ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Overlapping Marginalities

Digital Education and Muslim Female Students in Bhiwandi

The experience of the COVID-19 pandemic shows that excessive reliance on digital technologies for delivery of education can sharpen the inequalities in learning. In Bhiwandi, both a metropolitan and a digital periphery in Maharashtra, such unequal learning opportunities further marginalised the citizens of the locality. Female students additionally faced several challenges. Among the many freedoms upended during the pandemic was the spatial mobility, offered by the physical access to the colleges. Where educational institutions failed to effectively adapt to the situation, undergraduate Muslim women experienced a lack of digital access and poor quality of learning.

The authors express their gratitude and appreciation for the time and effort of our respondents in completing the survey as well as participating in the face-to-face workshop. They also wish to thank the different colleges in Bhiwandi (especially Oneza Farid, principal at Aqsa Women’s Degree College), which supported this research. Funding for this research was provided by the British Academy Tackling Global Challenges programme.

COVID-19 is arguably the most significant global development that revealed the uneven access to digital infrastructures across a number of scales and diverse social groups. Several authors (Bailey et al 2021; Datta 2020a, 2020b; Milan et al 2021) have now written about the margin­alising effects of lack of access to or absence of digital infrastructures that led to socio-economic and health crises across families and social groups during and after COVID-19. In India, a large part of this discussion was concerned with the migrant crisis, which emerged as soon as the lockdown was announced, while another significant aspect of the literature was the feminist critique of the resultant rise in gender-based violence at home and increasing domestic burdens imposed upon women through the impossibilities of “work from home” guidelines. Within these discussions was the impact that the pandemic had on access to education, particularly for young women in low-income households. Their limited access to technology combined with increased surveillance of their space and time produced multiple marginalisations that were largely hidden within the confines of the home (Datta 2022).

This study takes an intersectional approach to the gendering of education during COVID-19. It aims to understand not just the uneven access to education produced by the pandemic, rather how this affected specific groups of women differently, when their social location is defined by geography, class, religion, generation, and gender. The focus of the study is prima­rily on Muslim women living in the low-income housing area in Bhiwandi—one of the most deprived industrial spaces in the peri­pheries of Mumbai. Based on the survey of 302 female Muslim students pursuing undergraduate college education, we argue that the COVID-19 lockdown and the subsequent shift to online classes exposed Bhiwandi’s student population to an unprecedented crisis. The systemic marginalisation historically experienced in the town was reinforced by social and cultural marginalisation faced by Muslim female students. Following Ticktin (2021), the study argues for feminising the inter­sectional understanding of the crisis for appropriate policies and ­effective initiatives.

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Updated On : 24th Jul, 2023
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