By Shinibali Mitra Saigal
PURULIA, India, 11 October – At 12, when most girls her age are busy playing with dolls, Bina Kalindi’s parents were busy showing her off to prospective grooms. But Bina was made of firmer stuff. She rejected all the potential candidates who crossed her path, and there were four of them.
If that’s not enough, this young girl has now made it her mission to enlighten and educate her village, about the evils of child marriage and the importance of knowing about child rights.
It is more than a year since Bina took a firm approach against child marriage. Now 13, she studies in a hostel at the Bagmundi Higher Secondary School for Girls and looks wise beyond her years.
However, the child in her peeps out especially when she remembers the grooms who came to meet her and then she bursts into peals of laughter and with a naughty twinkle in her eye declares, “ I told all of them to go. I wanted to study.”
The Kalindi family lives in a village called Bhursu, which lies in the heart of Purulia district’s trouble-prone Maoist insurgency zone. The living conditions of Bina’s home are not just basic but completely bare. They live in a mud hut with a thatched roof with just one room shared among a family of six members. There isn’t any sign of electricity and all that can be spotted by way of furniture is a charpoy.
Bina who is on leave from school, because her mother’s in hospital and her father has accompanied her, says she needs to take charge of the household and her two younger siblings, a brother and a sister, in her parents’ absence.
Bina also has an elder sister, Saraswati Kalindi, who was married off when she was 12. The sisters are pictures in contrast. While Bina is dressed in a bright yellow salwar kameez and neatly braided hair and is a picture of confidence, her older sister, now 16, looks bedraggled in a tattered sari, hair askew, with an infant in the crook of her arm.
“Even I wanted to study but my parents insisted that I should do house work and not attend school.” Saraswati’s first husband abandoned her and she lives with her second husband now. Saraswati is greatly inspired by her younger sister Bina and says that if she has a daughter she will not only educate her but also never get her married early.
Bina’s father Parikshit Kalindi is a daily wage labourer and one of the jobs he does is basket making. Before she joined school Bina used to help him make baskets, a common profession in this village, as well as work as a domestic help in a couple of households.
Her life changed when the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) school run by the Government’s labour department to rehabilitate working children and help them enter the mainstream education system, launched in her village three years ago.
Since 2007 the labour department in Purulia has launched 90 schools under the National Child Labour Project. UNICEF has been working closely with the labour department on this project and part of the work involves introducing key initiatives like creating a body of child activists and sensitising stakeholders against child labour, child marriage and child migration.
The child activist initiative has made a tremendous impact and it is largely thanks to the workshops and training conducted by this initiative that children have become aware about child rights, leadership, communication and expression and problem solving.
According to Assistant Labour Commissioner, Prosenjit Kundu, the child activist initiative empowered a lot of students to create awareness and bring about a change in their society and environment
“I attended a child right’s workshop where I was made aware that even as a child I had some basic liberties, nobody could force me to get married and it was illegal. I made up my mind that I would resist it at any cost,” says Bina. So when the proposals started pouring in, Bina requested her schoolteacher to intervene and speak to her parents.
“My mother was on my side; it was tougher convincing my father but when my teachers reasoned with him he agreed to stop pushing me into marriage,” says Bina. Parikshit Kumar, Bina’s teacher feels that she was an extremely focused student right from the beginning.
“After attending a UNICEF child rights training, she took it upon herself to not only stop her own marriage but also prevent others in the village from committing this crime.
When Bina’s classmate Deepali Kumar’s marriage was fixed, Bina mobilized other girls in the school and went and spoke to Deepali’s parents and convinced them to break the marriage.
Shaktipada Kumar, Deepali’s father says that Bina is a brave girl who made them realize that they were doing the wrong thing by their daughter. “I love my daughter Deepali. She is attending high school now and I’m not thinking about her marriage any more.”
The neighbours and relatives milling around Bina’s hut, say that she has become a symbol of inspiration in this close-knit village. Sandhya Kalindi, a neighbour declares that Bina has made her realize the injustice they were meting out to their daughters.
“I got my older daughter married young but I am clear I won’t do the same to my younger one. I send her to the same school that Bina studied in,” she says.
Nomita Kumar, a member of a microfinance group and also a resident of Bina’s village says she too had taken a stance against child marriage a few years ago when relatives were coercing her to get her daughter married at 13.
However, Nomita feels that when she had prevented her daughter’s marriage, it was a stray case. Bina has managed to create awareness and in a sense started a movement against this evil.
“We need more girls like Bina to bring about change. I was married of at 11 and I know how life can come to a standstill with an early marriage,” says Kumar.
In Purulia, female literacy rates are among the lowest in India. Parikshit Kumar says that besides educating children, school also gives the girls the confidence to stand up against their families when wrong is being perpetrated and teaches them about their rights and justice.
Bina is firm that marriage doesn’t figure anywhere even in the distant future. “I know we are told that we should not get married before 18, I want to say that I don’t want to get married till I stand on my feet and make something of myself.” And she is very clear of what she’d like to be - no surprise here really. Bina wants to be a teacher.