“Bearing a girl child here is like watering the neighbours’ plants,” says PV Sandhya, who is the founder of Aarti for Girls in Cuddapah. “Parents do not want to spend money on educating a girl or giving her a comfortable life. Her stay is short as she will be married off so what would be the point”, is their attitude.
“I come from a very different kind of family where both boys and girls are treated as equals. I never faced any discrimination. My mother was a feminist and ran a school. My father was Chief Engineer in Guntur district, Andhra Pradesh. He used to travel a lot, hence I had the opportunity to live in many places. I completed my education in Hyderabad.”
After my marriage to a doctor, my husband and I moved to Cuddapah. I worked in a government college as a lecturer teaching English. In those days, Cuddapah, was a hotbed for fascists and naxalites. People feared going there. The situation for girls living here in the midst of violence was even worse in this male dominated society. Their movement outside home was restricted and most girls were not permitted to study.
As an educator Sandhya had the opportunity to observe the discrimination between girls and boys first hand. “Girls were expected to cook and help in domestic chores and parents did not feel there was any need to invest time and money to educate them as they would be married off. This upset her.
However family responsibilites and other obligations kept her busy for the next 14 years. One day things changed.
She says”Everyday, on my way to work, I passed a little girl on the footpath. This disturbed me to the point of irritation. This irritation became my inspiration. One day, I brought the girl home. I wanted to provide her the basics of education, manner and etiquitte. Fortunately, no one objected. Then my wishes grew. I wanted to educate not only this child but others like her. I discussed this with my family, friends and colleagues and they thought I should go ahead. My daughters very were supportive. My uncle suggested that I start fundraising. I collected Rs. 10000 from eleven friends. My nieces, living in the USA, began fundraising in their school and raised a good amount. However they could not send these funds to me as mine was not a legally registered entity.”
This pushed me to start the process of forming a legal entity. Thankfully this was not as difficult as I imagined. My husband had contacts in the government which helped speed up the process.” On 23rd of March 1992, Vijay Education Society was formed.
‘Vijay’ which means ‘Success’ started with five girls. He first was the girl found on the footpath, and the other four came through word of mouth through friends. “When we started the society, I spoke with friends and other people in and around Cuddapah to help me in identifying children.” says Sandhya.
She rented a small house and put up the girls there. She cooked for them and enrolled them in a local school. Sandhya’s uncle was the correspondent of the school so admitting the children was possible.
The District Collector was a good friend of my husband” Sandhya recalls. “One day he visited the house where the children were staying and suggested we move into a bigger building. We lacked funds to purchase land. He approved a grant for land but the onus of identifying the land was ours. We managed to buy the land and constructed a small building with Rs. 20000 in 1994, “ she says. Three months later Sandhya went through a personal tragedy. She lost her neice Aarti, who had played a main role in establishing the society. The new home was named in memory after her.