Three 17-year-old tribals – two girls and a boy -- from Mandsaur district have been made brand ambassadors by the state government for the fight against child marriage. Neha Kachawa, Lalita Meena (both girls) and Govind Garasia -- all got married against their wishes in their teens -- are among the ten children selected by the state government for their brave stand against child marriage despite opposition from their families and societal pressures.
Instead of accepting it as their fate, they fought back and got their marriages annulled thanks to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. Now all of them are pursuing their studies to fulfill their dreams. Now, the state government too has appreciated their stand and announced to give Rs 51,000 to each of them. Here they share their stories with the Hindustan Times….
Neha, who belongs to the nomadic Banjara tribe, was just 12 when she was married off to Mahendra of Nimbaheda city in Rajasthan in May 2011. Needless to say, she didn’t even understand the meaning of marriage at that tender age.
Through an awareness drive called Lado Campaign in her school, Neha came to know that she could her child marriage annulled under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. She wanted to pursue her studies and become a police officer while her parents wanted to send her to her in-laws’ place to manage their household. She realised that her dreams would be shattered if she obeyed her parents.
Talking to Hindustan Times, Neha said her parents became furious when she told them about her decision. “I refused to be cowed down and my parents drove me away from my house,” she said.
She then knocked the doors of women and child welfare department officials and they took her under her wing and put her up at a shelter home. Officials tried to convince her family members but they refused to relent. Then district woman empowerment officer Ravindra Mahajan came out in her support and a case was filed on her (Neha) behalf for annulling her marriage. The family court annulled her marriage on April 27, 2016 and told her in-laws to give her Rs 1,200 per month for her maintenance. Rashtriya Vibhuti Jatayu Samman, a trust in Ujjain, gave an award of Rs 21,000 to Neha for her brave stand. Neha now studies in class 12 in a government school.
The Lado Campaign, an innovative flagship programme of the government of Madhya Pradesh, aims to eradicate child marriages through preventive and proactive measures throughout the year, actively involving the community, especially children as agents of change.
Govind, a Banjara tribal from Abakheri village in Sitamau tehsil, was married off against his wishes on April 9, 2015 to a girl who was eight years older to him. Child marriage still takes place among in his community.
Govind wanted to pursue his studies but marriage was a distraction. In addition, his child marriage also made him ineligible for any government job which he wanted to get. He approached the woman empowerment cell officials who called his parents for counselling. After initial resistance, his parents relented and the marriage was annulled under the relevant act. “First I want to earn a livelihood for myself and then think about marriage,” says Govind.
Meena, a Bhil tribal from Nimbod village, was only 15 when she was married off by her uncle to Prem Meena of Pratapgarh district’s Mirawata village in Rajasthan in 2014. When she reached her in-laws’ house she came to know that her husband was already married. When she protested, her in-laws started torturing her and also stopped her from going to school. Besides, she also had an abortion during this period.
“I was distressed with my in-laws’ brutal behavior and returned to my widow mother’s house and started going to a local government school. Here I came to know about my rights through the Lado campaign,” said Lalita. Then she approached the women empowerment cell. Now she is in the process of getting her marriage annulled. She will also receive a computer training course through a government scheme.