Hardships faced by adolescent girls during the Covid Pandemic
During a recent field visit in June 2022, it became evident over the course of several meetings with adolescent girls that they were reluctant to speak about their experiences during the Covid pandemic. When asked about the hardships they had faced and the pressures that they had been exposed to, they tended to remain silent or give very brief responses. At first this was a bit bewildering – it was almost as though they were all suffering from collective amnesia, as if the lockdown had never taken place! But on reflection we realised that the lockdown had been a very difficult and painful period for all of them. They were locked in their homes and not allowed to go out and meet their friends. Their daily routine of going to school was completely disrupted and their families were confronted with loss of income and financial precarity, forcing the girls to work full time on cotton seed farms or other agricultural activities. The lockdown period had made them acutely aware of the various ways in which their position had improved as a result of the Ika Chaalu project till the pandemic struck. They had been enabled to continue their secondary education, they could resist pressures to get them married and the KBSs (Adolescent Girls Committees) provided them with a space where they could meet, learn about gender issues and share their problems and seek solutions. Equally importantly, a perceptible shift had begun to emerge in gender norms at home, in schools and in the community at large. They were afraid that the hard-won gains of the project could so easily be reversed as a result of the pandemic and were conscious of how much they stood to lose. It was perhaps for this reason that they wanted to gloss over the hardships of the lockdown and speak, instead, about the renewed vigour with which they had restarted all project activities as soon as the lockdown was lifted in the beginning of August 2021 ( see here and here).
But the hardships they had faced during the lockdown were very real and deserve to be acknowledged. Here are extracts from conversations with some adolescent girls that were recorded by the field mobilisers at the height of the pandemic in 2020.
“I feel sad at the way my life has changed”: Gangaraboyina Anusha, Class 10, Village Aipoor, Atmakur, Suryapet
I am at home all the time. I have not met any one - not even my friends. I am not allowed to visit my neighbours, nor to go shopping, attend functions, birthdays, weddings. There is no TV at home so I feel bored. Our community too has changed. Neighbours have stopped visiting. There is no more gossip. Even functions are attended by just one or two families. All wear masks.
I spend most of my time with parents at home. This was ok in the beginning. But now we are getting on each other’s nerves. We keep fighting over small things. At the same time, I have freedom to express what I want to say without fear. Due to my active participation in KBS I have started to take decisions on what I should wear, where I should go and my future studies. My cousin’s marriage was fixed as she had completed her intermediate. My uncle said it was my turn to get married next. I got scared. My parents supported me and said that I should study further and that my marriage could wait!
I miss the KBS group, learning about new things and sharing information.
My education has been totally disrupted. My daily routine has also changed. I no longer have the regimen of getting up on time, getting ready to go to school, studying, doing homework, thinking about going to school. All this has vanished. I wonder when this lockdown will end, and when we can get back to school. This is the time to apply for a new course, join a new college (class11) and think about the future. Am I wasting one whole academic year? Will our classes ever begin? What do we have to do to protect ourselves from COVID? Do we have facilities to stay safe? All these questions keep coming to me. Whatever, I am determined to go to college.
There is a rumour that online classes would begin. I have to find out about this.
Now everything has been reversed. I am going to work on the farm and every day I argue with my parents about it. I give in to their pressure. There is no point resisting. I know that unless I also work, we will not make ends meet. Physical labour is really hard. I am now getting used to aches and pains. At least there is enough work for all of us in the village. What happens when the season is over? I feel sad at the way my life has changed. It seems I have to accept this fate. I would go to work on weekends before. But this is different.
We have no land, no assets. We have to work. Those who have land get some subsidy from the government to cultivate. What about us? There are no special schemes or benefits to support poor families like ours. We are going through difficult times.
I feel KBS must be revived. There is so much to share and discuss. My cousin got married. We should meet just so that we can resist marriage.
“At least I have a say regarding my education and marriage.”: Byru Lavanya, Intermediate, Village-Kandagatla, Atmakur, Suryapet.
I was not allowed to go out or meet friends. My family members are all at home. Never before has this happened. I don’t remember spending so much time with my parents. My routine changed a lot. I now wake up at 7 in the morning which is quite late! When I had school, I woke up by 5.30 in the morning and slept by 8 at night. I also have a short nap at 2 pm in the afternoon now. I do all the work at home now - wash utensils, clothes, sweep, cook etc.
In normal times the month of August would have been full of hectic activity in college and in our village, preparing for Independence Day. Our friends would all meet and talk about the festivities, flag hoisting and the program. But now when we meet we do not sit together. It is not the same.
My parents are daily wage earners as they have no land. With lockdown all work has stopped. Our reserves of food dwindled. We stopped buying any luxury item. We were under pressure from our creditors to repay our loans and they would not listen to our plight when we told them that we will not be able to pay our loan amount. We had to borrow money. I had to involve myself fulltime in wage work on cottonseed farms, sowing and weeding of paddy and plucking lemons and on some days earned Rs. 200/ a day. I am not used to so much physical work. I have body aches and it troubles me a lot. I feel bad when my parents ask me to go to work. But at least I have a say regarding my education and marriage.
