Bhubaneswar: Manushi Chillar, the 20-year-old medical student, may have created history as Miss World 2017, but not every girl in India gets to complete her primary school education, let alone represent the country on an international forum.
Many adolescent girls fall victims to social evils such as child labour, human trafficking, child marriage, illegal prostitution, etc. Many a time they do not get the opportunity to complete their education. The girls are often malnourished and do not understand physiological and emotional changes they undergo. Under these circumstances, parents of these girls often find ‘suitable’ grooms and marry them off.
However, there are change agents in Odisha, who have taken it upon themselves to rid the society of such evils.
One such individual is Diptymayee Pala (22) of Odisha capital. “I was in Class VIII when my parents wanted me to get married as they had received a ‘bhala prastaba’ (good proposal). My mother was ill and she wanted to see me get settled. I was unable to explain it to them that I did not want to be married. A local NGO came to my rescue and counselled my parents, after which they agreed to call off the wedding,” said Diptymayee, a graduate and resident of Niladri Vihar.
The incident motivated Diptimayee to take up the cudgels for other girls, who often find themselves in a helpless situation with parents eager to marry them off at an early age. She and a few other girls have been instrumental in preventing child marriages in their locality and saving girls from the fate of underage weddings.
“We conduct community meetings in the nearby slum areas with 30-35 girls and spread awareness regarding the vices of marrying at a tender age. We organise signature campaigns where individuals pledge to not tie the knot before turning 18. We also conduct skits to educate families who are illiterate and bogged down by societal stereotypes,” explained Pragyan Paramita Swain (22), who prohibited a 16-year-old’s wedding in the same locality.
Madhusmita Sahoo (20), who is also a part of the same group as Diptymayee and Pragyan, cited the example of a relative who was forcibly getting his daughter married and did not listen to anybody as he thought the prospective groom was the best he could find for his 15-year-old. After exhausting all means of trying to convince him, Childline India was called. Finally, the wedding was cancelled.
“Here in slum areas, parents fear that a young girl will fall in love with someone and run away from home to get married. Before such shame befalls the family, they seek a groom and marry their daughters off amid pressure from relatives and society, even if these girls do not understand the meaning of marriage and the physical and emotional toll it would take on them,” explained Madhusmita.
The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (2006) prevents and prohibits child marriage in India. An UN report of 2005 estimates child marriage rate of India at 30%. January 24 of every year has been declared as National Girl Child Day and the government of India conducts programmes to sensitize people about the ill-effects of child marriage.