By Rachita Sharma
Growing up in a small town and moving to Delhi at the age of 17, I was surprised to learn of the perception and stereotypes of ‘small-town girls’ that most metro folks possessed. After patiently reconciling the disconnect, I realised that the image most people in cities have of smaller towns is a direct reflection of the many TV serials they consistently watch.
No, young women are not damsels in distress. Nor is my life like that of Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Kijo lead characters. We wear jeans and attend English-medium schools. Many of us girls are well-versed on a diverse group of subjects above the rote offered in traditional education, including history, fashion, politics and world affairs. Yes, we know about major brands like Gucci and Ferrari, even if we are too practical to wear them. The Uber app is one we too rely upon, and we are just as agile as anyone on our mobile phones.
There is a distinction between small towns like Mathura, Agra, Patiala, Solapur and Shimla versus far-off villages with little resources or access to the internet. Don’t be surprised when we wear skirts with a smile in big cities. Do not assume we are trying hard to fit in. We grew up wearing shorts at home. We have competed against boys and know how to win.
Having said that, we accept the reality of social obstacles, including the inevitable judgements passed on us by those back home.
Word travels fast in a small town. Your life is never yours. A small town often comprises interwoven communities. Everyone knows everyone. As a young woman, you find yourself the talk of the town, particularly when you cross the line between what is considered right and proper or wrong.
Most women from small towns believe they have to leave town in order to follow their dreams or pursue their true passion. Many of us seek acceptance and mental peace, and so picking up a career in art or photography is easier after relocation to a big city. In a small town, there is only so much room for career dreams that don’t encompass the usual ‘safe’ options (medicine, teaching, law, engineering, management, and so on).
When girls restricted by small-town expectations do go out into the world, they realise that they missed out opportunities that were easily accessible by their big-city contemporaries such as exchange programmes, model UNs, field trips, sports, summer internships, and volunteer programmes.
This lack of diversity and exposure often underlines the obstacles women from smaller towns face. The mental walls they grow up within may inhibit their creativity and confidence. As a result, we sometimes struggle to adapt and navigate new situations relative to our city counterparts. We are stereotyped as being naive, which may be accurate for some of us.
But not all of us conform.
Growing up in Mathura, I never felt comfortable with the constant caste discrimination. The casteism that my fellow students were subjected to was deeply unsettling and violated my core being. How one caste could be superior or inferior to one another was a dialogue I could never relate to. I see beauty in difference and celebrate what makes each individual unique.
When I was 13, I was determined to make a personal change to express the fact that I did not agree with the discrimination based on the status quo. As a result, when we were asked to complete registration for the ninth grade, I removed my last name ‘Sharma’ and just registered myself as ‘Rachita’. My parents were not happy that I had outsmarted the system with a clever way to officially remove my last name.
I still remember people in my circle being utterly puzzled as to why I would forgo such a “worthy, honourable” surname.
At 13, I was just determined not be given preferential treatment on the grounds of a last name that was handed down to me. Today, I have to take the extra step to determine airline-specific procedures for booking flights under the right name, including Rachita Rachita, Rachita LNU (Last Name Unavailable) or FNU (First Name Unavailable) Rachita. I shared this story earlier this year at ‘Empowering a Billion Women Conference 2020’ in Austin, Texas.
Yes, small-town girls go places too.