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Yes, We Can: Sikh School Girls Query Michelle Obama

by KATY DAIGLE, et al

 

 

After meeting Michelle Obama on her recent visit to India, 12-year-old Ramanpreet Kaur and 14-year-old Manpreet Kaur's lives seem to have been partitioned into two clear halves: ‘before' and ‘after' the visit.

Class VI and VIII students of Government Middle School in the Qila Jiwan Singh village of Amritsar, Punjab, the questions asked by these girls have already made headlines - who in the Obama couple wins fights at home? What do their daughters (Malia and Sasha) want to become when they grow up? Must there be a difference between a boy and a girl child?

Michelle Obama delivered a strong message to the girls, telling them to study hard and be educated. She also said she likes to exercise because "women have to stay strong."

After the tour, the group sat under a canopy of trees and shared mango juice while Mrs. Obama entertained their questions, some of which were probing.

Manpreet Kaur, who came by overnight train from Punjab, had asked the first lady if American girls struggled like in India with the issue of gender preference for men.

Mrs. Obama replied that things in the U.S. had improved and that there now were as many women in universities as men.

Manpreet asked another tough question: whether Mrs. Obama or the President had to apologize first after they get into a fight. "She said: 'Of course the President makes up first'," the girl said, drawing giggles from the rest of the group. The girls said they were surprised by the answer and would go home and tell their mothers.

Mrs. Obama greeted the 10- to 14-year-olds under a peepal tree. At one point, Mrs. Obama smiled, pumping both hands in the air, told the girls: "women and power!" 

The low-key field trip was the First Lady's last solo outing in India before the Obamas left for Indonesia.

But there is more to this story. The girls now seem to have the confidence to meet equally well-placed people and speak their minds. "I would like to meet with the Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh, and ask him why I can't study till Class XII," says Ramanpreet, who wants to be a pediatrician when she grows up but is restricted by the fact that her school has classes only till Class VIII.

The question Manpreet has is for Bollywood actors Shahid Kapur and Katrina Kaif. "I like both of them and would like to know why they don't act together. I think that would be a blockbuster of a film," she says thoughtfully.

Equally interesting are the stories and questions of Apreet Kaur Buttar (11) and Ankita Dhukia (10), students of Class VI, Guru Harkrishan Public School, Sri Ganganagar, Rajasthan, who were part of the 17-strong bunch of girls that met the First Lady of U.S.A. "It was a big thing. My brother was so jealous when I was leaving for Delhi, and now I'll tease him a bit more," says Ankita, flaunting her gifts from the White House.

Representing the cause of the abysmal sex ratio in India to Mrs Obama, the girls found her an apt personality for the message. "We had seen her on television earlier but meeting her in person was quite different and exciting. We were a little nervous initially, but when she started talking to us we felt very much at ease," says Apreet.

Before leaving, Manpreet presented Mrs Obama a letter in Gurmukhi/ Punjabi, urging America to ‘sell peace, buy love and spread harmony'.

"I think that if this is followed, it would end many of the major problems in the world. India could make for a great partner with the USA in this mission," reads the letter. "The main challenges that we wanted to highlight (through the meeting) were female foeticide, climate change and corporal punishment in our schools," says Ramanpreet proudly.

 

[Courtesy: Fresno Bee & Deccan Chronicle]

November 17, 2010

Conversation about this article

1: Bibek Singh (Jersey City, U.S.A.), November 17, 2010, 8:45 AM.

Excellent!

2: N. Singh (Canada), November 17, 2010, 10:21 AM.

Although I was disappointed by President Obama's decision to not visit Amritsar, it is worth comparing this article about First Lady Michelle Obama and the previous one about First Lady Gursharan Kaur. This is how you inspire others, give them hope and open up the window of their dreams so that one day they too can live to their full potential. A heart warming story! I am particularly pleased that children from Punjab were invited to attend ... it is very important that once again we Sikhs put education at the forefront of our priorities.

3: Raj (Canada), November 17, 2010, 9:28 PM.

N. Singh, you're so right. Indian politicians lack vision, maturity and statesmanship. Dr. and Sardarni Manmohan Singh are no exceptions.

4: Dr. Birinder Singh Ahluwalia (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), November 18, 2010, 6:54 AM.

Leaders who inspire, history is witness to this, have always had the uncanny ability to dream big on behalf of humanity to make it a better place - hence they inspire people to dream along with them to make a difference for the better. The Obamas have this wonderful gift to dream (BIG) and make our world a better place. It is not to say that the Manmohan Singhs don't possess this art, may be they do, but for now, simply they are busy charting an economic course for India and hoping the rest (inspiration and greatness) will automatically follow or once they are finished creating the economic miracle for India they will find time for other stuff. Let us give India and it's leaders a fair chance to show their abilities.

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