“My parents would have married me off by now, had we not had a college at doorstep,” said Meena, 18, from Shillai in Sirmour district of Himachal Pradesh.
She is doing her graduation in arts in Government College Shillai. Her brother is doing a professional course in Chandigarh.
Many other girls in the area share the same story.
The strength of girls in the college in Shillai, which is one of the most backward and poverty ridden sub-divisions of the country, is around 70 per cent.
Majority boys from the area are either studying in Nahan, Solan or Chandigarh, and the girls in local college.
People have a tribal like lifestyle with traditions like child marriages still prevalent in Shillai and some other pockets of Himachal that extend to Shimla district’s most interior Kupvi and Dodra Kwar belts and Chamba’s Churah valley.
The phenomenon goes unnoticed and unchecked by law with Police generally in denial mode.
However, with the state government’s spree to open colleges in every nook and corner of the state over last decade, more girls have been finding their way to higher education institutions.
While this has subtly and silently resulted in social change by saving the daughters from early marriage in many interior areas, it is gradually supplementing the ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padao’ campaign.
The girls in HP are growing confident, aware and are increasingly aspiring for self-reliance.
Having done well in education sector, Himachal Pradesh has over 15000 middle, high and senior secondary schools. All these years, majority girls in rural areas would drop out after school for want of a college in vicinity.
As a trend, the conservative parents in the hill state shirk sending daughters outside for college education for concerns of safety and affordability.
The state now has over 120 colleges in different districts, most of them in remote areas. In almost all these colleges, the strength of girls (over 60 per cent) is more than boys.
Some academicians, however, have their own reservations on the opening of more and more colleges in the hill state.
“Notifying colleges without adequate teaching staff and infrastructure would not help. It will only lead to quantity not quality,” they said.
Chief Minister, Virbhadra Singh, who announced many colleges in interior areas during this tenure, puts forth a strong view point.
“The government has opened colleges in remote areas on priority and is developing them to facilitate the girls get higher education at doorstep. It’s a step towards women empowerment,” he shares from almost every public stage.
The female literacy in the state is 75.93 per cent compared with 89.93 per cent of males as per 2011 census–The gap is decreasing in every census.