“The True Heroines” as described by social activist and film actress Amala Annikeni were all smiling on September 23rd, 2006. At a special ceremony they were felicitated for their positive spirit and determination in life. They received a certificate; a special UNICEF bag and cash award (courtesy Mr. L. N. Reddy of Mahbubnagar district, AP)
All present at the ceremony were moved to tears when they heard these girl’s stories. Some were school drop outs while others had to face early marriage. Still some were working and studying and one of them had a lost her sister to HIV after being trafficked to Pune. They came from Hyderabad old city, Kadappa, Kurnool, Anantpur, Medak, Prakasham and Raichur districts.
It was clear that their exclusion was exaggerated as a result of their community, caste, economic or social status. But what was also clear was that determination and positive spirit can overcome every obstacle.
To know more about these true heroines, please read on:
Name : Mariam Sultana
Age : 16 years
Occupation : Student of Adolescent learning centres
Resident of : Aljubail Colony, Old city , Hyderabad
Mariam grew up under the care of a single parent since her child hood. Her father married another woman when Mariam was 2 months old and visited home just once to collect his elder daughter Ayesha and then never returned back to the family after that. Mariam’s mother Iqbal Begum now 45 years old, worked as a cook initially and eventually shifted her focus towards match making as a Marriage Broker. After Mariam dropped out of 5th standard due to deteriorating financial condition she stayed back at home for more than 2 years before joining the Alternative Learning Centre.
Some month’s back her mother completely took to bed due to illness and Mariam was forced to take the mantle of running the family by doing Karchob work. She now gets up at 5 a.m.; does all the household work, and comes to the centre to complete her studies and computer course. Doing Karchob work in the night has helped her repay most of her debts and she was forced to sell her ear rings to clear them off completely. She is determined to fulfil responsibilities towards and focused on becoming financially stronger person who can face all the hardships and difficulties boldly.
Name : Priyanka
Age : 17 years
Occupation : Student of Velugu residential school, Medak
Resident of : Medak District, AP
Priyanka is the eldest of the 4 daughters of Mr. Ananthi and Ms. Balamani. Her father is a small farmer with a landholding of 3 acres. In addition he has Music band, which performs at marriage functions. Priyanka is a 7th class drop-out, after which she learnt stitching in Ramayampet for 6 months. In order to have a son in the family her parents thought of marrying off 14 year old Priyanka in 2004 to a 22 year old boy in their extended family. Priyanka came to know of her marriage just a week before the event. She protested but was physically forced into obeying.
Although Priyanka knew the boy from childhood, after just 2 months of marriage her husband prohibited her from talking to anyone other than him. If she did talk to any neighbour from either sex she was scolded and beaten. She was divorced after a year of marriage and was sent to her aunt’s house in Nizamabad. Determined to study again Priyanka went back to her home and in spite of taunts from her neighbours she was encouraged by the headmaster to clear her Class X examination. Now she is happy that she has overcome the entire trauma and completed her high school. Today both her father and mother are encouraging her to continue her studies and give her moral support.
Name : Saraswathi
Age : 15 years
Occupation : Student of Velugu residential school, Medak
Resident of : Sunnapugutta Thanda of Kadiri Mandal, ST, Anantpur, AP
Saraswathi, a school drop-out, joined Balika Sangha formed by a regional network in April 2006. There she was trained in social issues including education, trafficking and child marriage and also joined school. There she started participating in the network activities through the Kalajatha (street theatre) troop and performed in villages. Now she is continuing her education and during the Kalajatha performances in the villages, she goes to the houses and gathers information about victims of trafficking, drop-out girls, and child marriage cases. She is active in the Balika Sangha, and has been instrumental in enrolling three drop out girls back into school. Saraswathi has also prepared other girls to go for skills trainings.
Age: 15 years
Education: 9th class
Village: Kolukula, Mandal –Yerragondapalem, Prakasham District, AP.
