On a car ride with Mother Courage- Bhanwari Devi #Vaw #Sexualharassment


Independent journalist & radio anchor Vasanthi Hariprakash tells about her date with Rajastan’s firebrand Bhanwari Devi
bangalore Mirror

bhanwari devi

Posted On Sunday, March 10, 2013 at 09:19:45 PM

It is one thing to read about Bhanvari Devi in the papers; totally another to see her, and then realise she is smiling at you with every bit of her warmth even when you are just introduced to her. A woman about whose courage reams have been written, whose grit in the face of gang rape 21 years back by upper caste men in her village had eventually led to the landmark Visakha judgment on sexual harassment of women at the workplace, Bhanwari does justice to that line I had heard sometime, recited on stage as part of a poem: “Rajasthan ki naari hai, phool nahi, chingaari hai” (The English translation of that line would do no justice to the spirit in which it was written: The woman of Rajasthan; she is no flower, she is the spark of a fire.)

Firebrand Bhanwari certainly is, or why would the unlettered woman from the oppressed Kumhar caste have ventured about 30 years back to be a saathin (woman community worker) in her village in Rajasthan? Why would she agree to be a volunteer whose job, as part of the Women’s Development Programme (WDP), was to intervene in child marriages that would mean taking on unrelenting powerful patriarchs?

It was a job that was to cost her very dearly. The year was 1992, village Bhateri, about 60 km from the capital city of Jaipur. And in that part of the country where child marriages are rampant, an uppercaste Gujar household had been getting ready for a wedding. Or more aptly, getting ready for cradle-snatching. The bride was a nine-month-old baby girl; the ‘groom’ all of 1 year!

Bhanwari, who knew what it meant to be a child bride having been one herself, landed up at the house. She tried telling them gently, explaining to them why it was so wrong, “Mat karo chhoti bacchii ki shaadi, bhavishya kharab ho jaati hai ladki ki. (Do not get the child married now, her future will be ruined),” she pleaded.

But when all the Gujar men present there yelled at and taunted her, she revoked the power of being a saathin. “Collector saab has asked women like me to stop the marriage if the bride is a child,” she said. The party was over, even if only for that time — the child’s marriage is said to have taken place a few months down the line.

The male ego and the caste pride were hurt; the price extracted soon enough. One evening, when Bhanwari and her husband were working in their sparse little field, five Gujar men showed up. After picking a fight with him, they took turns to rape Bhanwari.

“Itne chhote chhote thhe yeh sab,” she tells me putting out her hand to describe how small her kids back at home were. The mother of two sons and two daughters decided it was no time to cry. How she then told her husband that she would not listen to him and would go ahead to file a police complaint, how the local primary health centre refused to examine her, how women cops at the local police station took away her ghaghra as evidence leaving her to travel to Jaipur by bus wrapped only in a thin bed sheet, how her first medical examination happened only 48 hours after her rape, and how it was the pressure of women’s organisations that brought the horrific crime to light – these are part of the Bhanwari story now well known, and well documented in newspapers, books as well as online articles.

Bhanwari’s incredible courage pushed her to be an unlikely hero. It won her awards, most famously the Neerja Bhanot award — named after the brave airhostess who died trying to resist a hijack attempt on a Pan Am flight in 1986. It took Bhanwari to international fora and women’s conferences in foreign lands. It also made her the mascot of victory over traumatic circumstances, but back in her own village, little or nothing changed for her, especially socially. Today, while she is the toast of woman power all over the country, to her own fellow villagers in Bhateri, Bhanwari with her family continues to be an ‘outcaste’.

The crippling social boycott that bans any link with her is a hurt she doesn’t express openly, but is evident when she says, “Aas paas ke gaon ki auratein salaah lene aatin hai, mere gaon se ek bhi nahi. (Women from all the nearby villages come to me asking for guidance, not one from my village.)”

Her rapists, meanwhile, were freed long back, after serving barely a year in jail.

Even the government has done little for the welfare of saathins like her, who travel village to village, carrying the word of government schemes for the poor, and risk their life and limbs while trying to intervene in cases of dowry demands, female foeticide and child marriage. “Women workers of Anganwadi, which came in much later after the WDP did, earn much more than we do. From Rs 300 decades back, today it’s barely 1,600.”

