Smiling with confidence, the Deepashikha trainees
Latur, Maharashtra, May 2008: Fourteen year old Mukta appears the most aloof member in the kishori gat, a newly formed group of adolescent girls in the Jagalpur village. Other group members coax her gently to participate in their activities, since they very well know the reasons behind her quietness.
Mukta has survived a double blow of child marriage and desertion at such a tender age. Living at present with her parents, Mukta is perhaps the living testimony of a disturbing reality that prevails in many rural areas of India. Two out of every ten girls are married before they reach eighteen.
Marrying under age, however, is just one of several injustices that girl children have to bear right from their birth. The Jagalpur Kishori Gat is possibly a modest attempt to change this inferior treatment meted out to the girls, by creating a little space for them.
In December 2007, Manav Prerana Samajik Vikas Sanstha, an NGO with support from UNICEF identified adolescent girls from their work area in Jalkot block of Latur district as prospective trainees for the forthcoming programme.
The programme is aptly titled Deepashikha, which means sudden lightening and aims to enable the girls to strike forth with their full potential, by initiating a positive socialization process wherein the girls become self aware, confident and assertive.It intends to break the cycle of oppression that sets in with the birth of a girl child, or even before that, with the advent of pre-natal sex determination technology.
Two batches of trainings involving 122 girls in 98 villages have been completed since December. Each batch received training for 20 days, in two phases of 10 days each.
The training content covers important topics, such as self-awareness, gender equality, health, menstrual hygiene, education and marriage.
Equipped with the training, the girls go back to their respective villages and mobilise a Kishori Gat to extend their learning to their friends.
Most groups meet once a week for two hours to have discussions and information sharing sessions facilitated by their group leader. They are supported by the anganwadi worker or auxiliary midwife-nurse or even the parents in most villages.
Adolescent trainees in Jalkot
Group leaders also get a chance to update their knowledge and skills in block meetings, organised once a month by the facilitating NGO, and share their problems in initiating activities in the villages.
As an immediate outcome the girls have started articulating their feelings.
Most share that they detest the differential treatment they receive within their own families. “Why is my brother always exempted from household work, whereas I am not”, asks Kirti.
“It hurts when our own parents do not trust us and forbid us from going out,” grumbles Anita.
“Some parents do not even celebrate the birthday of their daughter,” says Anmol, the youngest of all the participants.
The worst form of discrimination that they unequivocally hate is early marriage. “Parents make us stop our education and just marry us off.”
The training, among other things, has given the girls courage to speak up with their parents.
For instance, Ranjana from Hipparaga and Hema from Ghonashi village both have passed their 12th grade recently. Although both wanted to study further, their parents thought otherwise and started planning for their marriage.
After the training both these girls made up their minds and successfully convinced their parents about their desire to study further and keep marriage proposals pending till they are prepared for it.
All the participants value the knowledge that they gain from the training programme. “The programme, for the first time, exposed us to valuable knowledge that even our parents and school had not given us so far,” said the girls.
The village level groups have role modeled noted women personalities from various walks of life; sports, science, politics to select names for their groups — Sania Mirza Kishori Gat, P T Usha Kishori Gat, Pratibhadevi Patil Kishori Gat etc. The names clearly reflect the enthusiasm and aspirations of the girls in forming them.
At present over 98 Kishori Gats exist in Jalkot block in Latur. One hopes that this small beginning will eventually ensure that there will be no more tragic stories like Mukta’s in the future.
The road is long, but the journey has started.