Manisha Govind Ghorpade (Chandetepli, Jalna) studies in standard 12th. From 1st to 8th standard, she completed her education in the Zilla Parishad school in her village Chandetepli, and after that, she went on to study ninth and tenth in the Rajur School, Bhokardan, Jalna. Now, she’s pursuing Bachelor of Arts in the Vinayak University in Rajur. Her mother Kamlabai and her younger brother stay at home with her. Her elder brothers stay in Aurangabad.
Coming from a fairly typical family, Manisha has a small house in Chandetepli village in Ghorpade, Jalna. Since her family doesn’t own land, they work as agricultural laborers in others’ farms. Manisha also helps her mother with household chores at home. Her story, though, is inspiring for other teenagers her age. When she was in the 8th standard, her family decided to get her ‘married off’. When Manisha got to know about this news, it was beyond her understanding. “I’ve not even completed my education, how am I supposed to get married?”, this thought baffled her to no end. Even before the prospective boy’s side came home, she declared. “I am not going to get married yet” and refused her own child marriage. This declaration of hers today has proved to be her affirmation for a positive future.
Most families in rural Maharashtra make ends meet by working as agricultural labourers and doing whatever odd jobs that come their way. Manisha, too, comes from a family like this. Several families migrate from Chandetepli village to sugarcane fields for the job of cutting sugarcane for six months. At such times, parents want to get their daughters married to reduce their ‘burden’ of taking care of them.
Standing against her own child marriage wasn’t a one-day decision for Manisha. When asked about the tradition of child marriage, and where she got the courage to say no to it, Manisha responds, “There are two Anganwadis in my village. They’re run by Vandana Tai (Ghorpade) and Swati Tai (Ghorpade). Three years ago, when I was in the 8th standard, they used to conduct meetings for teenage girls in the Anganwadi. In these meetings, there used to be a ‘Conversation Box’ where girls could speak up. Additionally, Anganwadi Sevikas used to converse about menstrual health and hygiene with us. They used to give in-depth information about why child marriage is wrong. Besides, they also used to discuss how this is a crime according to the law. We’d hence, been introduced to these questions a long time back. That’s how we got inspired by the local Anganwadis.”
In Jalna, the number of people who migrate seasonally is enormous. Even amongst them, there is a higher incidence of migration in the Bhokardan and Partur blocks. There are several interventions which work on questions of nutrition, malnutrition, child labour and child marriage in this area in the last four years. Even in Chandetepli, representatives of an NGO called ‘Sacred’, takes awareness sessions. They have classes for parents and young girls, where child marriage is extensively discussed. Video clips are screened to generate awareness around issues which arise out of child marriage. This helped speed up the process of public awareness.
Child marriage is a crime, according to the law. Even if parents, relatives and caste collectives are aware of the law, they purposefully ignore it and view girls as just a responsibility that needs to be taken care of. When Manisha’s family started looking for prospective matches for her, a proposal came to them. When her family was deciding on her behalf, Manisha didn’t want any of this. She’d got a flood of information from the Anganwadi about why child marriage was wrong. Hence, she sat down and discussed why she didn’t want to marry yet with her mother and brothers.
“I want to study and not marry at all,” she told them. She also informed the Anganwadi tais. She didn’t stop at this. She warned her family that child marriage is a crime, and we will all have to face dire consequences for encouraging it. And then, it was decided, ‘let’s not get Manisha married’, ‘let’s continue her education’. Because of this dialogue, her strength and determination, Manisha can pursue University-level education today. The proposals kept coming though.
After getting to know of the ill-effects of child marriage, Manisha’s mother and brother were convinced by it. “I’m not going to get my child married off at such a vulnerable age,” her mother resolved and promised to encourage her education. After that, the marriage proposals kept coming in for Manisha, but her family refused them, then and there. Her confrontation about her marriage was a one-time mountain of disagreement with her family that Manisha determinedly navigated through. But it set a precedent for her family. She’s an inspiration for rural girls.
Manisha was aware of the ill-effects of saying no to child marriage. The awareness sessions for
teenage girls held in the Anganwadi helped her a lot. “Which issues did you face when you said no to child marriage?”, “How did you deal with them?” When asked these questions, Manisha says, “Along with me, the girls in my class were also aware of child marriage as an issue because the Anganwadi Tai had spoken about it in very easy words. The video clips helped. Ever since then, I’d resolved never to let this happen to me.
In school, girls used to discuss this with each other. After I’d stood against my own child marriage, I came to know that two other girls, much younger to me, were about to get married too. I discussed why one is supposed to say no with them. I even went to their house and talked to their mother. Then, their parents finally decided to refuse the proposal.” This is how Manisha not only stopped her marriage but also encouraged other girls to stand up for themselves.
The fact that girls like Manisha, who come from rural Maharashtra, have the grit and determination to stand up for education, health, hygiene, nutrition and changes during puberty is evident. With Central government’s ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign in full swing for educating girls, there is a certain level of public awareness now, which is eroding the hold of regressive attitudes and behaviours. Girls are now able to assert their right to education, play and leading independent lives.
When asked about their inspiration, Anganwadi Workers, Vandana Ghorpade and Swati Ghorpade share, “Child marriage is exploitative, there’s no doubt about that. To stop it, girls are given support and knowledge. We train girls to talk about this topic in their communities too. When you’re the head of the Child Protection Committee in your village, you have some responsibilities, like resolving conflicts involving children, or training and sensitizing girls on how to stop child marriage. When we get a letter in the Conversation Box in our Anganwadi saying that someone has received a proposal for marriage, we assemble the girls for a meeting.
We discuss the implications of marriage at a young age. Along with this, NGO ‘Sacred’ had assigned their volunteer, Anil Jadhav [for this task]. He visited parents who wished to get their daughters married early at their residence. He warned them about how this alliance will put their
daughter’s health at risk. This warning challenged the parents’ beliefs and made them reconsider their decision.”
Uprooting the evil of child marriage is going to be a tough battle. Organizations such as Sacred and the UNICEF have been working incessantly asking questions such as, “What is the rate of prevalence of child marriage?”, “How many girls stand at risk of dropping out of school for child marriage?”, “How many children get to study beyond the 8th standard?”, etc. In this context, when one asks Manisha, what she thinks is necessary to curb this social evil, she says, “The village is about 3 to 4 kilometres away from the main Rajur-Bhokardan highway. My friends and I have to travel to our University by whatever mode of transport we get. The bus route doesn’t pass by our village at all. Girls remain marginalized, and their right to education could be denied. We need to come up with some policy or solution to address this.”
In such adverse realities, what would she like to do in her future, we asked. Manisha shares, “Children should have the freedom to pursue whatever good work they want to pursue or have the opportunity to pursue. I’m studying now, and soon, I’d like to work for the poor and marginalized communities. Other girls should also receive similar opportunities, and I want to ensure that.” Her mother, Kamlabai Ghorpade quips, “We need to enable girls to stand up on their own two feet. When she said she wants to learn, we encouraged her to do so.” To curb the deep-rooted issue of child marriage, a movement against poverty, against regressive attitudes and for educating girls is underway, and girls like Manisha are leading it!