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Sonia Jolly is an extraordinary woman who has gone beyond the ordinary activism for the girl child and has adopted 45 adopted girls, setting up an NGO Upkaar, to look after them.
India. The patriarchal society we live in, is governed by a mindset where daughters are considered a burden owing to primarily the dowry culture prevalent in almost across all religions, castes and creeds.
But when Sonia Jolly was born on 14th Dec 1966 to a middle-class family in New Delhi, her parents rejoiced. She was born after two elders brothers. And thus grew up to be the pampered child of the family but her parents ensured that she had her head-and-heart at the right place.
When she was married into a large family where her husband was the only male child, it was like hopping from one pampered place to another. Her husband been the brother of five sisters! When she was blessed with two sons, she accepted them as destiny and not an occasion to blow the trumpet about it that ‘God helped evade the birth of girl children!’. While some people & relatives would feel jealous of her, others felt that she should also go like her mother for a third child “to complete the family with a girl.”
30 years passed, Sonia’s elder son got married and soon she was blessed with a grandson! Again, no girl in the family. That’s when her urge to go beyond her means became stronger. She had little savings of her own, but her will was bigger than that meagre amount. She didn’t think twice and adopted a girl child in early 2014.
And after that there was no looking back. The urge for more love pushed her to adopt more and legalise it in a bigger better way. So she went on to set up the “Upkaar Hum Hain” NGO later in the same year at Satna in Madhya Pradesh, where she has been married for last 33 years.
Today Upkaar is home to 45 adopted girls. And this moves me to tears of joy while I speak to Sonia.
Why and what made her expand her family in such a beautiful inspiring way?
A tired and worn-out Sonia Jolly, who is just back from the bi-monthly medical check up of her girls, says with a humble smile, “I decided to be the change I wanted to see. We cannot wait for the govt to take all responsibility of BETI BECHAO, BETI PADHAO. “We are 1.25 billion and at least the financially capable ones have to come forward to take a collective responsibility. So though the girls stay at the NGO, I teach them at my house with the help of three teachers now appointed as full-time instructors for my children.”
No wonder Sonia has become and inspiration and today some 38 volunteers help her out with the needs and services towards these girls.
So how does she meet their daily needs? Is the effort being backed by the state government? Is some government aide reaching her?
Sonia isn’t bothered by my piercing question. She tends to the youngest girl in her ‘family’ by wiping her face and without looking at me she asserts, “I can’t depend on the government always for my girls, these are my children. The government has made so many schemes and policies. I have learnt with time to utilise them for my children. But beyond that, it is my responsibility. I have to ensure that the schemes benefit my girls, not that government comes running to my help every now and then. As I said, we have to take a collective responsibility as a society.”
Just then her five-year-old grandson rushes to her and starts playing in her lap, demanding attention.
And it leaves me with the next query – how does she manage the time with so many children?
“A mother’s love doesn’t need division of labour, it simply needs sharing of love. When I am done with my morning chores, say by 8AM, the rest of my time goes to my girls. I have been blessed with two sons and a daughter-in-law who understand the work that I do… they can relate to the pleasure I get by sharing love. They have always helped me to their best, never complaining even once. If I am unwell, my family helps share the responsibilities of my girls. And now my team of 38 volunteers is an added boon.”
And all this chat is happening while she is feeding two of her girls with her hands. The affection is palpable.
So is her family expanding in the future and what next for these girls?
Well, her answer leaves me in tears of joy yet again.
“I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew. You might feel a bit odd, but my targets for my girls are more humane than carrer-oriented, marriage-oriented or otherwise. Every child of mine has promised me to take care of 10 needy children when they grow up. My plan is to make my girls not daughters-in-law but healthy seeds of humanity that will grow up as strong, sheltering trees tomorrow.”
I am left numb for a few seconds, recalling the horror stories I have covered as a TV journalist in the past where baby girls were left in dustbins as waste material. And here this mother is leaving no stone unturned to sow seeds of humanity.
I am brought back to senses by sudden music up in the air, “Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells…Jingle All The Way…” Sonia’s daughters are surrounding her and have begun practising Christmas celebrations that are just round the corner.
Sonia chuckles,”I simply love the twinkle in their eyes when they unwrap the X-mas gifts. This year I have wrapped something special for them. But I am also little anxious since some of my senior babies are appearing for board exams next year. So the X-mas celebration must not hinder their studies; lots to take care you see!”
I smile with joy at this mother hen tendering her chicks but ranting like a biological mother. But then as Sonia Jolly says, “A mother is a mother, the day you become one you will realise.”
And on that note I take her leave, while she resumes making her girls practice X-mas Carols. A Santa personified without a red robe!
“Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells…Jingle All The Way…!!”
Images source: Sonia Jolly