Sixteen-year-old Anjali Kumari has set an example for many with her determination to study and fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher, standing up against child marriage.
Anjali, a Class 11 student at the government-run Bumuar High School in rural Bihar, looked relaxed while enjoying the mid-December sun along with other girls outside her two-room brick house, and recalled how she refused to marry during the "lagan" (traditional marriage season during the summer). This was months before the Bihar government launched a massive campaign against child marriage on October 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
However, it was not easy an easy task, Anjali, the daughter of a poor blacksmith, told IANS.
I told my mother that until I complete my Class 12, followed by graduation, and fulfil my goal of becoming a teacher, there is no question of marriage. After I refused to marry and managed to convince my parents about my desire for higher education, the other villagers also supported me.
She is the second among five siblings, all of whom are pursuing their education, except the elder brother, who works in Delhi.
The transformation began when she came in contact with a local organisation, Samagra Seva Kendra (SSK), which is backed by the international NGO Save the Children, that not only creates awareness about child marriage and its adverse impact on health, education and empowerment but also gives girls an opportunity to express themselves and take a stand.
Thanks to the training, interaction and exposure provided by SSK, girls of my age become fully aware of the evils of child marriage. I want to teach others like me and help those in neighbouring villages to understand the negative impact of social evils like child marriage, Anjali said.
"We hold special orientation camps for girls with a focus on developing their ability to resist early marriage. It has been proving fruitful," said Anjali, who is now a SSK discussion leader, adding: "This year I have attended a five-day training camp and also attended a conference in Patna."
Her elder cousin, Ashanti Kumari, led by example and married this year after graduating. "Like me, she was also a discussion leader before becoming a trainer at SSK," Anjali said.
We wanted to marry her off as my second daughter would be ready for marriage in the next two to three years. If I had one girl, I would have never thought of getting her married before she reached 24 or 25 years. I regret that I had put pressure on Anjali to marry despite knowing early age marriage is bad, Anjali's mother Gayatri told IANS.
Gayatri works as a farmhand to augment the family income. Her husband earns a meagre Rs 100 to Rs 150 per day from his small blacksmith's shop.
According to the recent National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4, 2015-16), 39.1 per cent underaged girls are still being married off in Bihar. Even so, that's an improvement of 30 percentage points over the 2005-06 figure of 69 percent.
With inputs from IANS