We have lost one full academic session. I am 100% ready to get back to school, once it reopens. There is no way by which I can join online classes. It has to be a regular school.
"Many things get sorted out when schools are open.”: Dande Lakshmi, Class 9, Village Maddirala, Maddirala, Suryapet.
Things have changed since lockdown. Earlier we had freedom, could meet friends, play games, and study together in the neighbourhood. All this has changed. The community is also maintaining distance.
In the beginning of lockdown I woke up as late as 8 am, did some domestic work, played indoor games, watched TV until 12 in the night. In the meantime, I met my school teacher and discussed online classes. I felt good after that.
I tried to persuade my friend’s father not to send her to work, but to no avail. They seem to have a lot of hardship and suffering as they are poor. They are already in debt as they have no livelihood or wages. So, my friend is working on cotton and chilli farms. They are also quarrelling amongst themselves in the family with children and adults facing the crisis equally.
I only wish our school reopened. Many things get sorted out when schools are open. The KBS activities, library, sharing of books and reading improvement program can result in many changes in our lives.
“I fear I will not be able to study further.”: Yaragani Lavanya, Class10, Village-Tummalapenphad, Atmakur, Suryapet.
I have stopped going to my friend’s house. I miss going to school with friends. I think of our school days, going around with friends, talking about studies. Instead I am now going to work and so get up by 5 am in the morning. Our focus now is on getting work and earning something. There is just not enough in the house. Even the local grocers have no supplies. There are not enough vegetables. I can’t dream of buying new dresses or cosmetics/sanitary pads. At home every one gets irritated so easily these days. They are always so tense. We are not able to talk freely with each other as before. No problem is discussed or heard by anyone in my family. I keep waiting to talk to my friends or sister when I feel restless. My parents raised the issue of getting me married all of a sudden. I strongly objected and told them not to talk about it till I complete 18 years. I said to them, ’Don’t I have any freedom?”
After a long time, the KBS met today. I felt so good. We discussed the case of a friend of ours. We also shared about the pressure of work on cotton farms and waiting for schools to reopen. We shared how we had no problem going to work on weekends before the lockdown and how the same work has become so burdensome now. I also shared with them how I said no to my marriage being fixed. This gave courage to my friends in KBS.
I am waiting for my school to reopen. Why has this Covid come at all? It has disturbed my education, examinations and future! I fear I will not be able to study further.
“It is sad that three of my friends succumbed to the pressure of marriage.” Y. Prameela, 2nd. Year Intermediate, Village Mepally.
We have no TV and one small mobile with facility only to make and receive calls. I speak to my friend on the phone off and on. The conversation is usually short and mostly about college, friends, work and about pressures of marriage. I have not met anyone in person. I am scared to go out of the house. We would like to meet and talk but we know that this is not possible. It is not safe. Even our parents would object. In any case where is the time?
In the early days of the lockdown I would wake up late – at about 8 am in the morning; do some work at home; watch TV, especially programmes about food, cooking and recipes, learnt some tailoring and would also read books. It was so nice to be with mother, father, and my two sisters and brother. All of us are students. By June the situation in the house changed for the worse. Our family began to face financial difficulties. It was summer and my parents could not find any work. There was fear and insecurity at home. There was not enough food. The ration we got from the government was just not enough for a family of 6 adults. Whatever corn we had in our house we sold in the market and bought some groceries. Even this did not last for more than a couple of days. We were left without food again. And so, my father borrowed money from the cottonseed contractor at a high rate of interest.
I knew that I had to work considering the situation at home. I feel I have to do whatever I can to help my family and my father, survive. If I want to buy something for myself, I have to earn my wage. My sister and I started to work on farms. I carried head loads and did hard physical labour along with my father. I forced myself to work even when my body ached and pained. My hands, feet, back were all sore by the end of the day. With work the whole day, I am dead tired by night. My father comes home straight from work by 6 in the evening. Earlier, he would spend time with friends and came home very late and drunk. He would abuse my mother and all of us. It was never pleasant.
This routine is so different from my days before the lockdown. Earlier I would get up at 5 am, and leave home by 8 am to college, to return in the evening. I would go for work on weekends even then. On week days, after I returned from college, I helped my mother at home and then got back to books and homework and slept by 10 pm.
Now, my parents have begun pressing me to get married. In fact, it was my uncle’s idea and he kept nudging my mother, saying that the expenses of the wedding would be almost nil during the lockdown. He would not dare to bring up this matter if only our college was open. I refused to get married. I said I wanted to study until completion of graduate degree; if needed I would work alongside but not get married. My father supported me and decided not to raise the issue again. It is sad that 3 of my friends succumbed to the pressure of marriage. If only there was no lockdown we would have all supported them and stopped the marriages.
