I worked with Building Bridges on a four-month series of art and creative skills workshops at St. John’s College, Mattakkuliya. It is a co-educational school whose students come from diverse backgrounds in terms of ethnicity and religion. During my time on this project, I noticed the absence or low numbers of girls who made it to the weekend sessions. On inquiring with the school principal, I was told that most of the girls had dropped out of school after reaching puberty, and only a small amount of girls attended school classes above Grade 9.

This took me back to a story that my grandmother used to tell me. In her time, bamboo blinds hanging outside an entrance to a house would indicate that a young girl lived there. The blinds were meant to ‘protect’ them from unwelcome gazes in the time between puberty and marriage  but would also cut them off from the outside world.

These ‘thatti’ symbolise an order of social ‘protection’ that denies young women access to basic rights such as education. By seeking to ‘protect’, this age-old tradition only ends up denying them the mobility and opportunities they need for independence.

Editor’s Note: Thatti, in Tamil, refers to bamboo blinds. This piece was submitted as part of an ongoing series marking 70 years of Independence.

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