Rescued by classmates, Rajasthan child bride returns to school
Married off as a child bride and sent to live with her in-laws, 16-year-old Anju (name changed) owes her fresh lease of life to her classmates.
A day after she was sent to live with her husband, her classmates kicked up a fuss on finding her missing from school in the Jaipur slum where she studied in class 10.
Her friends, many of them barefoot, went looking for her. On being told she had been packed off to live with her 28-year-old husband, they ran from pillar to post until they tracked her down.
The search for their friend was arduous, but the ending sweet.
Anju has been rescued and reunited with her friends. On Wednesday, all 13 of them – Anju included – were enrolled in government schools to continue with their studies.
“It is an inspirational story,” said Gopal Singh of Sakhi Bal Niketan Evam Sewa Samiti, a non-governmental organisation that ran the informal school where the children studied earlier. “They are true mascots of the campaign against child marriage”.
Anju’s story began in 2012 when her brothers married her off to Ravi , who was 10 years older than her, in another city slum. “I was 11 when I was married because one of my brothers was getting married to a girl from my husband’s family. In our society, there’s a tradition of exchanging girls – if you want a bride, you give your daughter in marriage in return,” Anju explained. She continued to live with her brothers.
On May 30 this year, she was sent to her husband’s home, prompting her friends to look for her from the next day.
It wasn’t easy to find her though. Her friends first went to the local police station, only to be told that no action could be taken without Anju’s parents complaining.
The children were returning disappointed when one of them spotted the phone number of the district collector written on the wall of the police station. She called up the collector from a PCO, pleading, “Please rescue our friend”.
“The collector first asked me to text him the address of Anju’s in-laws. But when I told him I don’t have a phone, he took down the address himself,” the friend recollected.
Siddharth Mahajan, the collector, remembers the phone call. “The girl was sobbing. She said she had tried the women commission and the police and no one helped her. I calmed her down and took down the address before sending cops to them to rescue their friend.”
Some hours later, police reached the address and Anju was brought to the office of the district child welfare committee (CWC).
Initially, the CWC sent her to live in a shelter home, but her friends were not satisfied. They wanted her back in school with them. They then took the help of their teachers in the slum school who in turn coaxed Anju’s parents to move the CWC to request them to ‘release’ her. On July 22, the CWC relented and Anju returned to her school to a hero’s welcome.
Anju insists she is too young to be married and wants to study. “I want this marriage to end,” she told HT.
She has moved the Jaipur family court for annulment of her marriage and is confident of winning this round as well. Her biggest source of strength is of course her friends: Seven boys and six girls.