By Komal Ganotra:
October 11 is the day designated to celebrate the vibrancy, strength and resilience of girl children across the world as International Day of the Girl Child.
Girls are poised to take on the future, their progress is a reflection of a robust economy. Many girls, however, continue to face discrimination basis their gender and the stereotypical roles attached to them. India is also home to 13 million married girls between the ages of 10-19 years and 30% of them have begun child-bearing, severely compromising their health and well-being.
Girls also face a lot of hurdles in sheer access to school and later continuing and finishing schools. The enrolment rates in India at secondary and higher secondary level is dismal with 79% and 53% respectively.
Faced with multiple pressures of societal expectations, contribution to family economy, early marriage and child bearing, coupled with lack of opportunities, she is sometimes left with no option but to give up the fight for her rights.
Amongst these, there are stories of hope, stories of battles fought by girls against patriarchy and against social evils under the garbs of tradition, against abuse; stories of girls who have risen beyond all odds to emerge winners. Here, we bring you stories of such girl ‘heroes’ who stood up for their rights, from across India.
Hailing from one of the oldest and biggest slums Vyasarpadi in Chennai, and born into a Dalit family is Shaktheeswari, also called Shakti. Her father, a daily wage worker and mother who works in a hotel, struggled to make ends meet and Shakti had to drop out in std 7th to help her family economically. Working for over 12 hours a day in a fish packing company, she earned a meagre ₹15 to aide her family.
All this while, there was something Shakti had terribly missed, something that helped he regain her confidence and turned her life around. Football. During her primary schooling, she had shown keen interest in going to nearby ground where boys were trained in football. Seeing her interest, CRY Supported project, SCSTED, who were undertaking this training, invited her to join. She has since been a regular. Shakti has grown into a strong, confident young lady playing a strong leadership role in her community, with endless achievements.
She has coached more than 100 children in Vyasarpadi. She has been part of the Chennai district Football team and has played more than 20 district level matches and 2 state level matches. She has represented the Indian team in the International Match for Slum children in Paris (France). She was selected to be TN woman referee in 2012 by the Tamil Nadu Football Association and has now refereed more than 90 matches. Apart from accolades in football, she has taken up the role of a mentor and guide for other girls in the community and helps them stand up for their rights and helps them be confident and believe in their capabilities.
Shakti says, “When I believed I could play along with the boys and in fact be better than them, I got the confidence to turn my life around and fight to stand against child marriage and continue my passion as well as my education. As a child, I used to fear even to walk alone to the next street. Now I have travelled to France and stayed with a team of people who do not understand Tamil. I used to be alone in the team as I didn’t understand what they speak. I want all girls in my community to realise their dreams we all, and I help them do it.”
The dream to become an IAS officer came crashing down for 15-year-old Rani Manchak Kale as her family decided to migrate for work to another town. As is a norm in her village of Savli in Maharashtra, the girls of these families are usually married off and they usually end up as labour in the site of migration.
Rani, about to celebrate her 16th birthday, decided to take her fate in her own hands. Encouraged, counselled and inspired by the CRY supported group she is a part of – Savitribai Chya Kanya (Daughters of Savitribai named after the social reformer Savitribai Phule) – she stood up against her marriage and convinced her parents to let her continue her education staying in her village. Not just that, she started a movement to save other girls who would have fallen prey to marriage and eventually ended up as labour in the site they migrated to. The platform of children’s collective gave her the sense of self and empowerment which was the much needed thrust. The instances of child marriage in her village have reduced and Rani, who is back to school, is on her way to realising her dream of serving the country.
The group has been active since the past 3 years and comprises of around 20 girls in each village ranging in the age group of 14 to 18 years. They meet once a week to share updates and often voluntarily talk to the parents of underage girls whose marriages are often finalised without their approval.
Most girls in Savli village are keen on higher studies and are staying back on their own and attending school as well as doing all the household chores. They are cared to by their extended family members or grandparents while those staying alone at home, reach out to their girls’ group for company and advice.
Rosaline Bankira, daughter of Syam Sunder and Moti Bankira, lives with her family in the Patrasahi village of Ranipokri GP, Kaptipada Block, Mayurbanj district, Odisha.
