India

International Women's Day: Meet the grannies going to school

women laughing together Image copyright Satyaki Ghosh

Every afternoon, the grandmothers of Phangane village wrap pink saris around themselves and slip abacuses and chalkboard into their backpacks.

They are going to school.

They live in Maharashtra state in India, a country where women are nearly a third less likely than men to be able to read and write.

Some of them have trouble with seeing the letters, and others feel chest pain when they talk. But every day except Thursday, these women gather to learn from a teacher less than half their age.

International Women's Day 2017 is the one-year anniversary of the school, and photographer Satyaki Ghosh has been documenting the women's journey to literacy.

Ansuya Deshmukh putting on sari Image copyright Satyaki Ghosh

Ansuya Deshmukh is 90 years old. The daughter of labourers, she was married off at the age of 10. "There was no money to buy slate and books, no money to buy clothes," she says. "I used to go sometimes, mostly alternate days, but I used to fall sick so they stopped sending me to school."

In the past year, she has learned enough to sign her name, say the alphabet and count to 21.

group of students with man Image copyright Satyaki Ghosh

Yogendra Bangar, 41, is the founder of the school.

He started it after women in the village told him that if only they could read, they would be able to read about the life of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, a 17th century king whose life is celebrated in the village every year.

"It is said that women have to be respected on Women's Day, so we thought that our grandmothers, who until now have not received respect, shall finally get the respect they deserve," he says.

"The people of our grandmothers' generation did not get any opportunity to go to school."

the classroom seen from outside Image copyright Satyaki Ghosh
line

More stories for International Women's Day

What is International Women's Day?

Witty comebacks to sexist banter

Women's Day live updates

line
two women in the classroom, cross-legged on the floor in front of a blank blackboard Image copyright Satyaki Ghosh

Mr Bangar raised money from a charity for the women's saris and teaching materials, and found a classroom.

"If a woman is educated, the entire house becomes educated as she brings knowledge and light to the house," says Mr Bangar.

Ramabhai Ganpat smiling in a pink sari Image copyright Satyaki Ghosh

Ramabhai Ganpat's grandchildren take her hands in theirs and walk her to school.

"Feels good," she says. "We love going to school. We take our bags and all of us grandmothers go together. We feel proud that we are able to learn so well."

Women walk home from school Image copyright Satyaki Ghosh

She laughs: "We have books now but we can't really read because we can't even see properly because of our age.

"When we die and go to God and he asks us 'What have you done in your life?' we will tell him that we didn't do much but we went to school and at least learnt to sign our own name.

"I enjoy coming to school. It makes the day worthwhile."

Ramabhai Ganpat learning from little girl in school uniform Image copyright Satyaki Ghosh

At the start of the school day, the women pray together, repeating: "I will never stop worshipping the goddess Saraswati" - the Hindu goddess of knowledge and wisdom.

Every day, they water the trees they have planted in the school grounds.

woman in class holding up chalkboards Image copyright Satyaki Ghosh

The school's 30-year-old teacher Sheetal More, works for free. Her mother-in-law is one of her students.

two women checking a textbook Image copyright Satyaki Ghosh
women checking a mobile phone together Image copyright Satyaki Ghosh

Over the past year, one member of the group has passed away and three new women in the 60-90 year-old age group have moved to the village, so the class has grown from 28 to 30.

They are not yet fully literate and some complain that it is hard to remember what they have been taught. But they can sign their names instead of using a thumbprint - a big step.

women dancing outside Image copyright Satyaki Ghosh

On International Women's Day 2017, the women will mark their one-year anniversary with celebrations.

Mrs More, the teacher, says: "It feels good to see that even women from the older generation who did not receive education in the past are educated now.

"And in all of India whoever is uneducated should be educated. There should be schools for all women in all the villages."

woman with backpack leaving Image copyright Satyaki Ghosh

You can see more of Satyaki Ghosh's photography here.

Interviews by Aditi Mallya, BBC Delhi, and Satyaki Ghosh. Interpreting by Vipul Chavan.

line
100 women BBC season logo

What is 100 women?

BBC 100 Women names 100 influential and inspirational women around the world every year. We create documentaries, features and interviews about their lives, giving more space for stories that put women at the centre.

Follow BBC 100 Women on Instagram and Facebook and join the conversation.

line

.