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Having grown up in a society where girls are often denied their rights to education and are not treated like boys, Meena gave me the courage to ask for my dues during my adolescent years,” said Mehjabin Archi, a mother of two girls.
The reason why she had been so attached to the cartoon show is that she could easily identify herself with the female characters. “The challenges facing girls in the cartoon reflect the predicament of most Bangladeshi girls.”
A woman in her 30s, Archi is an NGO official in Savar, outside Dhaka. Talking about her memories of watching “Meena” she said how it shaped her perception of girls’ role in society.
“My in-laws and my parents were upset when they knew that I didn’t have a son. But remembering the stories of Meena, I vowed to myself that I would never let my girls feel that they are less wanted,” she said.
Archi first watched “Meena” show on the state owned TV channel BTV when she was a teenager in the mid-1990s.
“The theme song of the show, Ami Baba- Mayer Shoto Adorer Meye [I am the most loved daughter of my parents] still touches me as it reminds me of how girls are treated in this country,” said the mother, who does not regret that she has no son.
Early marriage is the biggest challenge facing Bangladeshi girls. In the town where Archi lives, many families take their girls away from school and marry them off before they come of age.
“No matter what the neighbours say I am determined to make my girls complete their education before they get married,” she said. In her efforts to go to school or fighting child marriage, Meena remains a great source of inspiration for Archi.
It is remarkable to note that children these days feel the same about Meena as their mothers felt two decades ago. Meena is no stranger to Bangladeshi households and even in the region.
“I really enjoy watching Meena, the stories are entertaining and fun. I also learnt about maintaining basic hygiene like washing hands with soap before having meals and using sanitary latrines from the shows,” said Archi’s daughter Namira Roja, a student of grade V.
Namira’s sister Samira is also fond of Meena, Mithu and Raju, the main characters of Meena.
“Whenever I visit a house and see that the girl’s distribution of food is smaller than that of the boy I protest,” said Samira who reads in grade III.
Commenting on how Meena had taught her the importance of schooling, she referred to an episode of Meena where Meena’s father told her not to go to school anymore. But Meena kept hanging around the school and learnt how to count.
“When chickens were stolen from the house, Meena realized what was happening because she could count,” said Samira.
Besides learning the importance of schooling both the sisters realized that girls are capable of doing everything that a boy does.
The girls often emulate Meena’s dialect and amuse others, their mother said.