[Monday Motivation] Married at 12, this widow overcame abuse and started her own business

Joytan Bya, who hails from a village in West Bengal, has seen her fair share of struggles. However, she overcame them with the help of local communities, and is now looking at a better life.

Whenever adversity strikes, it is always accompanied by fear, uncertainty, and sorrow. But it is the reaction to hardships that determines the course of one's life ahead.

For Joytan Bya, a native of Chunakhali village in West Bengal, misfortune had always cast a long shadow over her life.

At 12, she was forcibly married to a man thrice her age. Rather than playing with kids her age, she had to focus on household chores. Within a couple of years, she became a mother to two kids.

Joytan Bya faced struggles almost all her life, which led her to surviving the most adverse situations

She also had acrimonious relations with her in-laws, who considered her and her children liabilities. Her husband too used to beat her mercilessly, often abusing her and throwing her out of the house. He never accepted the children and wasn’t interested in rearing them.

“After eight years of marriage, I lost my husband. I had to take up the responsibility of my family and became the sole earning member,” Joytan tells SocialStory.

Making ends meet

Left alone to look after her children, Joytan felt her life was surrounded by ominous dark clouds. She didn’t receive any support from her in-laws, who didn’t want her to live with them after the death of their son. So, along with her kids, she moved into a small rented house - basically a shelter made of stakes and tarpaulins.

Soon, she started working as a domestic help in a well-to-do house in her neighbourhood. Leaving the children behind while she went to work was very difficult, so she took them along wherever she went.

With her meagre income, Joytan says she tried to give both her children a secure childhood.

“Despite so many problems, I always wanted both my children to seek education and so enrolled them in nearby government schools. Although my income was low, I still tried to provide them with emotional and material support,” she says.

When her husband passed away, Joytan’s children were studying in Class 10 and 12. After a few days, her son—who had just finished his senior secondary exams—started working as an agricultural labourer. With his meagre income, the family tried their best to make ends meet.

Surviving COVID-19

The strict lockdown imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic caused many in the village to lose their jobs, including Joytan’s son. With no other source of income, the family was on the verge of starvation.

When her daughter was in Class 8, she was introduced to an initiative by Nishtha, which encourages education with the help of women’s groups, youth groups, and local schoolchildren.

Nishtha works in the fields of rural health, education, and the environment. The non-profit uses its own curriculum and methodology to teach young girls from villages. It sets up libraries, computer centres, anganwadis, cultural training programmes, and self-defence programmes for young girls and women, along with special initiatives to aid in the socio-economic progress of single women.

Joytan always knew about Nishtha and its activities since many of her neighbours were associated with Nishtha’s groups.

Community support

Now, Joytan is also part of a Self-Help Group (SHG) called Unnatir Udhaan of Nishtha supported by EdelGive Foundation through which she was trained in entrepreneurship development and micro-business skill training.

Joytan urged her women’s group to support her with some work, rather than financially. However, there was little work available due to the lockdown. When the group suggested that she start a small business, Joytan chose to sell fish since her husband used to be involved in the trade, and she used to help him. However, she also knew that the business needed substantial capital to start.

Joytan selling fish

“The group came up with a plan: they collected Rs 10-20 from the members to help me start the business. However, once I started the business, I faced another hurdle—the ‘Vyapari Sangathan’ or ‘market association’ did not allow me to carry on with my business as I was not a member of the association,” Joytan explains.

When Joytan’s group got to know about this, they approached a local youth club near the market for help. While the club responded that it could not go against the market association, its members agreed to try and find a solution.

The same week, Joytan was accompanied by her group leader and some group members to a meeting at the youth club office with the secretary of the market association and youth club members. The market association agreed to allow Joytan to pursue her business, provided she paid the monthly rent for the space in the market. They also asked her to take membership in the association as soon as her business saw a good profit.

At present, Joytan is successfully running her business and can look after her family’s needs, assisted by her son. Both of them work hard to improve their business and clear their debts. Joytan says that without the support of her fellow group members, she and her children could not have survived.

She now plans to get involved in a new venture with the help of EdelGive Foundation, which supported her during trying times.

(This story has been updated to correct a factual error and correct the name of an initiative.)

Edited by Kanishk Singh