Dumar is a village in Hazaribagh district in Jharkhand. Priyanka Kumar, school going student passed her matriculation and was planning for her future when she came to know that her parents have planned to get her married.
Early Marriage is a reality for a lot of young girls in our country. Girls are viewed as a financial burden and as an embodiment of a community’s honour which needs to be ‘protected’. Early Marriage is deeply rooted in these patriarchal notions. Breakthrough works to end early marriage. We have tried to tackle the issue using different methods such as trainings and community mobilisation. The focus is on enabling girls and women to fight their fight and also build an ecosystem where violence against women is unacceptable. You will understand this better after reading the story about how Priyanka with the help of police stopped her early marriage.
Priyanka had participated in the youth training program conducted in her school by Breakthrough and was also the part of the Self Help Group training conducted at the village level. Recalling the mitigation strategy discussed during youth training, Priyanka counseled her parents against early marriage and shared with the family the learning of the youth training. She told her parents that she is just 16 years of age and marriage at this age is forbidden as per law and also not good for her future. Priyanka made a commitment to herself that she will not succumb to an early marriage. When counselling her parents did not work she approached her school teacher for help. The teacher advised her that as the last resort she will have to take help of law to stop her early marriage. Priyanka reported the case to police. The police responded quickly and called Priyanka’s parents to discuss the matter. However, they did not file a case since Priyanka’s father could have been penalized and imprisoned. Instead the police officer in-charge counseled the parents against early marriage. This worked and an early marriage was successfully stopped.
We, as a human rights organisation fighting to make violence against women unacceptable have always striven to create change actors by working with young people; the Breakthrough generation. Rizwana exemplifies this, just like Priyanka. Her exposure to the trainings conducted by Breakthrough not only enabled her to fight for herself, but also take action towards gender equality.
Rizwana is a teacher by profession and for some years has been teaching in a Madarsa (an Islamic educational institution) in Alawal in the district of Varanasi. She had met the Breakthrough team in mid-2013 when she heard about their trainings and expressed interest in becoming part of these. In June 2013, she underwent the trainings on Gender and Human Rights by Breakthrough. She recalls that before the trainings her life was restricted to going to the school, fulfilling her duties and returning home only to fulfil her household responsibilities. She was not concerned about what was going around in the neighborhood. Rizwana had accepted this as her fate. When she heard of the Breakthrough training program she saw it as an opportunity to do something different from her mundane schedule. “I was amazed with every session. There was so much to learn, there were so many stories of women’s struggles, strength and resilience. After hearing to all that, I was only inspired and determined to do more”, Rizwana said rather eloquently during her interaction.
With her renewed confidence and determination, Rizwana headed back to her community and started meeting the parents of the girls who were studying in her school trying to find out why they did not send their girls for higher education. Those interactions brought forth the critical factor of distance and mobility which prevented the parents from sending the girls outside the village fearing their safety and security. She then went straight to her boss, the Principal of the Madarsa she worked at, and explained to him about the situation and urged him to convince the Board to expand the Madarsa from grade tenth to twelfth. She felt that with this atleast the girls would be on a stronger footing after having completed their school education. A group of active parents and girls also advocated for this along with Rizwana and after few months of persistence they succeeded!
The Madarsa is now extended till Grade XII and this has certainly given a big boost to the girls, their parents, and of course to Rizwana! Her efforts to push the cause of women and girls’ empowerment are not limited to the school merely. She helps girls in her neighbourhood to understand what entails violence and harassment and supports them when they share instances with her. She shared, “Girls now come to me to seek advice to handle situations of harassment and I openly share my learnings with them. I tell them that you must learn to raise your voice and not accept violence and harassment as your fate. We need to change these social norms that only weaken women.”
These journeys, these stories of change inspire us and work. We wish to have multiple such stories. Stories of change actors like Priyanka and Rizwana. Our next step in this direction would be to reach out to 200,000 adolescent girls in Uttar Pradesh and what we need is your support. We need your support to take forward Rizwana’s vision, one we all share, that is for everyone to raise their voices and not accept violence and harassment perpetrated against women.