‘Girls Are Not Born Weak’.

They were of her father’s and grandfather’s age but their comments, leering eyes and unwanted touch filled Vinita with repugnance. After she completed class 8, her family could not afford to educate her in a private school due to poverty and her mother’s illness. So she had to travel about 10-12 km daily to the government school in Chinhat, Lucknow. These loathsome encounters of sexual abuse and harassment occurred on her way to the government school. The agonizingly ugly face of gender based violence in various forms literally stalked her life.

Her ordeals have been such that any other girl with lesser grit, zest and resilience would have relegated to a maimed life of mute suffering. But 24-year-old Vinita of Kapasi Gram Panchayat of Lucknow is facing the challenges of her life with a dauntless spirit. She is currently pursuing a MBA and is an active member of Nari Sangh under the Adolescent Empowerment Project run by Breakthrough in the 7 districts of Uttar Pradesh.

From her early years, Vinita had been an active girl who juggled domestic responsibilities, her studies, play and running errands for a small shop owned by her family. But the unwanted sexual harassment and altercations arising from these (as she never accepted such despicable behavior with silence and often fought back) took their toll and she failed in class 10. The torment of her adverse experiences outside home were aggravated by gender discrimination within family and the deeply patriarchal, masculine and hostile behavior of her brother.

Later, she was admitted in a nearby low cost private school from where she completed her class 12. Her experiences of gender based violence was developing a fiery activist within her. After class 12 she joined ‘Vatsalya’ (an NGO working on issue of gender based sex selection) as panchayat motivator. The training provided by the organization groomed a feminist within her.

She was married in March 2017. After marriage, she faced harassment for dowry and sexual harassment by her father-in-law. Whenever she fought back, she was beaten and abused. As usual, in instances of gender based violence, it is the survivor who is blamed. Thus, relatives and neighbors began to gossip loosely about her.

But all these unfortunate incidents failed to break her spirit. Her father went to her in-laws’ house and she returned with him to her village with determination to fight not only for her own rights but also for other girls. She has lodged a case against her husband and in-laws and wants to try her level best to ensure that no other girl falls into their clutches.

Recently Vinita’s name was mentioned in newspapers. She was one of the few young girls who had confidently demanded from Shri Rajesh Agarwal, State Finance Minister during the Raatri Chaupaal in her village that a degree college should be opened in her village. She wants to complete her MBA and pursue a career of her choice.

Vinita says, ‘Girls are not born weak, they are made weak by atrocities. We must never succumb to evil intentions of our oppressors’.

Vinita’s story has shaken me to the core and humbled me too. In spite of my own much privileged upbringing I cannot claim to have such tenacity, courage and fortitude. The image of this strong standing young woman, with multiple facets of anguish hidden beneath inspires me to carry my own cross of troubles with greater persistence.

(Blog written by Supriya on the basis of Vinita’s story shared by Mala. Both Supriya and Mala are part of Breakthrough, UP, team working for Adolescent Empowerment Project.)

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