Ten year old Akkamahadevia with her father outside their home.
By Vikas Verma
13 April 2006: Akkamahadevi, a ten year old girl from Farhatabad village in Gulbarga district of Karnataka, named after one of the most beloved social reformer poets in Karnataka, lived up to her name when she preferred to continue with her studies and refused to be a child bride.
Akkamahadevi is one of the children enrolled into the bridge or transition school in Khandal Gulbarga as part of the UNICEF –NORAD project currently under implementation in 240 villages of the district in collaboration with the district administration and NGOs. Her family - her parents, an elder sister, two brothers and paternal grand parents - is entirely dependent on agriculture and lives below the poverty line.
Akkamahadevi was identified by Don Bosco, a local NGO that persuaded her to come to the education centre and learn to read and write.
Akkamahadevi had dropped out of school and, like most children in the area, used to graze cattle and do household work. She was identified by Don Bosco, a local NGO that persuaded her to come to the education centre and learn to read and write.
One evening the NGO received a phone call from Akka’s grandfather asking them to send the girl home for a religious function. The community organizers in the project Bagappa and Shivananda, were instantly alerted. Due to their familiarity with the area, they knew that child marriages were usually performed during a particular month. They gently refused saying that Akka was getting ready to write a competitive exam which would get her a seat in a prestigious institution. Unfortunately, Akka who had been slightly feverish was diagnosed with chicken pox. The volunteers could not prevent the parents when they turned up to take her home the next day.
Other child marriages that were planned have been put off in the same village.
However Don Bosco, continued its efforts to prevent the young girl’s marriage.
Preparations were underway at Akka’s house for her engagement and marriage.
The various stakeholders were identified and sensitized as part of the plan and came to the rescue. Members of the gram panchayat (village elected council), the Village Task Force Committee and the school head master came together to advocate with the girl’s family and stop the marriage.
Repeated counseling by gram panchayat leaders and the school management ensured that the marriage of Akkamahadevi be postponed till she attains the age of 18 years.
Channabasappa Sujjan, the headmaster of the primary school, respected and well known for running the model school in the area, himself initiated the dialogue with the family.
The local staff and volunteers of the NGO and the village leaders pointed out that the bridegroom himself was but a boy of 17 years and did not know the implications of the impending marriage. Repeated counseling by gram panchayat leaders and the school management ensured that the marriage of Akkamahadevi be postponed till she attains the age of 18 years. The panchayat members and community leaders all came forward to take the responsibility of ensuring that Akkamahadevi would not be married before she turned 18.
This incident caused ripples through the area. Other child marriages that were planned were put off in the same village.
Akkamahadevi’s parents have given a letter to the District Collector that they would not marry the young Akkamahadevi before she turns 18. This has been countersigned by the village leadership showing that involvement and commitment by community leaders can bring about positive social change.