They say you need only one person, yourself, to win the battle. And Beena’s journey is a living example of that. Herself being a victim of child marriage, she has crusaded a long way to prevent at least 65 such cases till date, in a remote village in Samastipur. Here’s a report how she stopped child marriage with her exemplary courage and resolution, as part of the special feature on International Women’s Day (IWD), in Different Truths.
It was an interactive session with a group of field workers at Akhtiarpur Mohuli, a remote village set at some far corner of Samastipur district, Bihar. A young woman in the group wearing a bright silver nose pin and a pair of twinkling eyes clearly stood out among others. But it was not the nose-pin that made her different. It was the effervescent readiness to share her point of view with a smile that did. During the entire field trip through the day, she spoke with full conviction that would unmistakably draw others attention. Evidently, something about her was clearly intriguing, stated a media release of CRY.
Beena, as the young woman was being called by others, was a field stuff working with Jawahar Jyoti Bal Vikas Kendra (JJBVK), a project in the Samastipur district, supported by CRY – Child Rights and You. And this is the story of how her journey turned into a shared one of trials and tribulations, challenges and successes.
Beena Kumari came to stay at with her in-laws at Damodarpur Mohuli, Samastipur, after her marriage, while she was yet to attain the age of 18. Shy and introvert, this child-bride dared not say a word and kept all her thoughts to herself. “But somewhere, someone inside kept telling me that something was amiss,” recollects Beena, as she goes back to her initial days at her in-law’s place.
Like every other child-bride in the country, she kept quiet and followed every norm and tradition she was asked to follow, bred three children, and life went on. Till one day, the project staff of JJBVK organised a meeting for the mothers in their village – a meeting that spoke about the ill-effects of child marriage, a meeting that turned out to be an eye-opener, the release added.
Beena knew she had to change the way things worked in her village. “It was as if I had found my calling. My eldest one is a daughter. People were already talking about her marriage. I kept imagining all the terrible things I underwent as a child-bride, the confusion, the weakness that my body was subjected to, the pain and every dilemma I have had to face at such a young age. My daughter would have to endure all of that if this tradition had its way. And then it struck me. This was not my problem alone; we have been making so many young girls go through this torture in the name of tradition, and it just has to stop. I was clear in my mind that there was no other option,” Beena still gets worked up recounting her past, it was stated.
This marked the beginning of her journey with JJBVK. With all her passion, she easily stood out among all the other women in her village. So much so, that the NGO had to consider absorbing her into their workforce. And it was not a smooth journey. Beena had to fight traditions every single day. Her father-in-law forbade her to engage herself in this work, restricted her access to the outside world. She was becoming too vocal, he said. Beena did not give up. “I could not. I had to keep walking,” she says. She spoke to her husband and kept in touch with JJBVK. The NGO helped her counsel her husband, who turned into one of her greatest strengths in this battle, informed the media release.
The plight of all the girls she has worked with in her journey has added to her grit and spirit. It has contributed to the relentless pursuit of her passion to set things right. She fought her family, and she fought with the confidence of being an agent of positive change. She did not let her daughter become a child-bride, ensured that she completed her Higher Secondary Examinations and enrolled into college. And that’s just one example. While working with JJBVK since 2008, Beena has been able to prevent at least 65 girls from becoming victims of child marriage.
Beena has to work with parents, who still believe that sending girls to school increases risks. They talk of high schools and colleges being too far from the village, or there being no separate toilets for girls in the schools that do exist. “Who will ensure that my girl will be safe on her way to school? If anything happens to her, who will marry her?” ask distraught parents.
The girl, however, has not much to say. She has been told that good girls keep their thoughts to themselves. She has also been told that girls don’t matter – in more ways than one. When she has been asked to give up her studies because her brothers’ education makes more sense (because he will earn, and all she will do is get married and make her parents bear the burden of her dowry); or when she has been told to not make noise about her health issues (because girls need to learn to endure) or when she has been married off at the age of 13 (because more the age, more the amount of the dowry).
India is home to 33 million child labourers, Bihar has 11% of the share. In the remote villages of this state, girls tend to drop out of school to not only tend to household chores or care for their siblings, but also to contribute to the family income. A girl getting actively involved in agricultural work or animal husbandry is a common sight. Beena works to send these girls back to school, it was informed.
One among these girls is Mampy. In a state where there are only 933 girls for every 1000 boys (the child sex ratio, according to Census 2011 data), Mampi Kumari (19 years) is the third girl in the family. Both her elder sisters Pinky and Rinky were married way before they turned 18. Mampi turned out to be the luckier one. Not only has she lived, but has also been the only daughter to have escaped child marriage in the family. By the time Mampi reached adolescence, her family had been made aware of the dire consequences of child marriage and were already repenting their previous decisions. Mampi is now preparing for her college admissions and is hell bent on completing her education before she even thinks of marriage, stated the media release.
Beena’s eyes twinkle as she speaks of Sona Kumari, another of the girls she has been working with closely. When Sona was in Class 7, her father had taken her to a relative’s place to fix her marriage. She realised she was alone and desperate to get out of this situation, she pretended to be blind. The groom’s family immediately walked out saying they would not accept a girl with disabilities. Though she has been subjected to immense mental and physical torture at home following this incident, Sona is determined to not fall prey to the menace of child marriage. Living in the state that tops the charts in India with regards to a number of child marriages, this is no mean feat.
Beena also speaks of Shobha Kumari, another young girl in her village. One would not think of her as a success story, as she was married of at the age of 14 years and it took a toll on her confidence and on her body. But upon continuous interaction with her, Beena could make her realise that the battle may have been lost, but the war is not over. Once she understood this, she decided to make some noise. She put her foot down, stopped her sister from becoming a child bride, went against her parents all the way, and made sure her sister completes her education and attains the legal age before she is married.
“Humein soch ko badalna hai. Soch badlega, tabhi na paristhiti badlegi. Issi soch ko badalne ke liye toh kaam karte hai hum log. Hai na?” (We have to change the thought process. Unless we change that, the situation won’t change much. This is exactly what we’re trying to achieve, right?) These are Beena’s final words before we bid her goodbye.
“In India, uneducated girl children are still a reality. They face numerous hurdles on their road to education. The most difficult of these, is the mindset that a girl child is not a ‘worthy-enough’ investment. Given proper education, girls can bring about a cycle of positive change. As they grow, they make better choices for themselves, which in turn helps them transform their life, secure their future and take care of their families. They grow up to be empowered women capable of influencing the community they live in, for the better. It is change-agents like Beena who act like catalysts for CRY. They not only help us spread awareness but also stand the ground as positive role models for girls to follow in the footsteps of,” said Atindra Nath Das, Director, Eastern Region of CRY – Child Rights and You.
Photos sourced by CRY and internet.
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