G. Nagamani, a 15 year old girl belongs the scheduled castes community. She stays with her grandmother and a younger brother named Rajesh 10 years old. After her mother died while giving birth to a baby Nagamani’s father, a construction labourer, married again and started living in another village. He sends money to his children every month but visits them only once a year. Her father fixed up her marriage and in order to make her earn some money and food sent Nagamani to the folk theatre Kalajatha Programme. There she played the character of Malli- a girl child, a victim of child marriage in the play Mallimogga. Her performance in her own village as Malli influenced her grandmother so much that both Nagamani and her grandmother took a strong decision to postpone the marriage.
Name: K. Mamatha Sreeja
Age: 15 years
Education: 8th class
Village: Gonegandla village, Kurnool District, AP.
Mamatha, a member of Balika Sangam is eldest child of three children of K.Gopal and K.Munneswari, in Produttur town. Both the parents are labourers. Mamatha was studying in a government-aided school, but due to economic problems had to drop out in 8th class and started working. When her father became alcoholic he physically beat the mother and kids often. One day after a particularly violent fight, he threw the mother and children out of the house and they went to their grandparent’s house in Gonegandla village. There the Mamatha and her mother worked as agricultural labourers to educate the other two kids.
Community workers talked to Mamatha and found out that she was very much interested in studies as well as vocational courses. They motivated her grandfather and her mother and convinced them to enrol her in the Residential Bridge School. From the RBC she was sent for an exposure visit to study the vocational skills at Krishi Vignana Kendram, Medak and Janasikshana Samstan at Hyderabad. Now she is learning tailoring in a dress making course and is confident that she will become self sufficient and also help her mother and siblings in the future.
Name: Pinjari Bade bi
Age: 16 years
Education: 10th class
Village: Kulumala Village of Gonegandla Mandal of Kurnool district, AP.
Pinjari Bade bi is a girl form the minority Muslim community and plays an active role in Indira Gandhi Balika Sanga – a girl’s movement. The youngest of five girls and one boy she was only 16 years old when her parents P. Pedda Kasimanna and P. Dastagiramma started preparations to get her married. But Bade bi was not at all interested to get married and shared her opinion with the community volunteer and asked for their help. The community volunteer approached her parents and counselled them by explaining the disadvantages of early marriage and succeeded in convincing the parents and got the marriage postponed. Bade bi was brought to the Bridge Course Camp and since then she has become aware of various vocational skills available for them like horticulture, modern agricultural techniques, vegetable cultivation, cell phone repair, fashion designing, beautician courses, computer courses etc. She wants to pursue a vocation and is determined to become a role model to all the other girls.
Age: 18 years
Education: 10th class, ST. Residential Hostel.
Village: Peddabidiki Village in Sambepalli Mandal ,Kadappa District, AP.
Six years back after the death of her mother Shanthi started living with her grandfather as her father too had left them and married a second time. Meanwhile Shanthi’s illiterate sister was sent to Pune to work. The entire family was dependent on Shanthi’s sister’s income, but the girl was sent back to her home after 3 years when she tested positive for HIV. On arrival at her village Shanthi’s sister was driven away from home by her brothers and other family members. Shanthi’s sister was given shelter by her grand father. Meanwhile the health condition of Shanthi’s sister deteriorated and Shanthi had to stop her education in the middle and return to the village to look after her sister. Shanthi faced a lot of mental agony and trauma since she along with her grandfather was the only ones who looked after the girl. After fighting for her life for more than one year, Shanthi’s sister died.
The entire episode left a deep impression on Shanthi. Seeing her sister’s tragedy before her own eyes she was determined to join forces with anti-trafficking activities. A Regional Network movement provided an opportunity for Shanthi to express herself and get involved. Shanthi is presently one of the vocal voices championing for girls rights and dignity. She has involved herself and taken a lead in the formation of first the Balika Sangha (Girls’ Union) in Peddabidiki Village which paved the way for the formation of 36 Balika Sanghas in Kadapa District. Joining the Kalajatha Team, Shanthi is in the forefront in using street theatre techniques to spread awareness in other villages. Shanthi counselled a girl about to be sent to Pune and successfully convinced the girl to stay back in the village. Today Shanthi is one of the torch bearers of the Regional Network activities.