Situation before the intervention:
Mandi Sahajana is a remote village in the Shahabad block of Baran District, Rajasthan, which is almost 20 km far from the block headquarters. It is mostly resided by the community people of Sahariya and Bhil Tribe. The tribal members are dependent on forest products, agriculture and daily wage labour. They practice traditional method of farming in which the farmers depend on monsoon and heavily on chemicals. The yield of their land has diminished over the years owing to reduced soil fertility due to prolonged use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Although, they do not have a sufficient amount of land to practice extensive agriculture, but some of them have small portion of land that helps them to mostly practice subsistence farming. And in the non-farming seasons, they opt for wage labour for which they even migrate to other places seasonally.
The tribal communities have a history of superstitious belief systems, poverty, malnutrition and unhealthy life style, all of which takes a great toll, especially, on women and children. The tribe is a patriarchal group, which not only denies the role of women in decision-making but also encourages discrimination against women; thereby, not letting them get educated while the boy child is and dragging them into child marriage and child labour at the expense of their health and education. Men of the community are often used to gambling and intoxication, making the lives of women and children, particularly girl child, even more miserable.
Prayatn began its intervention in Mandi Sahajana in 2017 through the projects ‘Prabhat’ (an intervention focused upon elementary education of children) and ‘Bajaj Health and Nutrition’ with the support of Oracle and Bajaj Finserv, respectively. These interventions were completed by March 2022. While working there, it was realized that education of adolescent girls is a big issue in the village because of absence of Upper Primary school nearby and therefore when “She Leads Change” project was conceptualized under the auspices of EMPOWER and Rise Up in 2022, this village was selected.
The team started its work with the formation of 02 community-based institutions namely, Village Development Committee (VDC) and Adolescent Girls’ Group (AGG) locally called Kishori Samooh. In the meeting of the Village Development Committee, efforts are made to solve the issues of village development and women and children. Second, in the Bal Manch organization, efforts are made to remove the rights of children and their hesitation and fear and some small works can be done by the children. Similarly, there is Kishori Manch, in which issues related to adolescent girls are discussed and efforts are made to solve them. Along with rural development, all three organizations work mostly on the issues of education, health, cleanliness and nutrition.
Issue Identification and Resolution:
The AGG of village Mandi Sahajana has been named as Meera Bai Kishori Samooh by the members themselves. In one of the AGG meetings held in February 2023, Krishna Sahariya, the Vice President of the group, appeared to be sad and became emotional when enquired about the same by the group members. During the talk, she expressed, “My parents have fixed my marriage against my wishes and despite the fact that I am just a 15- year-old girl.” She also revealed that she educated her parents about the perils of becoming a child bride and even protested against it but to no avail as her father was adamant and had already begun marital preparations. The issue was extremely disturbing to Krishna and she felt scared of the situation that she was about to face.
The resolution of Krishna’s issue became the prime effort to be made through the forthcoming AGG meetings. The first step taken by the team has been to counsel Krishna and to ease her of the anxiety and fear that she was facing. While the team engaged in working out ways to stop her marriage, the girls of AGG members also stood with her in her difficult time which gave her the assurance that she would definitely overcome the difficulty.
The team invited Krishna’s mother in the next AGG meeting in which a very detailed discussion was held about the ill effects of child marriage on the physical, mental and psychological wellbeing of a child bride and legal laws pertaining to it. Krishna’s mother felt the seriousness of what was being discussed in the meeting and she also expressed her conviction that child marriage undoubtedly takes a toll on a girl as she herself had been through it. She informed that team that she would try her best to convince her husband to delay Krishna’s wedding till she turns 18 and also to promote her education at the same time.
The next thing the team headed to do was to hold a talk with Mr Roop Singh, Krishna’s father, counselling and persuading him to take the right path which would give a risk-free and better life to his daughter. He was answered in all respects by the team member and convinced that marrying away Krishna at this age of 15 would ruin her health and even pose a big threat to her very life. Krishna too reiterated her denial for the marriage and requested her father to allow her to study till she is turns 18. The team too supported and suggested that she can appear in class XII exams through Rajasthan State Open School. Though reluctantly, Krishna’s father consented to not give her away in marriage lately but to wait till she turns 18. However, he is not at all willing to let her study while using migration as an excuse for his decision. In spite of the rigidness, the project team is further trying to convince him for linking her to open school education.
Hearing Mr Roop Singh’s decision of averting child marriage, happiness of Krishna and the entire AGG members knew no bounds. The girls have realised the power of joint efforts made by the group members with the team’s cooperation and have gained self-confidence to stand for their rights even in the face of rigid and tough circumstances. Krishna has received a new lease on life and has started to make extra efforts to enhance her reading and writing abilities by attending remedial teaching classes without fail. Krishna is expecting and praying that her father would also let her study further just as he changed his decision regarding her marriage. However, she is happy that he has allowed her younger sister, Jyoti, to study further who has been admitted in Mandi Sahajana School. Krishna is thankful to the work that Prayatn has been doing with the help of Rise Up and Empower and wishes to become self-dependent before she ever takes the marriage vows.