From The Sunday Tribune, 2 March 2014

By Neha Saini

Observing the world around her, a renowned sociologist and scholar turned her into an author. While Supriya Singh had been sharing her own experiences through her books, her latest is about her mother.

Titled “Girls Ate Last: Partition, Education and the Life of Inder Kaur,” the book is about Singh’s mother who was one of the leading educationists and founding principal of three colleges including the Khalsa College of Education for Women. At a book launch and reading session, the author opened up about the purpose of writing a memoir to her mother and the sociological gender disparities during one of the darkest times in the country’s history. “Partition was responsible for dislocation of the close-knit family network of our society at the time, which kept the women home-bound and secluded. There were a lot of silences in our social history about women, but during Partition and after that, the women were forced to think and act, pushed by circumstances. My mother’s story is quite similar and so I wanted to share it,” shares the Melbourne-based author.,,,

Giving details of her mother, from Inder Kaur’s birth in 1911 to her growing up years in Pakistan, Partition and her education in Delhi after that, the book traces sensitive gender issues. “Girls were supposed to eat last in the household, only after all the men in family were done eating. They had limited education and never encouraged to ask what they want, but only to pick between the choices given to them. Girls knew that they got less than the boys in the family, but never created fuss about it,” says Singh, who has earlier written extensively about money and social shaping.

But her book is also a story of survival and enablement. “It was not women liberalisation that prompted my mother to pursue education post-Partition, but a simple, traditional reason that her daughters should get good education. She took up teaching my elder sister Punjabi and later gave private tuitions to the kids in her school. It was also a source of income for her household. While she did that, encouraged by the response she completed her graduation. The fact that she received honour for what she could give, turned her survival turned into emancipation when she wanted to pursue her Master’s in Punjabi, she was one of the first two women in Delhi University during 1956 to study Punjabi.”

From there, her journey into becoming one of the leading educationists and founding principal of Khalsa College for women became an inspiration. Surpiya believes that the biggest driving force for her mother was the Partition. “Some of the biggest movements of the twentieth century like the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy, Namdhari movement and many, bypassed my mother. But the Partition shook her to the core and changed her life. Her reaction to it was that she could get an education, worked towards enabling other girls do the same, with a quiet feminity,” says Supriya …

Next on her agenda seems to be re-connecting with her Punjabi roots. “I have never really experienced Punjab, but through my research, I have been travelling to villages, small towns and interacting with people about their lives. So, my next book is already in the making,” she signs off.