She dared to raise her voice for what she believed in and she ensured that it was heard, loud and clear.
Rekha Kumari (name changed), a 16-year-old from a remotely placed village in Samastipur, refused to bow to pressures of early marriage from her parents and took a stand. Timely intervention from Jawahar Jyoti Bal Vikas Kendra (JJBVK), a local non-profit and partner to CRY — Child Rights and You, ensured that the bold step taken by the young girl in this remote hamlet in Bihar, is now triggering a steady movement wherein girls in neighbouring communities are also starting to find a voice. JJBVK runs an intervention programme in 22 hamlets of 16 villages in Sarairanjan block of Samastipur.
As is the prevalent norm with most families in the village, Rashmi’s parents were eager to marry her off as she was 16 years old. Rekha was adamant that she wanted to continue her education and voiced her reservations against early marriage. Her parents put their foot down, citing the example of Rekha’s elder sister who is 22, married and settled.
Luckily for Rekha, the Bal Panchayat got a wind of the matter and intervened. While the local ward member Chunchun Paswan and the village sarpanch Ramshankar Paswan did not do much to help, the field workers working with JJBVK, Kiran and Veena, took up the cudgel. They visited Rekha’s parents and talked to them extensively about the ill-effects of child marriages. With all requests falling on deaf ears, JJBVK members spoke to Rekha and told her to raise her voice against the family’s will. Much to her parents’ surprise, Rekha put her foot down and warned her parents of dire consequences if she was forcibly married off. Her parents tried to convince her, but in vain. Father Vinod Paswan (name changed) said: “Initially, I was feeling very bad that my daughter was refusing to get married. But she convinced me and made me realize her point of view. I am happy that my daughter will get to complete her studies.”
Rekha’s spirit holds hope that the menace of child marriage can be ended. It’s just a case raising a voice and sticking to it. As part of its capacity-building programme, JJBVK members and CRY plan to identify children who are seemingly vulnerable targets in the child marriage bracket and make people aware of the menace through community meetings. Anti-child marriage campaigns are held in villages and Bal Panchayats are also roped for support and consultations. In their meetings, the Bal Panchayat discusses the issue regularly and keeps track of more such cases that require intervention. JJBVK field worker Kiran said: “I feel proud that girls in our villages are coming forward and talking to their parents fearlessly on issues such as early marriage. JJBVK regularly conducts capacity-building programmes with adolescent groups and these are showing results.”
According to survey results available with CRY, around 56 child marriages have been prevented by the JJVBK team in the intervention areas of 16 villages and 22 habitations.
Rekha has inspired many other girls in the community to think of saying no to child marriage, an elusive dream in many places in Bihar today. Even as Rekha goes on to rewrite her life story, the state remains home to thousands and thousands of girls who didn’t dare to raise a voice. According to NHFS IV data available from 2015-2016, at least 39.1 per cent of girls aged 20-24 in the state were married off before they reached 18.
“Education is the best instrument to change the gender-discriminatory mindset of the community, which is slowing realising the importance of educating girls. Now, they are eagerly travelling miles to attend high school,” said Saradindu Bandhopadhyay, Bihar State Lead, CRY.
Rita Kumari (name changed), a member of the Bal Panchayat, said: “We are very happy for Rekha. Her story has given us hope that more girls will be able to speak out against child marriage and its ill effects after being part of the capacity-building programmes.”
Plans are also on the anvil to set up Child Protection Committee (CPCs) in Sarairanjan district to deal with child marriage cases.