Dr. Jeewan Jyoti Sidana runs a chain of educational institutes in Amritsar of India’s Punjab State which covers 100 villages of the border district and who has become a beacon of hope for the 1.8 lac population in the area. Dr. Sidana believes that education is the only way to transform India where the need of the hour is for women to be an inspiration to their fellow women in taking the lead to empowering others and contributing whole heartedly for a gender just society.
Q. Tell us about your journey Dr. Sidana, what was your mission at the outset? To whom do you most attribute your success to?
A. My parents, both from the teaching profession, have been a source of inspiration to me. Undoubtedly my consistent hard work led to a stage where I both own and administer a chain of educational institutes. I had the distinction of being amongst the toppers of Punjab in the 10th standard and was also the recipient of a prestigious State Level scholarship from the government. Post 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 my Doctorate in the discipline of education and gaining vital experience as a teacher-educator for 16 years, opening an institute in the border area of the Amritsar district to provide quality education to the students of this region seemed like a natural step. Hence, with the valuable support of my family and the representatives of this area, I established these institutes. I faced a lot of difficulties but God was kind enough and things fell into place gradually. My family as well as the faculty supported me in every way.
As change is the law of nature, so is life is changing very fast. Being the administrator and owner, the responsibilities are increasing day by day. Every day comes with new challenges and experiences, which I revel in and endeavor to meet with the aim of constantly widening the dimension and scope of these institutes.
Q. Tell us about the whole Sidana Institutes project and where does it stand now?
A. 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 about 100 villages of about 1.8 lakh population. Sidana Institutes is spread over an area of 11 hectares and comprises of different departments with their specific specializations like:
- Sidana International School (enrolment 382 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)
Q. As a woman, what were the main hurdles that you encountered while setting up these institutes?
A. Being a woman in a male oriented and male dominated world and trying to establish a quality educational institute in this border area, was certainly a herculean task but God 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 admissions in this backward and illiterate area is still a major issue which I am facing and trying to overcome.
Q5. 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?
Ans: 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.
Q6. Being an empowered woman, what is your view on Indian Women’s struggle for equality? How do you see India changing?
Ans: 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 the 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 helpless and unhappy in a lot many spheres of life. With a majority of them being uneducated, most women are not aware of their rights. They take their suffering as their destiny and have somewhere internalized violence and patriarchy against them. This is the duty of the conscious lot particularly women to empower underprivileged women by means of education.
Q. What is your message to the fellow Indian women who continue to suffer due to patriarchy?
A. Women historically have been at the receiving end and only a section of them have enjoyed a higher status in the past which still continues. Women continue to be regarded as objects of honour which is why honour killings and shame killings continue to remain 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 towards ending gender injustice which needs to be sustained with vigour. Women of this great nation have tremendous potential what matters is and they need to realize their potential and move forward amid all the shackles and oppressive and discouraging roadblocks.
They should aim at economic independence and achieve more and more access to education and resources.
Q. Tell us something about your experiences of gender discrimination in Punjab?
A. Gender discrimination in Punjab is one of the biggest problems. To achieve fatherhood or motherhood is the most satisfying and fulfilling feeling in this world irrespective of sex of the child. But in circumstances where the social structure of the state has tilted towards the preference for sons, it is both a very tricky and a difficult question to answer.
The main reason for the discrimination is that Punjabi society attaches too much “IZZAT” (honor) in 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 are often held responsible for the crime. Under the burden of unrelenting social pressure mounting 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 maybe son preference in Punjab.
Q. What is your idea of women empowerment especially through education? How do you see women empowerment in Punjab?
A. I believe only education can liberate women in the true sense. The essence of a prosperous and progressive nation is its women and education can make them conscious as well as 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 the underprivileged class or background. 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 bring women into the mainstream. Anything is possible if we work together as a team with a goal of women empowerment. It may take time but it can be achieved.
Q. Punjab continues to have a low sex ratio, what have you or your institute done to spread awareness against the menace of sex selective abortions or son preference?
A. 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 a son 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. Hostel facilities are being built very soon for girls’ hostels to be successfully established and maintained on the campus.
Q. How is your institution different from other institutions in Punjab? Are there any women headed institutes in Punjab? What are your institutions affiliated to?
A. 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 their 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
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.
Q. How do you manage your institutions financially? Is there any government assistance in terms of aid, etc,.
A. Sidana Institutes are serving with a humanitarian mission and zeal. Our cause is to empower the youth of this border area through education. No government assistance or any other aid is available to us. Hence 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.
Q14. Is there anything you want to share about yourself or the Sidana Institutes?
Ans: Sidana Institutes has ushered in 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 training and education to mold our students to take on 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 the near future.