Roshni Bairwa was just 14 when she was almost thrust into the world of adults; her grandparents had decided it was time for her to get married like most of the girls of their village in Rajasthan’s Tonk district.
But Roshni, now 21, put her foot down and refused to become another child bride in a state where marriage of minors is a socially accepted tradition.
It was a bold move by a young girl in a highly patriarchal society but it not only changed her life but also saved many other girls from being married off when their minds and bodies are not yet ready for wedlock.
In India, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act bars marriages of girls before they attain the age of 18 and boys before 21.
An earlier survey by United Nations had showed that Rajasthan accounts for the second highest number of child marriages in the world. Data from the 2011 census shows that 1.6 million children were married in the state between 2000 and 2010.
Last week, a family court in Jodhpur had struck down two marriages, solemnised when the boy was three years old and the girl barely 10 months.
Ahead of Akshay Tritiya on Tuesday, an occasion when mass child marriages are reported from across the state, Roshni narrated the extraordinary story of her life and her relentless campaign against child marriage.
Roshni's decision not only changed her life but also saved many other girls in her village and beyond. (Himanshu Vyas/HT Photo)
Rebellion against child marriage
“I was told that my mother abandoned us when I was a two-year-old and my father died some time later. My grandparents raised me,” she told HT at her village Mohammad Nagar ki Dhani, around 85 km from Jaipur.
But when Roshni’s uncle wanted to marry her off in 2009, she protested.
“I was told about the ill-effects of child marriage in meetings organised by a local NGO, Shiv Shiksha Samiti. I gathered courage and informed my teachers, the sarpanch and others about the plans of my family-members. They came to my house and convinced my grandparents against it,” said Roshni, a BA final year student at a private college in Peeplu, near the village.
When her angry uncle refused to fund her studies, people of her Bairwa community came forward to help her financially.
However, her rebellion against an age-old tradition also earned her many enemies.
“Till class XII, many people did not allow their children to interact with me as they felt that I would misguide their daughters,” she added.
Roshni Bairwa's grandmother says she wants her granddaughter to study more. (Himanshu Vyas/HT Photo)
But undeterred, she continued to guide the girls of her village and beyond and with the help of the NGO and her teacher, she has far stopped at least 15 child marriages.
Roshni – who wants to become a teacher -- said that she puts the fear of police when adults ask her not to interfere in matters of others’ marriage.
Harbai, Roshni’s 65-year-old grandmother, said though the family faced lot of criticism earlier for youngster’s act, "but today, I feel good about her decision….I want her to study more."
Another girl of the village Priyanka, 14, said she has not decided about her future "but I will get married only when I complete 18 years of age."
Shiv Shiksha Samiti founder Shivjiram Yadav said the organisation was working in the villages to create awareness against child marriage and convince people to take an oath not to marry off their children before they turn adults.