Punjab CM Capt. Amarinder Singh fulfilled a poll promise last week, when he announced that every girl and woman in Punjab would have access to free education, right from nursery to PhD, in government schools and colleges.
He also announced free textbooks for all government school students, and that all 48 government colleges and 13,000 primary schools in the state would be given free WiFi, fulfilling another poll promise.
These are landmark moves. They deserve to be celebrated.
They could lead to more young girls from financially-challenged families being allowed to enrol in primary schools.
They definitely reinforce one of the core principles of the Indian feminist movement: that all women, no matter their background, should have a right to education and equal opportunity.
However, there are obstacles in these steps toward women empowerment.
The state of government educational institutions in Punjab is poor, to say the least.
Over the past few years, government schools have shut down, or fallen into disrepair, due to inadequate funding, a lack of basic facilities, and low attendance. The schools that have remained open are running out of space, to the point where over 100 girls are packed into a single classroom, while the boys are taught outside in the baking sun.
Punjab's educational infrastructure as a whole has been shaky. Fees have been skyrocketing. Students who protested the fee hikes were lathi charged. Mid-day meals for children in schools have been neglected, and the budget for the mid-day meal scheme has been reduced.
The situation begs the question: Will these women who are being offered free education be given an education of any quality?
The CM of Punjab seems to be aware of the flaws in his state's educational system, though.
He said in his speech that his government had inherited, "a virtually collapsed system of school education." And he plans to change that. Singh will build five new government colleges by the end of this fiscal year.
He has also implemented 33% reservation for women in state jobs and 50% reservation for women in local bodies, so maybe it's okay that we're cautiously optimistic about the opportunities that women in Punjab will hopefully have access to in the next couple of years.