Kriti Bharti faced many challenges when she was a child herself, including being poisoned when she was too little to even fight back. Today, the 28-year-old is not just leading life on her own terms, but is a fearless crusader against child marriages in Rajasthan as well. “It is just the beginning” says Kriti who has annulled more than 29 child marriages, and stopped over 850 more. She has also rehabilitated more than 6,000 children and 5,500 women.
Child marriages are illegal in India since the British times, but over 40% of the world’s child marriages still take place in the country. Young girls forced into marriages suffer from domestic violence, deaths during childbirth and death of their infants, and an array of other medical and social problems. We cannot forget the direct impact child marriage has on these women’s education and future.
Kriti is from Jodhpur in Rajasthan, a State where child marriages are still rampant in India. In 2011, she started the Saarthi Trust with the sole aim of bringing greater social justice to women. Since then she has been risking her life and doing everything that it takes to rescue young girls who are forced into early marriage.
“After you stop a child marriage, the girl child is treated like a social outcast. It becomes important to rehabilitate her and help her become part of the society again,”Kriti says. Her organisation doesn’t just annul child marriages, but also helps the girl build a better life for herself. Saarthi Trust provides counselling to children, families and panchayats, and Kriti’s team takes charge of the rehabilitation of these children.
Annulment of a child’s marriage is not an easy task. Kriti and her team approach the girl’s parents and try to convince them against the marriage. In many cases the parents agree. They also approach the bridegroom and his family. Getting the village elders to agree to this is often the most difficult task, as they believe that the community’s pride is at stake. Kriti says, “Both parties agreeing to repeal the wedding is the best-case scenario. This year, we were able to successfully annul a girl child’s marriage in just three days.”
But it is not always this easy. Kriti and her team have been attacked many times. In many cases, they have sought legal help. Kriti, who has received over a hundred death threats, says with a smile, “Such things don’t matter as long as the girl child gets rescued.”
Kriti’s team of volunteers continuously works at two fronts. While a team actively works with the legal system to stop the marriage, the other team builds capacity to rehabilitate the child and provide her with a better future. This includes supporting her with education, vocational training and even employment opportunities in the future.
Saarthi Trust also organises camps in villages in anganwadis, schools and other public places where discussions are organised on child marriage and its ill-effects. It often involves older women who were married off at a young age sharing their negative experiences and asking young girls to break free from social dogma. The trust also runs a helpline to report child marriages anywhere in the State.
Kriti’s work is awe-inspiring, but she herself had a disturbed childhood. Her father was a doctor, but abandoned his mother before Kriti was born. Relatives were against her mother carrying Kriti to term, and asked her to marry a second time. Even after she was born, Kriti’s situation didn’t improve. She was even poisoned, because of which she had to discontinue her education, which she pursued much later. Today, she is doing her PhD in Child Protection and Safety.
Kriti is a recipient of numerous awards for her acts of courage. She recently received a Fellowship from the British Government and Thomson Reuters Corporation. Kriti gives credit to her team for her achievements. One can safely say that it is because of these such people and their exemplary work that Rajasthan today leads in child marriage annulment.
Saarthi Trust has, till date, annulled 29 child marriages. For her unique and phenomenal work, Kriti’sname has also been included in the Limca Book of Records. Her inspiring story is also a part of the CBSE curriculum, although Kriti humbly says that much more needs to be done, and her journey has just begun.
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