Rosaline had to drop out of school and was engaged in cattle rearing and other household chores to support her family. When she would take the cattle out for grazing, she had to spend a lot of time running behind them to make sure she didn’t lose them.
In the meanwhile, her eldest sister, who was married, took Rosaline with her to enrol her into school. She wanted her younger sister to at least complete her primary schooling. She was admitted in the fifth standard. It was in this Patrasahi school where her ability to run fast was recognized by CRY Supported project Shiksha Sandhan. She went on to win the 200m and 400m race in the school sports that year.
She then went on to represent her school at the Block level sports competitions in 2015 and won! Then she participated in the District level Marathon as well as the representative from her school. Rosaline has won 4 medals in the athletic events at the district level Champions Trophy and made her school and her village extremely proud.
She says that it is her school where she got the opportunity to test her speed on the running tracks and then went on to achieve this milestone. While she dreams of representing her school at the State Levels now, she has also transformed into a much more confident girl!
While congratulatory messages pour in from the entire village of Dhenua (Monteswar Block, Bardhaman, West Bengal) for the sixteen year old who scored a whopping 82% in her Secondary Examinations, she doesn’t sound ecstatic with her results. “I had scored above 80% in English for my selections before the Board Examinations. In the finals I only managed a 73. My marks could have been better,” says Ananya. You hear a tinge of disappointment in her voice and you wonder how a sixteen year old could remain so unaffected while creating history.
She is the first girl in the village of Dhenua to have secured such high marks in her secondary examinations. For her neighbours who have always seen toppers and high scorers only on the television and in the news, it is hard to believe that the girl next door could be one of them. Sheer determination, grit and a very rational head on her shoulders is what makes this young girl special.
“I wake up at 5 in the morning every day to go to Krishnadi, one of my teachers from school, who coaches me in English and Bengali. By the time I come back home, my mother is busy with household chores and looking after the one cow we have. But my father has already prepared a meal of rice and boiled potatoes for us three sisters to eat and leave for school. My elder sister has appeared for her Higher Secondary examinations and my younger sister is studying in class 8. Shyamal Uncle (Shyamal Ghosh, a friend of her father’s) taught me the subjects from the Science group every evening after school. I was back at home by 9 PM and studied till midnight to prepare for my exams. I want to become a nurse because my village is in dire need of a good one,” says Ananya.
You cannot help but wonder where she gets this resilience from. Her parents have stood by her through thick and thin, making sure that the three sisters complete their studies. They have categorically refused every marriage proposal that have come their way. An active member of the Children’s Resource Group created by CRY supported project Vikramshila Education Resource Society since 2013, Ananya has always been an enthusiastic advocate of child rights. She is vocal against child marriage and child labour, helps in counseling her peers who face similar problems, is never afraid to speak her heart out, and always logical in her approach.
“It is the sessions with the Children’s Resource Group that has helped build my confidence and made me believe more in myself. It has not only built my knowledge about child rights issues, but also exposed me to a world much bigger than my little village,” says an animated Ananya.
15-year-old Nisha Kumari lives in Beldih gram basti of Jamshedpur. Born to Saurabh Karuwan and Savita Karuwan, she has two sisters and one younger brother. She is the youngest of the sisters. Nisha is currently studying in the 10th standard and is a regular student of Sakchi High School. Her father is a daily wage earner and her mother works as a part time sweeper in an office.
Nisha also trains regularly at the JRD Sports complex, a training unit of Tata Steel in Jamshedpur. She started playing handball when she was 10 years old, back in 2011. Seeing her talent in sports, the school management gave her the space and opportunity to showcase her abilities and selected her in the school team. Her performance was appreciated by all in an inter-school tournament. She has represented her state thrice in the Handball championships. Her team secured the fourth position in one tournament, second in another and won the third one.
In the year 2015 she also participated in the Sub Junior Girl’s National Handball Championship as the Vice-Captain and in the Senior Girl’s National Handball Championship. Thereafter, Nisha never looked back in her life.
When asked how she manages games and studies, she says, “Education is most important whether you are in sports or any other field because education teaches us discipline which is essential to become a successful sportsperson.
My dream is to represent India at the international level,” says Nisha with a spark that lights up her eyes!