Child marriages are a blot on the civilised society. It not only inflicts indescribable misery on the young ones but also destroys lives. Steeped in the medieval mindset, this practice of marrying off children at an age when they are neither physically nor mentally ready unfortunately continues in some parts of Odisha even today.
Against this backdrop, ActionAid in partnership with UNICEF has been making sincere efforts to fight against child marriage in the state. As part of these joint initiatives, a forum of young boys and girls, Youth Champions, as they are being called, has been formed. These boys and girls have said no to child marriage and rejected their own marriage proposals, which they had received before attaining their legal age.
Around 30 boys and girls of the forum, from different districts of the state, recently came forward to be a part of an event which not only celebrated their success stories, but also did its bit to spread awareness against the age old tradition of ‘child marriage’. My City Links spoke to some of these ‘youth champions’ who have not only gone on to chart a new course in life for them but have also set examples for others.
15-year-old Sonali Guru resides in Mugupal village under Kuakhia block of Jajpur district, with her six sisters and mother. Belonging to a low income group family, she had to leave her studies midway due to financial problems. And, when she was just 14 years old, her mother brought a marriage proposal for her.
Recollecting those days, she tells us, “I could not study after completing class three and my mother got a proposal for me when I was barely 14. She told me that the boy has his own saree business and a stable income flow. So she wanted to get me married and settle happily with him. But the fact was I didn’t want to get married so early. That’s why I protested the decision and subsequently made her understand that marrying a girl who is under the age of 18 is illegal and a punishable offence. After a lot of convincing, my mother finally cancelled my marriage”
Currently, Sonali works as a troupe dancer in melodies and stage performances. She gets approximately Rs 1500 per show and does about 10 to 15 shows in a month. She believes that education is an important aspect in life and that she was really unfortunate to quit studies at such a young age. She plans to join a school soon and complete her education in future. An ambitious girl, she has decided to get married only after she attains the age of 21.
Rajanti was studying in Standard X when she got to know that her parents had fixed her marriage. When she refused to go with their decision, they scolded her and pressurised her to give her consent for the same. At times, was also beaten up to say a yes! But notwithstanding the torture and ill treatment, she stuck to her decision of not getting hitched.
Sharing her experiences during those days, Rajanti says, “I cannot explain how I felt at that time when my parents came to me with a proposal. When they demanded me to surrender to their wish and get married, the pain was terrible to bear. I was so young then, about 15 years old. When I protested against their will, I had to go through several mental and physical torture. I took all the pain but didn’t agree for the marriage. I tried to make them understand that I wanted to study further and stand on my own feet and get independent, and then think of marriage. Later, my friends also tried to convince my parents. After lots of sincere efforts to persuade them, they finally agreed to not get me married until I want to.”
Her family which includes her parents, five sisters and a brother belongs to Makaguda village in Gudari tehsil in Rayagada district. 20-year-old Rajanti is currently pursuing her second year of graduation at Gudari Science Degree College, having completed her matriculation and higher secondary education in TRW High School at Gudari and SCS College at Puri respectively.
Rajanti, on the other hand, has no plans of tying the knot till she is at least 25. Her favourite subject being English, she aims to be an English teacher and impart training in English language to students in and around her locality.
It came as a sudden blow for Ushabati Kimbaka when she got to know about her marriage being fixed with a boy, who was also a minor like her. When Usha was in Class IX, her mother had brought a marriage proposal for her and as soon as she had finished her matriculation in Gudari, her mother forced her to tie the knot. Recalls Usha, “I had asked my mother a simple question. If I get married at such an early age, would I be able to handle my life as well my husband’s and others, all at a time? And, I remember she had no answer.”
“Influenced by the people in our village, my mother had selected a boy for me. I had lost my father when I was too small. Everyone suggested her to get me married to someone from the nearby village, who could become a househusband and do all the household chores that my handicapped brother wasn’t able to do,” informs Usha, who resides in Sundhibila, Rayagada with her family.
“I was never in support of this decision. Besides, the boy hadn’t even received any primary education. The boy was also a drunkard, which I didn’t like at all. After so many pleadings and requests to my mother, she finally approved of my decision,” adds Usha.
Usha further adds, “As of now, I am studying final year with History as my honours. We have been taking small loans from money lenders for my studies and I intend to pay them back when I start to earn. Now, my mother gets a monthly stipend of Rs 300 that she is saving for our future.” She hopes to get a proper job also once she graduates.
Lack of money forced her parents to stop her education. And, by the time she was 15, she had got her first proposal of marriage. “After I completed my ninth grade in KGV school, due to financial constraints, I wasn’t able to continue my education. And, then one fine day, I get a marriage proposal from a boy who is about seven to eight years older than me. I was completely against the idea and rejected it. It was too early for me to get married,” recalls Bharati Sabar, who lives in Burleti, Rayagada.
Somehow, Bharati convinced her parents to not get her married and help her pass her matriculation, which she did. But her dreams of pursuing higher education were shattered when her father was suddenly diagnosed with oral cancer. Again at the age of 17, Bharati got her second marriage proposal and though her parents were keen to get her married, she once again put her foot down.
Currently, studying in Plus 2 second year at Gudari Science Junior College, Bharati wants to be a high school teacher so that she can teach all her villagers someday.
“My first proposal came when I was 14 years old and I was studying in Standard VIII,” recalls Chhabi Khila from Koraput. His parents forced him to get married, but he resisted as much as possible. After his matriculation, they were determined to get him married. “For my parents, education didn’t have much value. They wanted me to get married and do some work,” informs Chhabi.
The 17-year-old goes on, “My parents had thought that once I get married, my wife will take charge of all household duties, I being the eldest son and my in-laws would also give me money if I want to study further. I explained them that I was a minor and that it was illegal to marry before the age of 21. But all my efforts went in vain as my parents were unable to understand what I was saying.”
Regular meetings were held every month in their village by the workers of ‘Adibasi Sangathan’ to create awareness among the local villagers about the adversities of child marriage. The workers explained his parents how child marriage can affect the life of their son and finally his parents dropped the idea of getting him married.
“I am happy that my parents could finally understand that child marriage can be disastrous. I have completed my matriculation now and pursuing my first year of higher secondary. I aim to be a doctor in future. And I have also decided to campaign for creating awareness regarding child marriage in tribal areas,” Chhabi further adds.