[A woman who has carved a niche for herself in a strongly patriarchal society and runs a chain of educational institutes in Amritsar. She caters to the educational needs of about a hundred villages of the Punjab’s border district and has become a hope of millions. She believes that education is the only way to transform India and get rid of age old social vices. She advocates women centric change and believes that women should inspire from their fellow women and take lead to empower others and contribute whole heartedly for a gender just future India].
[Dr. Jeewan Jyoti Sidana-Principal and Owner Sidana Institutes of Education]
An Interview with Dr. Jeewan Jyoti Sidana-Principal and Owner Sidana Institutes of Education, Amritsar, Punjab by Dr Adfar Shah-Editor at Analyst World.
Adfar Shah: Tell us about your journey Dr. Jeevan Jyoti Sidana? What was your mission at the outset and to whom do you attribute your success?
Jeewan Jyoti Sidana: Since my parents were from the teaching profession, they have been a source of inspiration to me always and undoubtedly my consistent hard work led to this stage where I own and administer a chain of educational institutes today. I had the distinction among the toppers of Punjab in the 10th standard and got a prestigious State Level scholarship from the government. After marriage, at the age of 21 my husband, Mr. Mohinder Pal Sidana, motivated and encouraged me to pursue Ph.D which I completed in 2002. Luckily, I got the opportunity to serve at Lovely Institutes, where I served as a principal from 2003 to 2006. After completing the Doctorate in the discipline of education and gaining vital experience as a teacher-educator for 16 years, I thought of opening an institute in this border area Amritsar district to provide quality education to the students of this region. So, along with the valuable support of my family and the representatives of this area, I established these institutes. During this period, I faced a lot of difficulties but God was kind enough and things became smooth gradually. The family and the faculty also supported me in every way. As change is the law of nature so life is changing very fast. Being the administrator and owner, the responsibilities are immense and are increasing day by day. Every day comes with new challenges.
AS: Tell us about the whole Sidana Institutes project?
JJS. Sidana Institutes were established under the aegis of Sidana Education and Welfare Society Amritsar in the year 2003. They are promoted by a group of educationists and teachers. Sidana Institutes aim to bring a marvelous charge in the field of education in the border area of Amritsar District covering about100 villages of about 1.8 lakh population. Sidana Institutes are spread over an area of 11 hectares and comprise of different departments with their specific specializations like:
- Sidana International School (enrolment382 staff 26)
- Sidana Institutes of Management and Technology (enrolment 78 staff 11)
- Sidana Polytechnic College (enrolment 516 staff 29)
- Sidana Institutes of Education (enrolment 66 staff 11)
- Sidana Degree College (enrolment 188 staff 10)
- Sidana & Marwaha Education Overseas (enrolment 50 staff 10)
The total work force is 142 out of which teaching staff is 127 and non teaching staff is 27.As for students the total enrolment is 1230 out of which 800 are males and 430 are female students.
AS: How did you get your idea or concept for this Institution? What ignited the spark in you to start this venture? Where does it stand now?
JJS: Being a teacher educator, I perceived the urgent need of an all-encompassing, integrated educational institution for this border area of Amritsar. I discussed this project with my family members and the representatives of this area. After this, Sidana Institutes was established with the sole aim of providing quality education to the students of this area.
AS: What were the main hurdles that you encountered while setting up these institutes?
JJS: Being a woman in a male oriented and male dominated world and trying to establish quality education institute in this border area, was certainly a herculean task but God helped me everywhere and my family, particularly my husband, supported me at every step! Purchasing land, obtaining approval, inspection procedures, selection of a suitable faculty and creating a huge infrastructure, these were some major issues. At some point, I would lose heart but God was kind enough and inspired me to go ahead. Getting admission in this backward and illiterate area is still a major issue which I am facing and trying to overcome.
AS: What motivates you to empower the socially underprivileged section of society? How do you generate new ideas? How far are you willing to go to succeed?
JJS: The institution is empowering the underprivileged sections of society by taking into account the needs of the people of this area and then providing need based education to the students. Field based activities are also organized like Blood Donation Camps, NSS Camps, Social Awareness Camp, Voter Awareness Drive, Tree Plantation Drive. We are helping SC/ST students by providing them Post Matric scholarship and special arrangements have been made for girls to upkeep their students.
AS: Being an empowered woman, what is your view on Indian Women’s struggle for equality? How do you see India changing?
JJS: In the present times, women are constantly craving for their identity and say in the society. No wonder, we find women in every field but picture still is not so rosy. Women though have proved to be more responsible, dynamic and compassionate but they need space and their share to show their visibility. They have occupied the top ranks in every field but still are minuscule in proportion as compared to males. Despite changes, the condition of women in India continues to be miserable. They are still a helpless and unhappy lot in many spheres of life. The majority of them being uneducated, most women are not aware of their rights. They take their suffering as their destiny and have somewhat internalized violence and patriarchy against them. This is the duty of the conscious lot particularly women to empower underprivileged women through education and other ways.
AS: What is your message to the fellow Indian women who continue to suffer from patriarchy?
