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Meet Zosha, The Teen Activist Fighting For Children’s Rights In Mumbai

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Zosha Khan

This article is part of Charkha’s Changemaker Series

Born into the most ordinary circumstances, 16-year-old Zosha Khan’s story is full of strength and spirit. This young girl from Goregoan, Mumbai city in Maharashtra, is trying to make a difference by advocating for child rights. Her father is a salesman in a furniture shop and mother, a homemaker.

She has three siblings. The family finds it difficult to make ends meet with a meagre salary that her father gets. But that is no deterrent to Zosha, who thinks she ‘will assume more power than money’ and is herself a living example of this adage.

Like in any other typical Indian family, Zosha’s parents were apprehensive about her participation in field activities that required visiting houses in the vicinity. However, Zosha, who has just completed her Class 10, convinced her parents and joined other children from her basti, who had undertaken the task of collecting data for a survey, pertaining to violence against children. This had been initiated by the NGO PRATYeK, in Lakshmi Nagar slum from Goregaon, Mumbai.

During the survey, Zosha visited several families along with other children, to collect information about the forms of violence against children, incidence of child marriage and school dropouts. They also examined the state of private and public washrooms, water posts and sanitation in public places and presented a report to the NGO.

We found that most of the girls discontinued their studies after Class 10th and started working as domestic workers in high-rise buildings or assumed responsibilities at home. It’s as if that they have no other choice than to look after the home and hearth? The girls were also uncertain while answering our questions and the ones who tried, hesitated in the beginning,” said Zosha while elaborating on her experiences.

She also observed that parents who married their daughters before the legal age of 18, tried to hide and claimed that their daughter is not married and has gone to their native place to live with her grandparents.

Analysing the impact of the increasing rate of crime against women in the country, Zosha said, “The news of Asifa, the 8-year-old girl who was raped and murdered in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir in 2018 had serious repercussions in our basti. This case, which was discussed for days together on a national channel had an impact on the parents of young daughters. There was already a tendency to marry girls soon after Class 10; this case heightened the distress and parents found a justification to marry their young daughters as quickly as possible.

The Younger The Girl, More The Violence

Zosha is well-aware of the violence perpetrated on adolescent brides in their marital home. “The younger the girl, more the violence. When a young girl is married, she’s subjugated by her husband’s family. Since she’s just a child, she doesn’t have the power and strength to counter the attack,” she explained, reflecting upon her mature understanding of patriarchy and gender inequality.

Representational Image

Zosha also has a sensitive outlook of the class-caste bias that exists around her. “Dalit children from my basti start working as soon as they complete Class 10. Majority of them get into sanitation-related jobs. The non-Dalit communities don’t question this practice. They feel cleaning and sanitation is the job of the Dalits. Parents here do not think twice before telling their children to not get friendly with children from Dalit community,” Zosha rued.

Besides Dalit children, a number of other children also start working at a young age. Zosha and her team had done a photo story on working children. “We captured photos of children engaged in construction and sanitation, in shops and restaurants, vegetable vending, embroidery work, loading and unloading, courier boys and such. These were non-child-friendly photos for sure,” Zosha said emphatically.

Guided by PRATYeK, the group had learnt the art of street theatre. The children’s group had decided to address the issue of child marriage through the street play. The group members held meetings, a script was developed, and rehearsals were undertaken.

Zosha was aware of the impending marriage of a girl from her neighbourhood. Knowing about it, her group decided to stage the play in the vicinity of the girl’s house. As the play started, one of the family members of the girl came out to watch. He was her uncle who spoke with the group after the play and sought their help to stop the marriage of the underage girl.

Despite coming from a conservative family, Zosha takes up a lot of challenges. It’s not easy for a girl to come out and speak about child rights and violence against children. She’s quite curious and open to learning new ideas and thoughts. Her spoken and writing skills are impeccable,” shares Preethi Mutha, the Programme Manager for PratYek’s Maharashtra office.

Other than being deeply committed to the cause of child rights, Zosha is immensely interested in history and archaeology. It’s her calling she feels. “I dream of being on a site and excavating the archaeological remains. But people say it’s a man’s job and it’s not for women. Is it?” Zosha asks earnestly. The answer is an emphatic no as the most celebrated anthropological archaeologist of India was Iravati Karve, a woman. She was the first woman anthropologist who dared to challenge norms. Hearing this, there was a reassuring smile on Zosha’s face.

This article has been written by Alka Gadgil from Maharashtra for Charkha Features.

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