenant Swati Rathore has become the first woman flypast over Rajpath. My heart was filled with utmost pride seeing them reach new heights.
National Women’s Day is also a day to celebrate the achievement of 105-year-old Pappammal from Tamil Nadu, who was awarded the Padma Shri for her contribution to organic farming. Let us also commend Padma Shri awardee Indian physicist Rohini Godbole, who has been conferred with the ‘Ordre National du Metrite’ for fostering partnerships between France and India along with encouraging the enrolment of women in science.
The Ministry of Education has taken multiple steps to promote women’s enrolment in technical education through the PRAGATI scholarship scheme. Further, the ministry has provisioned to increase women’s enrolment in engineering education — enrolment has increased in IITs, NITs, and IIEST from 8 per cent in 2016 to 14 per cent in 2018-19, 17 per cent in 2019-20 and 20 per cent in 2020-21 following the creation of 3,503 supernumerary seats in the last two and current academic year. Additionally, women candidates are now allowed a relaxation of two years for pursuing a PhD — the maximum duration of a PhD for women can be now six years.
Even at the school level, we have been able to ensure greater participation of girls in education through initiatives such as opening of more schools, provision of free text-books, development of gender-segregated toilets in all schools, along with teachers’ sensitisation programmes on girls’ participation as well as provision for self-defence training for girl students from classes VI to XII. In addition to this, there will be an upgradation and opening of Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (KGBVs) in Educationally Backward Blocks (EBBs) to increase girls’ participation in quality schools (up to Grade 12) as per the National Education Policy recommendations. “Gender-Inclusion Fund” to bridge the gap for providing equitable quality education to girls.
The provisions of the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) will be facilitated with our aim to attain the goal of education with excellence. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman has provided the much-needed financial stimulus for the implementation of NEP 2020. The Budget 2021-22 will lead India to become “Vishwa Guru”. While there has been an overall increase of Rs 2,684.59 crore (5.14 per cent) in the Budget allocation of Department of School Education & Literacy in Budget Estimate 2021-22 from Revised Estimate 2020-21. The Department of Higher Education budget has been increased by Rs 5,450.65 crore from the current year RE, raising the budget to Rs 38,350.65 crore. The substantial increase in public investment in education by the Central government will enable us to achieve a high-quality and equitable public education system for women.
Like Sarojini Naidu, India’s citizens must have an agenda for equality parallel with a push to make the country a knowledge power. India’s women must come forward to facilitate the nation’s path to contribute to economic, social, cultural, intellectual, and technological progress and growth.
The writer is Union Minister for Education