And since they are cleverly termed ‘volunteers’, these women retire with no pension, despite having been government servants all their lives. But that lament is only temporary. The positive power of Bhanwari’s persona kicks in, embracing every person she comes in touch with.

At a felicitation function organised on Saturday in her honour by the Kannada Lekhakiyara Sangha (Women writers’ association) in Bangalore’s Chamrajpet, the reed-thin Bhanwari deeply hugs a young girl whose own story of courage had earlier moved the audience to a thunderous applause. That long, deep hug is freely dispensed to every woman, every girl who wants Bhanwari to pose for a picture with her, mostly clicked on mobile phones. Even this writer, meeting her for the first time, is a beneficiary of that embrace.

From Chamrajpet, a couple of women are set to take Bhanwari to an activist’s home in Srirampura near Malleswaram for a simple lunch. Seeing that they are trying to hail an autorickshaw, I ask them if they want to come along in my car. They agree, and soon the middle aged woman in a bright Rajasthani saree, its ghunghat covering her head, is seated in the middle of the backseat next to me. On the other side is her daughter Rameshwari, who has accompanied her on this trip to Bangalore, and earlier Mangalore, where she addressed — and “energised” — a rally of around 4,000 people to mark International Women’s Day, to specially speak out against increasing moral policing in the coastal city.

Rameshwari, who translates Bhanwari’s Rajasthani dialect into Hindi for us, says her mother was thrilled to see so many women come together in the rally. She saw on TV all the “maar-peet” how they dragged girls out of a party, tore their clothes, pulled their hair…

Bhanwari speaks before her daughter can finish that line. “Kisi bhi aurat ke saath aisa hota hai, toh lagta hai mere shareer par atyachar ho raha ho. Bahut zyada dukhi hoti hoon. (Whenever a woman goes through that kind of ordeal, I feel I am violated. It makes me very sad.)”

That sadness, though, is not of the helpless kind. “Suryanelli ki ladki ko itni badi sazaa kyon?” she suddenly breathes fire. Referring to the church’s ban on the Kerala rape survivor, she says, “Why is she being punished? What is her crime? Why can’t all of us behenen (sisters) go there to show our support for her?”

Looking out of the car, Bhanwari lapses into memories of her own struggle, first to get even the complaint against her rapists registered, and then the battle in the courts. “Court mein koi bhi nahi hai garib ki sunne ke liye. Beizzati hoti hai, khilvaad karte hain mahilaaon ke saathh. (There is none in the courts to listen to the poor. There is only indignity and insult for women.)”

Talk then veers to the Delhi girl whose gang rape and death caused such national outrage. I mention the recent American award given in her honour, and Bhanwari retorts, “Puraskaar se pet kaun bhare? Hume puraskaar nahi, nyaay dijiye. (Can an award feed the stomach? Give us justice, not awards.)

Sunny, spirited, sharp and ready with repartees — just what’s the secret source of her mum’s spunk, I ask Rameshwari as the women get out of the car. “Bas, Maa aisi hi hain. Suru se hi. (Mother is always like this. Right from the start). A proud smile later, “Strong. Ekdumm majboot

 

Appeal from a daughter in Bangladesh – ‘ Give justice to my mother Saira “


Sami  Ahmed says

Twenty  years ago the Bangladesh government broke the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when they allowed the child marriage of my mother, Saira Ahmed, to a British paedophile. The purpose of this petition is to generate enough support that the Bangladesh government will recognize that they have broken several articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and press charges against the family my mother was married into. All facts stated here are verified in the feature film that is in development based on these events.

Me and my mum want to say thank you to all that sign our petition because in doing so you make us feel like we do have a family here, and that we are not alone. Your signature means you are now family members. I want to keep you all updated monthly about the progress of this campaign, so kindly do provide an email address and continue to share this petition with others.

The act of child marriage is not rare: from 2000-2008, 64% of women aged 20-24 in Bangladesh were married before they were 18 years old.

We have all the legal documents and court papers to prove Saira’s husband was a paedophile here.

