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How these girls broke free from child marriage and took charge of their lives

October 13, 2019
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How these girls broke free from child marriage and took charge of their lives

Jaipur: Child marriage is one of those phenomena that are outlawed yet widely prevalent. The problem is more acute in a patriarchal setup, such as what one might encounter in rural Rajasthan. While many families continue to give their daughters away in marriage very young, girls are beginning to resist and take charge of their own lives.

A recent event saw an NGO bringing together many such girls who have walked away from their marriage and are pursuing education. 101Reporters spoke with three of them to find out what their life was post marriage and how they gathered courage to stand up for their rights.

1. When 19-year-old Hasina Bano turned 10, it was then that she discovered that she had been married at the age of 3. Hasina, who hails from Ajayasar village in Ajmer district, about 150 km from Rajasthan’s capital Jaipur, says, “When asked about the wedding, the relatives told that all five sisters were married together in 2003. At the time of marriage, my youngest sister was only one-and-a-half months old and the eldest sister was 15 years old. Two brothers were also married. I was only three years old at the time of marriage. When I reached 6th class, there was pressure from the in-laws to send me to them, but in school we were taught that marriage of girls under the age of 18 is illegal.”

She adds: “I refused to go to my in-laws’ house. I knew that after going to them, I would not be able to study and my life would be spoiled. My parents who are wage labourers did not initially understand my opposition, but when I did not listen to them, they finally gave up and agreed to let me study further and not send me to my  in-laws.”

Hasina is currently pursuing BA first year through distance education. Apart from this, by joining an NGO named Mahila Jan Adhikar Samiti in Ajaysar itself, she is working on many issues related to women and girls, including child marriage, women’s rights, linking girls to education etc. Hasina also gets a salary of Rs4,000 per month. She is a role model of all the girls in the village. She wants to become a teacher and mentor underprivileged girls in rural India.

2.  Twenty-year-old Tara Raiger, who belongs to the Dalit community, was married off at the age of 15 in 2014. A resident of Dholaka village in Udaipur, a tribal district of Rajasthan, she strongly opposed her marriage but her family forced her and sent her to her in-laws. She could not meet her parents and other relatives for a year after that.

“I missed my studies after going to my in-laws’ house. My husband Suresh Raiger was about 10 years older than me and was unemployed. He would beat me every day after drinking alcohol. My mother-in-law also used to trouble me a lot. In 2016, when physical, mental abuse got out of tolerance, I tried to kill myself by consuming poison, but survived. After this, I complained to my parents about my husband and in-laws, but they silenced me by warning me about the societal norms and threw me out of the house,” she says.

Tara adds, “The most fights in the in-laws’ house was regarding my education. I wanted to study further but my husband and his family wanted me to keep working in their house as a maid. I single-handedly filed a domestic violence case against my in-laws and also filed for divorce.  Along with this, I also filled the form of class 10 by borrowing 2,500 rupees. On one side, there were quarrels in the family and on the other, my studies. I used to go on court dates alone and also study at the same time. In class 10th, I secured 55% marks. During the same period when the case was on in the court, I learned to operate computer and also some bit of English. I spent Rs32,500 in the legal proceedings by borrowing money from my relatives. For my divorce, I claimed the same amount as compensation.

Tara got divorced in April this year and is pursuing BA in Hindi, History and Geography. She  wants to join police services to help girls forced into child marriages. Currently, Tara does stitching to meet her own expenses and earns 3,000-4,000 rupees a month.

3. “At the age of playing, I was imprisoned in the burqa after my marriage. In 2014, I was 14 years old and family married me off to a 20-year-old boy.” Sonu Bano’s eyes were filled with tears as she narrated her story. A resident of Shobhasar village in the desert district of Bikaner, she was married before she could understand anything about her life.

“I was allowed to wear only a burqa or a salwar-suit at my in-laws’ house. Studying was not at all allowed. Neither did anyone seek my consent for the marriage nor was anyone bothered about what I had to go through after that. Every day, my husband used to physically abuse me while other members of the family would harass me mentally. I was also beaten many times.”

She adds, “I am fond of studying, that’s why I told my parents everything. Several days later, I convinced them for my divorce. Currently I am working against social evils in the village. I am the leader of the Kishori group formed in the village and have 25 girls with whom I carry out awareness campaigns on issues like child marriage, physical abuse, illiteracy and health.

Sonu says, “If girls want to move forward, then first they have to be financially strong. My father is a manager in a dairy association/union but still I do sewing work. From the income of 2,500-3,000 rupees, I feel that I have achieved something. It is very important for self-sufficiency in girls. I also want to contest the election of Sarpanch because I want to do a lot for girls.”

Widely prevalent

Even today, 35% of 20-24 year old women in Rajasthan–about 12 lakh–get married before the age of 18 years. The average age of marriage of girls in Rajasthan is 16.3 years.

Because of being married at an early age, there are incidents of marital rape with millions of girls and these are not reported anywhere. According to Census 2011, female literacy in Rajasthan is 52.12%. About 6.3% girls aged 15 to 19 years in Rajasthan had become a mother. Because they come from the most vulnerable sections of the society, most of them do not have adequate access to health facilities. They are also deprived of the fundamental right to education. In Rajasthan the following districts top the list in child marriages : Bhilwara (57.2%), Chittorgarh (53.6%), Karauli (49.8%), Jaisalmer (48.4%), Tonk (47.3%), Barmer (46.7%), Alwar (40.8%), Dausa (40.1%).  (http://rchiips.org/nfhs/pdf/NFHS4/RJ_FactSheet.pdf)

Dr OP Kulhari, Director of CULP, a social organisation working in Rajasthan for the last several years for the education of girls, says, “Girls of most marginalised communities in the patriarchal society of rural Rajasthan face several odd conditions such as gender inequalities and discrimination in family as well as in community or everywhere they go, social pressures to get married at an early age, stopping them from completing even elementary/secondary level education, suffering of several harassment, exploitation or abuses.”

With support of social activists of partner NGOs of Girls Not Brides working with girls of most marginalized communities in different parts of Rajasthan, a large number of girls could succeed to overcome / mitigate the odd conditions and came forward to build their capacity to join the mainstream education, getting life skills and inculcated self-confidence, established self-identity and self-esteem in their community and larger society. Now, they are able to take their own life decisions by negotiating with elders of the families as well as community leaders, proved themselves as role models for other girls.”

Arvind Ojha, who runs the social organisation Urmul in Bikaner says, “Even today, the world is very harsh for girls not only in Rajasthan but all over India. Due to malpractices, problems like getting married at a young age and getting pregnant after marriage, physical weakness, anaemia are common. These girls have created a history by breaking many social bonds in very small villages.”