JJS: Women historically have been at the receiving end and only a section of them has enjoyed a higher status in the past which still continues. Women continue to be regarded as honour objects which is why honour killings and shame killings still are our social realities. Women activists should come forward and should make other women aware of their rights and duties. Women are performing better in every field like sports, politics, administration etc, but need to be supported by their families to touch heights. Women organizations are also working for the improvement in the pathetic gender injustice which needs to be sustained with vigour. Women of this great nation have tremendous potential what matters is they should realize their potential and move forward amid all shackles and oppressive and discouraging roadblocks. They should aim at economic independence and achieve more and more access to education and resources.
AS: Tell us something about your experiences of gender discrimination in Punjab?
JJS: The gender discrimination in Punjab is one of the biggest problems. To achieve fatherhood or motherhood is the greatest, happiest and the most satisfying and fulfilling feeling in this world irrespective of sex of the child. But in which circumstances the social structure of the state has tilted towards the preference for sons, is both a very tricky and difficult question to answer. The main reason for the discrimination is that Punjabi society attaches too much “IZZAT” (honour) to the name of daughter. Sons indulge in anti-social or immoral activities but the honor of family is not at stake. Newspapers daily carry reports of rape and sexual exploitations of girls. They are the victims of the crime but ultimately face the wrath of the society and even treated responsible for none of their fault. Under the burden of unrelenting social pressure mounted on the girl and her parents, they all end up feeling guilty without having done anything wrong. This fear of loss of ‘izzat’ becomes the main reason for the gender discrimination and may be son preference in Punjab.
AS: Today you run a chain of Sidana Institutes in Punjab, what is your idea of women empowerment especially through education? How do you see women empowerment in Punjab?
JJS: I believe only education can liberate women in true sense. The essence of a prosperous and progressive nation is its women but education can make women conscious and progressive in outlook. Therefore, all the necessary steps are being taken by Sidana Institutes for their empowerment as we have a considerable enrolment of female students in our institutes. Further government programs and policies should be reinforced to meet the needs of women, especially those who are confined to the far flung areas and belong to underprivileged classes or backgrounds. NGO’s, government programs, colleges, universities are working hard to empower women by organizing lectures, free guidance camps to create awareness among women of their rights and duties, but much more needs to be done to mainstream women. Anything is possible if we work together as a team and with a goal of women empowerment. It may take time but it can be achieved.
AS: Since Punjab continues to have a worse sex ratio, what have you done personally or your institutes done to spread awareness against the menace of sex selective abortions or son preference?
JJS: It is very true that Punjab still has the worst sex ratio (893) and even the child sex ratio of 846 (0-6 years) shows so preference . It is one of the greatest threats to our civilization. Female foeticide is one of the most nefarious crimes on this earth. Our institute is spreading awareness among the people by organizing awareness camps, organizing lectures, seminars etc. We are promoting women’s education as special arrangements are made for the security and proper education of girls of this area. Even hostel facilities are being created very soon for girls’ hostels to be successfully established and maintained on the campus.
JJS: The first major advantage is that Sidana Institutes are being managed by group of educationists. So to provide quality education and placement of students is our top priority. Secondly, I am a teacher first and therefore my criterion of running institutes is selection of the best possible faculty, because I believe there is no replacement of a good teacher. Third, I am approachable to each and every student and parents. Hence feedback regarding every aspect of the Institute reaches me directly. No fine, no ragging, no harassment of any student is possible in this institute given the strict norms laid down by us. Being a mother and a female teacher, the security and honour of girls is our top priority.
Sidana international school is affiliated to CBSE, New Delhi
Of affiliation I can say that Sidana polytechnic College was approved by AICTE, New Delhi and is affiliated to PSBTE and IT. Sidana Institute of Education was approved by NCTE and is affiliated to Guru Nanak Dev University
Sidana institute of Management and technology was approved by AICTE, New Delhi and is affiliated to Punjab Technical University.
Sidana Degree College is an associate Institute of GNDU and National Institute of open schooling and is approved by the government of India.
AS: How do you manage your institutions financially? Is there any government assistance in terms of aid, etc,.
JJS: Sidana Institutes are serving with a humanitarian mission and zeal. Our cause is to empower the youth of this border area educationally. No government assistance or any other aid is available to us. So every penny is being spent with proper care. It’s very difficult to sustain at times because students mostly belong to financially weak families and even the normal fee has to be divided into installments.
AS: Is there anything you want to share about yourself or the Sidana institutes?
JJS: Sidana Institutes has ushered a tremendous growth in the short span of time of its existence. The college is providing students with the best employment prospects and is trying to equip them to face all challenges and problems in their professional life. Today I can confidently say that we are imparting awesome training and education to mould our students to take greater social responsibilities. We need a lot of educational infrastructure and political will in this country to change the fate of millions for a prosperous India in future.
Lastly, let me mention that this year only we have started an Award (K.L Sidana Award for Educational Management) to be given to the eminent people who are working as teacher educators or in the field of Educational Management. The initiative by our institute is yet another step to recognize the contribution of people in the field of education.
[The interview originally appeared in Pointblank7]
[Dr. Adfar Shah is the Associate Editor at Eurasia Review and Editor for Kashmir Affairs at Analyst World besides writing for several national and international media groups]