1:Saira during her child marriage. 2 & 3: Saira now

PLEASE SIGN ONLIEN PETITION HERE AND SHARE WIDELY

contact
Sami Ahmed
Website: http://justiceforsaira.wordpress.com/

Landmark Case Indian Child Bride, has marriage annulled


Laxmi holds up her hard-won annulment. (AFP)At an age when most kids are learning to walk, Laxmi Sargara was already married. Her husband, Rakesh, was just three-years-old when family sealed the deal on their fate. She was one.
How a child bride finally made her escape

Now seventeen years later the couple have set a history-making precedent by having their marriage annulled. But the real hero of this story is Laxmi, now 18, who took remarkably brave steps to reverse the archaic tradition and opened the door for more child brides to follow.

Though technically illegal in India, poor families living in rural areas often rely on these types of partnerships, using kids as pawns in order to provide more financial stability to those who can’t afford to feed their children long-term. The fall-out is hardest felt for child brides, plucked from their parents’ homes in their teens and forced to live with the husband they wed as a toddler and his family. The girls are expected to play the role of obedient wife and daughter-in-law, and in some instances, are beaten into submission by members of their new family.

Just days ago, Laxmi’s was informed of her own marriage obligations, promised almost two decades before by her Rajasthani elders, and given a move-in deadline of April 24 from her in-laws.

“I was unhappy about the marriage. I told my parents who did not agree with me, then I sought help,” Sargara told AFP.

She reached to a social worker in Jodhpur who advocates for children’s rights through an organization called the Sarathi Trust. The social worker contacted the groom, who was prepared to go through with family arrangement. After some persuading, he finally changed his mind and agreed to an annulment, influenced by the fact that he’d be marrying a woman risking everything to live without him.

“It is the first example we know of a couple wed in childhood wanting the marriage to be annulled, and we hope that others take inspiration from it,” Kriti Bharti, the social worker who orchestrated the annulment, told AFP.

A joint legal document signed by both Rakesh and Laxmi made it official and provided a road map for other young brides to do the same.

“Now I am mentally relaxed and my family members are also with me,” said Laxmi, who beamed as she held up the document for photographers. She plans to continue her education in hopes of landing a job so she can maintain her independence. But Laxmi’s newfound freedom comes with risk.

In India, where an estimated 50 percent of girls are married before they’re 18, opponents of arranged child marriages can face serious threats, including gang rape, beatings and maiming. On the same day as Laxmi’s annulment became official, protesters trying to stop a mass child wedding in Rajasthan were attacked and injured by villagers. When a 13-year-old refused to wed her arranged husband in 2009, her parents withheld her food for two weeks. Amazingly, the young girl prevailed and gained international attention and support for her stance. This week Laxmi moved the needle even further; hers is the first legally-binding child marriage annulment in India’s history.

Child marriages are a worldwide phenomenon, particularly in rural areas with high poverty rates and closely-guarded ancient traditions. In parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, The Middle East and even the U.S. underage children are forced into marriages at the behest of their families. In recent years, American officials have cracked down on fundamentalist polygamist sects in Utah and Texasknown to pair adult grooms with child brides. Other countries provide less legal clout needed to protect young girls. In Yemen where, there is no punishment for families who marry off an underage daughter, about half the country’s brides are under 15. In Saudi Arabia, there is no minimum age for marriage at all. An 8-year old girl found this out in 2009, when the Saudi courts denied her annulment request. At the time, her husband was 58.

Too Young to Wed


Stephanie Sinclair, for the Pulitzer Center

Every year, throughout the world, millions of young girls are forced into marriage. Child marriage is outlawed in many countries and international agreements forbid the practice yet this tradition still spans continents, language, religion and caste.

Over an eight-year period, photographer Stephanie Sinclair has investigated the phenomenon of child marriage in India, Yemen, Afghanistan, Nepal and Ethiopia. Her multimedia presentation, produced in association with National Geographic, synthesizes this body of work into a call to action.

In a related post Stephanie Sinclair shares the difficult experiences child brides face. She discusses the need for their voices to be heard and the challenges she faced as a journalist who witnessed their struggles and abuse.

Stephanie Sinclair’s images are featured in a story on child marriage in the June 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine.

How to help: National Geographic has compiled a list of organizations that encourage families to delay marriage and give girls an opportunity to reach their full potential.

