By Salahuddin Saiphy & Swati Sinha
A schoolgirl from the government high school of Sri Sathya Sai district (erstwhile Anantapur), Andhra Pradesh, stood against child marriage despite all odds and chose higher studies to build her career.
Himaroopini, is a class-10 student studying in Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV), Chilamathur, is the eldest child of a family with two siblings: a brother and a sister. She excels in her studies and stood at the second position in class 9. Her father Nagaraju, age forty-five, is an agriculture laborer who cultivates maize crops on a half-acre of land. Her mother does construction labor, sometimes in brick kilns. The monthly average income of their family is Rs. 15000/-, too little to meet the basic needs of a family of five.
Himaroopini explored opportunities to upgrade her knowledge and learned about the Digital and Life Skills Awareness training course conducted by S M Sehgal Foundation in 2021. She immediately enrolled. During the course, she acquired the skills for operating a laptop/computer and also developed an understanding of girls’ education, economic independence, and holding a respectable job in society. For the session on gender equity, a local women police officer motivated the students about gender equity. Himaroopini was greatly inspired by the assertive statements such as: “Girls are no less than boys,” and “It is an honor to be a police officer,” which reinforced her ambition to continue her studies to become a police officer. However, coming from a poor family with a common social practice of child marriage, this was not an easy task.
According to a study analyzing the incidence and intensity of child marriages at national, state and district levels, by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) in collaboration with Young Lives India, child marriage is widely prevalent in Andhra Pradesh.[i]
Sri Sathya Sai district (erstwhile Anantapur) stood third in the state, with 16,738 girls in the state being married before age eighteen. Generally, girls get married just after attaining puberty, particularly in poor families. Himaroopini’s father wanted her to get married, and he started searching for a suitable groom. With the help of a common family network, he soon found a groom in a nearby village and wanted to get her married within two months. This was quite upsetting for Himaroopini, and she shared her aspiration of becoming a police officer with her mother, for which continuing her studies was a must. Initially, her mother tried to convince Himaroopini to get married and settle in her life. However, her mother later supported her daughter’s dream and stood against her father’s wish for early age marriage. Later, Swathi, a Taruni instructor, and school teachers counseled her father to reconsider his decision and allow Himaroopini to continue her studies. Due to their poverty, her father wanted her married at the earliest, but seeing her motivation and career potential, he decided to allow her continue her studies and fulfil her desire to become a police officer. She scored 85 percent marks in class 9 and aims for 90+ marks in class 10, which she will begin soon. She and (especially) her mother feel very happy that instead of early age marriage, Himaroopini is continuing her studies and is on the right path to achieving her goal. Her determination and goal setting will pave the way for her to become a police officer.
[i] See https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/Child-marriage-widely-prevalent-in-A.P.-says-study/article17316954.ece as viewed on 5 Aug, 2022.
(Salahuddin is principal lead, Water Management and Swati is program lead, Telangana, Hyerabad)