Girl Force: Dilemmas and developments
As we speak today about girl child, I remember the girls I have been working with.
As we speak today about girl child, I remember the girls I have been working with. Girls of single mothers, girls saved from sexual slavery, girls from difficult backgrounds, girls of sex workers and recording dancers, girls from the rural and tribal areas.
Yes, they are strong, smart, bold, intelligent and hardworking… the girl force that like the theme of this year's International Girl Child Day are 'Unscripted and Unstoppable.'
The scripts are different, the struggles are many but the spirit to fight and live life makes them unstoppable (names are changed to protect their Identity)
G-Gunavathi- She calls me sometimes in the middle of night. In trepidation, she says "I am pushed into being woman, I wish I am strong to save myself.
A girl lost both her limbsin a train accident and it was her lover who threw her onto railway tracks after a heated argument. There are different versions to the story - that she wanted to commit suicide is the version of state prosecuting her case.
Her version is in stark contrast – 'I went there to talk about marriage, and he hinted that he cant marry me because my parents are poor and can't afford dowry, butcaste and my financial status had not stopped him while having romance with me…
I never wanted to commit suicide. But disability is worse than death,' says Gunavathi. She awaits justice and punishment to her lover, while he has married someone else from his caste, with fat dowry and has a baby girl.
Gunavathi continues to strugglewith life in a wheelchair as both her legs were amputated above knee, and she is trying to build her life again with the help of NGOs like ours and trying for a job placement. She is looking forward to help from donors to get artificial limbs that will help her walk again.
I – Indira-Indira's father left her mother as she has given birth to a girl child for the second time. He married again and is living with the new wife in anticipation of a boy child. Indira's mother is left with two girl children.
She works as daily labour and leads a hand to mouth existence and is at the mercy of her in laws who own the house where she lives. The mother put the two girls in our hostel so that they can study.
Indira is new attending a beauty course that will give her a career and livelihood. She confessed to us that she was forced to present herself before two suitors and there is endless coercion from father and sometimes even from mother to get married.
All through her life, she is perceived as burden, and that is visible in her in every action of her parents. She is trying to gain confidence through her work. She is on a path of realising she is important, not a burden.
It is a predictable script, but she wants a different solution to her story, totally scripted by herself.
R- Ramani - Ramani is not more than 15 this year. Her maternal uncle is 32 years in age and working as cook at a roadside dhabha. Ramani lives in our hostel and is studying class 9.
Whenever there are holidays in hostel due to some festival or seasonal holidays, like all other students ramani also goes home and falls severely sickeverytime.
I and our team thought, she has some serious health problems. After consulting the doctor, we came to know that she doesn't have any health issues that we should be alarmed of.
But on a scrutiny and after counseling sessions, she confessed that she gets anxiety attackswhenever she goes home, because she feels if she is not sick, her parents will get her married off to her maternal uncle who is 17 years elder to her.
Ramani also heard he has contracted some diseases. She is scared and hostel is a safe home for her to avoid marriage. She wants to be a nurse.
L- Lachchamma-Lachchamma lives in an interior tribal hamlet. Both her parents were separated, father is a severe alcoholic and left the hamlet on migratory work.
The mother tooleft the hamlet with her baby brother leaving 7-year-old lachchamma to her fate. The young girl started living alone in the hut in a hope that her mother would return one day along with her brother.
Little did she know that her mother is nowsettled in another workplace with her new lover and baby boy and she has no plans to return home. It took all our team's effort to convince Lachchammato join our hostel.
She is suspicious of people, has severe mood swings and trust issues with people. The fear, separation, aloofness, not belonging to any family or unit played havoc with her mental status.
She rarely speaks and stutters as she is not in habit of any social gathering. She is still struggling. She always says, 'she would not have had to endure it all, if she was a boy. Her story is painful. It appears as an insult to humanity and compassion.
S- Saraswathi – true to her name, Saraswathi is a very bright student in academics. Father is an alcoholic. Unable to bear his abuse and constant ill treatment, Saraswathi's mother committed suicide by burning herself in broad daylight.
Saraswathi, her brother and sister found their fully burnt mother when they came home from school during the lunch break. Father remarried immediately and has a child now.
Paternal grandmother, who is disabled herself enrolled the three children, who underwent severe trauma into our hostel. Aided by our constant support and counselling, Saraswathi decided, if she wanted to live a life, she must study.
She got A+ in Intermediate and is doing her Graduation in computers with the support of our NGO. As an elder child of the family, fully knowing the reasons for her mother's death, she is a determined child, who is forced into adulthood, courtesy her situations. Her story is unscripted, and she is unstoppable.
All the 'GIRLS', mentioned in this article are coming from a below poverty line families, whose annual income is less than Rs 10,000.
As a frontline worker in the communities with girls and working only for girls with emotional, social, physical disabilities, I still wonder at their resilience.
There are many challenges and there is a need for call of action on the following points – There is a thin difference in donor mandated programs and community mandated programs.
That's where diversified community voices need to be heard. Unfortunately, in rural tribal areas, there is no such platform
Author is disabled by quirk of fate, advocate by profession, social sctivist by passion. She runs Global AID, a non-profit for children and women with and without disabilities
There is some asymmetric balance in the development themes. Even the most pinpointed girl child development programs are not addressing the climatic, environment, culture shackles around them;
♦ Other than a chosen few, new voices are not reaching enough or visible enough.
♦ The stigma of being a girl/woman/second class citizen is normalised and conditioned likewise in societies and communities where a girl is still seen as either asset to be protected or burden to be washed their hands off. This is leading to early marriages and the vicious circle of patriarchy continues.
♦ Communities that define what makes a good woman are seriously on rise in the name of protection, patriarchy, physical vulnerabilities etc.
♦ Discriminations like period taboos, perceived good women practices that are deeply ingrained are adding as a control factors leading to direct violence on women like rapes and sexual abuse. Many rape offenders confessed that, they wanted to teach the girl a 'lesson'. Same is the case with caste-based violence.
♦ Invariably, girls/women are becoming family's objects of honour and pride. In a country like India, where women are worshipped as divine, their basic rights are conveniently trampled and quashed.
I am not negating that there is no positive development. But, not only the pace needs to be increased, the quality of development must be questioned at every step and stage. Then only can we can really celebrate empowerment in real sense. Yes we own half the sky, but our sky is cloudy with no clarity of choice to us..!!