Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, before starting her journey across the Atlantic to New York where she will attend the UN Climate Action Summit next month(AFP)
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, before starting her journey across the Atlantic to New York where she will attend the UN Climate Action Summit next month(AFP)

On a mission to save the world

Despite the hardships they face, teenage girls are pushing back for change
UPDATED ON AUG 26, 2019 03:01 PM IST

One is on a zero-carbon Atlantic voyage to attend climate change conferences in New York. Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old activist who inspired a global youth movement, has reported dolphin sightings – and, mercifully, no sea sickness, yet.

Another, in Samastipur, Bihar, triggers a movement just by saying no to marriage. In a state where 39.1% of girls marry before they turn 18, the 16-year-old tells her parents she’d rather study. With support from Child Rights and You (CRY), she is now inspiring others to take a similar stand.

A Master of Laws gold medallist at the National Law University, Surbhi Karwa, finds herself in a “moral quandary” over receiving her award from chief justice, Ranjan Gogoi. “The institution he heads failed when sexual harassment allegations were made against him,” she tells The Indian Express.

Young girls seem to be on an unsung mission to save the world. They’re out there on the field kicking a ball, fighting for their right to go to school, or taking moral positions against injustice.

It’s not easy. Teenage girls in India are vulnerable to child labour, trafficking and marriage. Add to this, the normalised molestation, stalking and assault they face in public spaces and at home. Add to this, the socially sanctioned teaching to remain silent in the face of abuse and assault, particularly from spouses. Add to this, just the struggle to be born.

Across the country, 27% of girls are married before they are 18. Over 40% use unhygienic materials during menstruation and only 41% have freedom of mobility.

And still, teenage girls are pushing back for change. On the ragged outskirts of Delhi, Kavita, the captain of a cricket team made up of the daughters of rickshaw drivers and pushcart sellers told me about the odds she had to overcome just to play: Housework and academics came first. Only then, if she had the time, could she play, ruled the family patriarch.

“For millions of Indian girls, teenage decides whether they can remain children or be forced to embrace adulthood before they are ready to do so,” says Puja Marwaha, CEO CRY. “But we are also a country where girls who struggle to survive, endure discrimination based on their socio-economic conditions, and fight the glass ceiling every minute, cannot be stopped from breaking these barriers and creating history.”

This generation of 80 million teenage girls in India is our most aspirational. Naandi Foundation’s 2018 Teen Age Girls (TAG) report that surveyed 74,000 teenage girls in 30 states — the largest and most comprehensive such report — finds that 70% of girls wish to pursue higher studies, 74.3% have specific careers in mind, and 73.3% want to marry after 21, by which time they would be earning a living.

Will we let them fulfil their dreams?

Hard to say. But, in Birsa Basti, Jamshedpur, a drunk man tries to rape a four-year-old child. His daughter catches him, locks him up, and he is handed over to the police. The daughter is 15.

Namita Bhandare writes on social issues

The views expressed are personal

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