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Symbolizing women’s empowerment in India, one woman – with the support of Aarti Home in Kadapa – battles tradition to achieve her dreams.
By Namrata Vora
‘Anything boys can do, girls can do better’, reads the t-shirt of this spunky thirteen year old I happen to know. This child truly believes it and gives a tough time to the boys, be it in the classroom or in the playground. She lives in Shining Glittering India and her parents have already put away funds for college abroad. “We will let her decide what she wants to do after she finishes school”, says her mother, herself a woman with opinions on everything, many of them different from those of her husband.
Even in this India though, sadly, most women and their daughters do not decide much about what course their lives will chart. Shining India does not come into contact with them; they live in rural and semi-rural regions off the maps and with no opportunities at all. Which is why I will tell you the story of one remarkable young woman. Then you tell me what you think.
Fifteen-year old Sana (name changed) lives in a small town in the southern part of Andhra Pradesh. She was married off at age thirteen to a man more than three times older than her. He went back to his job in the Middle East while she continued to live with her parents. Sana happened to be a brilliant student with an ambition – she wanted to become an engineer.
Educated women have opinions – and that is so inconvenient.
Her husband thought that was a nuisance. Educated women have opinions – and that is so inconvenient. Her father and brothers agreed. They instructed her mother to stop her schooling and suchlike madness, so she hid the child’s textbooks and made her notebooks disappear. They tried to brainwash her and explain to her that she was jeopardizing a future of domestic harmony by going against her husband’s wishes. However all their efforts could not stop her from scoring 92% in her 10th Boards this May with a centum in Math and Science.
The husband was very angry. He came down to India and explained how nonsensical it was all getting. The girl was to be reined in and kept under house arrest.
Then one day she came across an article in the papers about Aarti Home, an NGO in her town. The folks there seemed to think that it was actually a very smart idea to get an education, all the more if you were a girl. They even gave moral and financial support to anyone wanting to study. Sana grabbed the first opportunity she got and smuggled herself out of her house to go straight to her old school teacher’s house. There she managed to get in touch with the NGO over phone and explain her situation.
We will do all we can to help you, they said. So Sana went over to meet them. She saw that they ran a shelter for girls who were not wanted by their families. She also noticed that the girls did not see themselves as a burden. They were using whatever opportunities they had and making the most of it. She decided this was the place for her and requested to be allowed to live and study there – towards her goal of doing an engineering course. The NGO was more than happy to support such a determined young spirit.
Sana convinced her mother and moved into Aarti Home. The furious husband came over and one day when Sana had gone to visit her mother, saw his chance. He beat up the mother and dragged the child away. She was rescued in the morning, her body covered with not much other than many marks of brutal assault.
He could not kill her spirit though. She insisted on getting back to Aarti Home and carrying on. I will not be stopped, she said. I will study and get to where I want to. I can if I want to, she insisted.
I will not be stopped, she said. I will study and get to where I want to.
The NGO got in touch with the cops who helped the husband understand that firstly it was an illegal affair – she was under 18, so it was not even a marriage as per the law. Secondly, he had better leave her alone, or else. He got the message and has stopped messing with her.
Sana’s case was taken to the district authorities by the NGO. She has been granted a merit scholarship and a place at a residential school that will prepare her for her engineering entrance exams. She has been given 24-hour security and is slogging away at her books.
This remarkable young lady has inspired many others. Her story has spread far and wide in the many villages and hamlets in the region. Her own mother is her big supporter now and mentioned wistfully that she had three children by the time she was Sana’s age and that her life would have been different had there been Aarti Home around then.
Here’s wishing Sana luck. May her spirit shine brighter and may her tribe increase.
Aarti Home (www.vftrust.org) is based in Kadapa and works to better the cause of the girl child in multiple ways – by providing shelter to unwanted girl children, educating them and others who cannot afford it, creating opportunities for financial independence by teaching skills to women and by educating the community via workshops, forums and through the media.
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