Munija says No to Child Marriage


Sixteen year old Munija Khatun reads in Class X and lives with her parents Samsul Momin & Rumela Bibi in Mahisasthali village of Samshergunj Block of Murshidbad district. As Munija is a beautiful looking girl, on the way to school she often faced comments with sexual overtones. So Samshul thought it was better to get her married as early as possible to ensure safety. Thus it was decided that Munija would discontinue her studies and her marriage was arranged.

Munija was very upset and informed ASHA’s field representative about her father’s plan of getting her married. ASHA’s field representative took Munija to meet the women’s reflect circle members and shared with the women Munija’s problem. The women in the reflect circle had come together with support from ASHA and had become conscious of their rights through participation in awareness sessions and were determined to address social customs which discriminate girls and women. On the very next day the women visited Munija’s place and talked with her father. Her father explained why he was arranging the marriage, which was according to him for protection of Munija. The women opined that marriage was not a solution for the problem. Moreover marriage at an early age and depriving Munija from opportunities of school education was detrimental to her development. But Munija’s father was not at all ready to listen to the Reflect Circle Members. Munija also expressed her reluctance to get married strongly after feeling supported by the women.

Mean while the women of the reflect circle had a meeting with the boys involved in harassing Munija and pressurized the boys to stop such unacceptable behavior and warned them that if they did not pay heed to their advice they would report to police . The boys committed to the women to change their behavior and attitude. They also went with the women and assured Munija’s parents that Munija will never face this problem again. Samshul finally agreed to postpone the marriage. Now Munija is attending her school regularly and she is not facing any problem on the way to school.

Adolescent reflect circles support Tuktuki to prevent an early marriage

Fifteen year old Tuktuki Khatun lives in Kashimnagar village of Block Suti II in Murshidabad district with her father Moimul Sk, a daily labourer and mother Baby Bibi, homebased beedi worker. Her 17year old brother has migrated in search of work and two elder sisters are married. Tuktuki is Illiterate and she has never attended school. She helps her mother in beedi rolling. Her marriage was fixed with her maternal cousin on 12th December 2011.

Tohamina Adolescent Reflect Circle was formed with support from ASHA in 2009 as a forum for adolescent girls where they could discuss and learn about various health, nutrition & social issues affecting their lives and their rights and gain confidence to express their concerns/views. They had all learnt about the legal age for marriage, hazards of early marriage and legal provisions to prevent Child marriage. During the observation of International Fortnight to prevent Violence against Women & Girls, the reflect circle girls under leadership of Asnara Khatun had taken the pledge to make their village child marriage free. The circle had atken up the issues of promoting rights of girls to education and preventing child marriage as their priority issues. They were also supported by the Women Reflect Circle members in the village.

When the girls came to know of Tuktuki’s marriage they went to her house and circle Visit Tuktuki’s house and tried to explain her parents that their daughter is only 15year she is not physically and mentally fit for marriage. They also mentioned that organizing child marriage is punishable under the law. But her parents were very adamant and did not want to discuss anything with the girls. The members of Tohmina adolescent circle along with the women Reflect circle members again visited Tuktuki’s house. Baby Bibi on that day expressed that she was not in favour of the marriage at this point but her husband’s decision was final. Tuktuki also did not want to marry. Moimul Sk was not ready to discuss and listen to anyone.

After several attempts the adolescent girls realized that to stop this marriage, they need help from the police and District Social Welfare Office. The girls had already met the District Social Welfare Officer (DSWO) and Protection Officer at Baharampur during their Annual Sharing Meet and DSWO had given his number for contact in emergency. Asnara, the circle leader spoke to DSWO over phone about the situation and requested his help. On the very next day the Police came to the village and talked with Tuktuki’s parents. Subsequently the marriage was postponed.

 

(Association for Social and Health Advancement(ASHA) has been engaged over last eight years in addressing adolescent health, nutrtion& development issues and working for promoting adolescent rights and undertaking community/school based interventions for empowering adolescent girls and boys.I am sharing  the stories of Munija, Tuktuki & Tohmina adolescent reflect circle who have been appreciated by the Honourable President of India on 17th January for saying no to CHILD Marriage.)

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