On the National Girl Child Day celebrated today, join us in congratulating a group of brave girls from Maharashtra who faced tremendous challenges but were resolute in their determination to say an emphatic NO to child marriage. These girls didn’t just resist their own early marriages but those of other children around them.
These girls, who come from Maharashtra’s remotest, vulnerable and economically backward areas, were felicitated with the Navjyoti award recently by UNICEF and Doordarshan –public broadcaster- for exhibiting exemplary courage in overcome adversities.
Navjyoti is a platform to showcase the achievements of these young women, who go on to play a greater role by turning into role models for their peers and catalysts of change in their communities.
1. Roshna Maraskolhe
Eighteen-year-old, Roshna Maraskolhe from Hiwardara village in Yavatmal district resisted not just her own early marriage but stopped that of many young girls in her village. When her relatives tried to arrange her wedding in 2012, she threatened to call the police and send the groom to jail.
Where did the feisty Roshna find the strength to fight?
“I know all about the law against child marriage. I gained this knowledge by attending Deepshikha classes which are conducted for adolescent girls by UNICEF in my village,’ she says emphatically.
2. Sunita Wachami
Meet 15-year-old Sunita Wachami from the Naxal-hit district of Gadhchiroli. When her elder brother and sister forced her to choose between getting married or enlisting as a Naxal cadre, she chose education instead.
“I refused to drop out of school. I told them I wanted to complete my education and become an IPS officer,” says Sunita.
Sunita now studies in Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya, a Government-run residential school for vulnerable girls in Bhamragad.
3. Madhuri Pawar
Seventeen -year-old Madhuri Pawar is among the first girls in Nivdunga village, Jalna district, to study in standard 12. The teen found a novel way to resist her marriage.
“As there was no access road connecting our village to our school, the youth of our village got together and built a road. I led a massive protest to compel the district authorities to send a bus to our village. Thanks to this bus service, 20 girls from Nivdunga and four adjoining villages now have access to school and as a result, not a single child marriage has taken place this year,” she gleams.
4. Monika Islawat
Eighteen -year-old Monika Islawat who hails from a tribal Banjara family found herself under immense pressure to drop out of school after her standard 10 exams and get married.
“I asked myself what I would gain from marriage when my elder sister who was married before 18 was continuously beaten by her abusive husband. I didn’t want such a life for myself.’
Monika, with the support of the Deepshikha Prerika of her village, convinced her alcoholic father to cancel the wedding. “Today, he is proud of me and has been boasting about the fact that I have flown to Delhi and Mumbai for awards and TV interviews,” says Monika.
Monika wants to become a police officer and close down liquor shops in her village Bhadrawati in Chandrapur district.
5. Saraswati Sarje
Twenty-three-year-old Saraswati Sarje from Ellori village in Latur is a qualified nurse, the first woman in her village to complete a professional course.
‘I would have never been able to realise my dream had I given in to pressure from my family to get married when I was in class 9. I resisted saying I would marry after I turned 18, that too only after I had learnt to stand on my own feet.’
Sarawati’s parents who are landless labourers earlier treated her as a burden. But now that she has eased the financial strain on the family with her wages as a nurse, they are proud of her achievements and treat her and her brothers as equals. The award is another feather in her cap.
6. Asha Tonde
Budding wrestler and standard 10 student, Asha Tonde came all the way from Kedarbasti village in Parbhani district to Mumbai to receive her Navjyoti award. The 16-year-old is the third of four children of farm labourers. Her elder brother and sister were both married off when they were in class 11 and 9 respectively.
But Asha had other plans for herself.
“From a very young age I was certain that I didn’t want to disrupt my education by marrying before the age of 18. I had seen what had happened to my older siblings and felt bad for them,” she says.
So, when a marriage proposal came for Asha last Diwali, she immediately protested. She too dreams of becoming a police officer someday.
7. Baby Thoke
Fourteen-year-old Baby Thoke from Salgaon in Jalna district dedicates her Navjyoti award to her elder sister Savita, who stopped elders from marrying her off in April 2013.
‘Savita was forced into marriage when she was my age and soonbecome a victim of domestic violence. She didn’t want me to suffer the same fate.”
It was Baby’s determination to study further and become a singer that drove Savita to intervene. Baby now studies at the KGBV in Partur block.
8. Harsha Koli
Harsha Koli is 17-years-old and lives with her family in Shahdara village in Nandurbar district. She learnt all about child rights from her mother who is a Deepshikha Prerika.
“By attending weekly meetings, I learnt about the harsh consequence of child marriage on a girl’s mental, physical and emotional health.”
Harsha has been stopping child marriages in her village since 2010 by going house to house to raise awareness against the practice. She is also a role model for her peers because she is funding her own education by working in fields before school hours.
9. Pranali Sontakke
At 13 years, Pranali Sontakke is the youngest recipient of the Navjyoti award this year. The class 8 student from Gondiya district is a member of Meena Raju Manch (MRM), a forum that seeks to promote gender equality at the school-level.
“Through MRM activities I learnt that child marriage was illegal. When our drawing teacher arranged his daughter’s marriage, I convinced him to call it off as she was underage. I believe girls must be educated as much as boys, if not more. Educated women can serve their families and societies better and find better spouses too,” says Pranali.