On 15th August Independence Day we had a small function where the youth hoisted the flag, they told the girls that we should not give up on studies and continue to aspire for higher education. There are many courses we could opt for after intermediate and we could get trained to becomes nurses, police constables, and other such vocations. They said that we should not yield to pressures of marriage. This gave us all courage and we felt hopeful that colleges would open soon and we could get back to our routine.
I am waiting for my college to reopen. It is already 3 months and there is no sign of it. So much of our time is getting wasted. I fear that I will forget everything at this rate. Perhaps some online classes will help. I don’t know. There is no phone or TV at home. How would online classes help me?
The government must chip in to protect our families. They must increase the food supply in the public distribution system, give us interest free loans and find work for us which is steady and predictable.
“I am waiting for schools to reopen so I can resume my usual routine.”: P. Sweta, 1st year, Degree, Ervaguda, Shankarpally Mandal.
I have not moved out of the house since the lock down, nor met my friends or relatives. There are no visits to anyone. Before lockdown I kept to my schedule of going to school while my parents got ready to work. We had our meals and sleept on time. Now this is disturbed. I wake up late. And we are just not able to go out. We have started to spend more time with each other. I like this. I have been able to talk to my parents about what I wish to do in future. My parents understand my urge to continue with my education.
As my parents stopped working, we depended on our reserves of food grains in the house. We faced some scarcity of supplies in our house but soon overcame it, once my parents started to work. I did my best to help mother in all the domestic chores. We have a small piece of land and I also worked on this. Since I am not used to this, I had aches and pains. But have no complaints about this. My relatives keep telling my parents that I should get married. Thankfully, they have decided not to push me into marriage.
I am waiting for schools to reopen so I can resume my usual routine.
“We are living by the day and not thinking about our future at all.”: U. Jyoti, 2nd year, Degree, Parveda, Shankarpalli.
Our education has been badly hit. I am watching videos for my studies. I keep looking for notices on reopening of college and starting of online classes. I do miss meeting my friends. I felt so happy to see them when there was a relaxation of the lockdown.
We faced difficulty for some time as we ran out of food stocks. My mother and I became very anxious. I started to go to work along with my mother and we have started cultivation on our own land. We are living by the day and not thinking about our future at all. We have not been able to visit our relatives with the result we are beginning to lose contact and are becoming distant from one another. There is no sharing of any kind.
I have already lost one academic year. There is talk about discontinuing my education and getting me married. I have resisted the idea and convinced my mother not to listen to any one on this matter. It would have been easier to fight them if colleges were reopened.
“I have stopped using sanitary pads and now make do with old rags.”: Gowtami, Ist year Intermediate, Village Atmakur, Atmakur Mandal.
We have 5 members in our family and suffered a lot during the lockdown. We did not have enough food to eat, could not go out to work and everything was so hopeless and uncertain. We had some cotton yield and sold it at a low price. This helped us for a couple of days. We had no savings to repay our loans from the creditors and self-help groups. There was no money to pay the bills and we did not receive Rs. 500 into the Jandhan account as promised by the government. With five of us at home we have cut down on masks and sanitisers. Even soap is getting expensive and we had to cut down on the use of soap. The pressure was immense. With absolutely no food and work my parents started to quarrel with each another. There was no peace at home. We shared domestic work and tried to help but my mother got irritated at whatever we did. We reduced the intake of our food. After sometime we have started to work on farms to make our ends meet. This has changed our entire lifestyle. I seem to be working all the time - at home and in the farm. There is no time for rest or reading; no homework, no looking forward to my future. I go to work in old clothes, just tie my hair without bothering if it is unkempt. The only aim is to earn to stay alive with dignity. I had a slight fever but could not make a fuss about it. My parents did not want to hear that I was feeling weak and they did not take me to consult a doctor. They gave me some tablets and sent me to work. I felt bad and thought that my parents did not care for me. If I say anything my mother ‘tortures’ me, calls me names and threatens to get me married. On top of it she wails and cries about the changed situation and I am silenced.
Due to Covid so much has changed in the family. We are tense all the time. There is no telling when it will flare up into an irreconcilable argument. It used to be so easy to talk to my father. If I wanted to buy sanitary pads, I would ask him. Now, he says I should ask my mother. We also fight over TV channels and what we want to see. My father shouts at us and says that if we continue like this we may as well leave the house.
Earlier we were so casual about cough, cold, fever but now we get scared. Those endowed with money can get over this but what about us poor? We have to be careful, follow all protocols, wash our hands, wear masks, maintain distance, not touch anybody or shake hands and not go out in public spaces to avoid any mishap. I have not moved out of the house, not even for shopping or buying sanitary pads. In any case, where is the money for buying anything?
I miss going to my grandmother’s house which I often did on weekends or during vacations. I also miss meeting my friends or attending small functions. I miss the occasional special items in my food. Prices have gone up so much that vegetables and many food items have become unaffordable. I have stopped using sanitary pads and now make do with old rags.
There is no smart phone in the family. Now more and more my conversations with my friends are about the workload and the situation of poverty at home. It seems my friends too are facing similar problems. We are all waiting for normalcy to be restored and colleges to reopen.