Pursue your inner voice to be in a position “to accept”, not “ to be accepted”.

Dedication: To all Child marriage survivor's

“My name is Bhagyashree Saini and more than anything, my primary identity is that “I am a child marriage survivor”. I fought for 11 years to come out of this social evil and iam proud of it.

Remembering my Khetri days

I was born and brought up in the rural setup of Khetri Nagar, a small town in the Jhunjhunu district of Rajasthan, and I am highly thankful to my parents for raising me up. This is because the birth of a girl child in my area is considered, more of a curse or a bane. I studied upto fifth standard in an english medium school and then switched to a hindi medium one, afterwards. There, I skipped many classes in order to complete my school education as early as possible. Life for me, was very normal. But it was just like a brief silence before the storm, an event that would change my life forever.
The storm arises – My Child marriage

The month of April 2006 brought a huge storm in my life, in the form of my child marriage. I will not say that it was forced upon me, but it was definitely against my will, as I was at a very young age to understand and comprehend the upcoming consequences of this mere “one day long event”, and the way the whole society would treat me – including my parents, relatives, neighbours, my so called pseudo-friends, and all those characters who in future will enter into my life with short-term pre-destined contributions – positive or negative.

The roller coaster ride begins – The beginning of a 11 year long journey

I immediately raised the red flag as my inner voice rebelled said “ No Bhagyashree, you never intended to live like this. You wanted to pursue your dreams and maybe this will act as a roadblock for your bright future”. Though, I was not aware of the legal validity of this event, but for my ambitions that I am meant for something bigger, I went against the will of my family, left that place and went to Jaipur, without having an inch of an idea of what I will do next and how will I survive.

I tried my level best to remain attached to my dreams and ambitions. I joined NCC during my graduation, which for the first time in my life, made me realise the capability, energy and discipline inside me to pursue my dreams. Within NCC, I gradually got promoted to the rank of “Senior under-Officer and won “Best Cadet award”, “Best shooter award”, and “Gold medal in anchoring”. This instilled the required passion inside me to pursue my dreams further. I graduated from science and then went on to complete my post-graduation from Public administration.

In Jaipur, I took the responsibility of sustaining my life, on my own, and started my career by first working as a counsellor and then as a placement officer. The biggest irony with this social evil is that, wherever and whenever you will share this illegal tag of “child marriage” with anyone and the pain you are undergoing due to it, they will start taking you as a “rebel girl, who is just running away from her reality, because she wants to live an independent life”. For others, it was an interesting story to discuss. This is the way society functions and thinks, as child marriage in many societies, including our Indian society, is such an accepted norm, though declared illegal by government, that they easily equate it with a legal institution like marriage. Jaipur made me realise that in order to do something better with my life and pursue my dreams in a better manner, I need to be aware of the opportunities available. With this thought, I decided to prepare for civil services and for that I have to shift to Delhi, the capital of our country and the place where opportunities and ambitions converge.

My encounters with society

The preparations for civil services, since 2011, while staying in Delhi, made me realise that the event that occurred with me some years back, is actually an age-old social evil, and it is not only me, rather there are millions of girls out there, not only in India, but even in developed societies like USA, who become a victim of child marriage every year.

At the same time, Delhi taught me how society treats a child marriage survivor. I was being judged on the basis of my purity and chastity. This instilled so much fear inside me that I started hiding this event. Whenever, any friend of mine, came to know that I am a child marriage survivor, they suddenly used to stop talking to me, as if they will catch some contagious disease. Majority behaved with me as if I am an outcaste or a slur on the face of women in society. There was a point where even I also started taking this event attached with myself as some mistake committed by me. I became a victim of false promises, taunts, abuses, devaluation, emotional tortures, rejection and all the demeaning treatment you can think of.

I still remember one statement of a person towards me that – “You should stop praying to God, as nothing good can happen to you, as you are a bad girl – That’s why bad thing only happen to you like child marriage.”

Some would say “you should be grateful towards us as we are doing a huge charity for you by accepting your child marriage”.

I even got to listen some laughable statements like “ Come on, your’s marriage was not a child marriage as child marriage is something which can only be accounted for if the girl has not attained the age of puberty. You are just doing it to gain sympathy from the society”.

Gradually, I went into depression because of all this feelings of worthlessness, severe financial constraints, zero support from my family, fear of being rejected etc. But, life had got something else in store for me, something bigger, something better than i expected.

The rise of a proud survivor

It is rightly said that “ God is always for those who have no one”. The almighty always provides you with a window of light when there is darkness all around. Many life changing events happened. Firstly, I was legally able to get rid of being a child marriage victim in 2017, though an inappropriate word “divorcee” got attached with my profile. This is the second biggest irony of my life, a loophole in our legal system, where a word used to describe the end of a legal institution of marriage is also simultaneously used for ending an illegal custom of child marriage. Secondly, I got myself certified from the world renown universities like Harvard, Stanford and British Columbia on Women & Child rights issues. Presently, I am an author and a blogger on many national and international platforms like UNICEF, International Youth Journal, women web, story mirror, PenThere, youth ki aawaz etc., writing for the issues concerned with Women and Child rights. I also run my own blog for generating awareness on Child marriage. Very recently, I have been conferred with “Women achievers award” on International Women Day, 2020, by B.N.Patel Institute, Vadodara. Currently, I am serving as the President of Women and Child Wing for National Youth Council of India (NYCI), Rajasthan, and as National Women Secretary for Masoom Bachpan foundation, along with my preparation for Civil services. And most importantly, today I proudly proclaim myself a child marriage survivor.

The lessons learned and my future ventures

Sometimes people accept me sometimes they reject me. Sometimes they think I am a rebel, sometimes they think and try to ensure that I fit according to them. Sometimes I am ambitious which is a dirty word according to them and trust me I am very ok with it because they are not accepting this social evil attached with my personality. But for me it includes my overall package which I carry. And many times it’s a filter which removes those people who are not like minded. Now, I am more clear in myself and I have realised that from where these mentality comes and I completely understand the fact that it’s not only about low education, it’s about those deep rooted and regressive thoughts which they carry with themselves throughout their life. I chose to be ambitious, a women of my own words and I know the cost of it. In this journey, with my heart and soul, I can tell everyone one thing that “ It’s very hard for a girl to fight with her own family, society and regressive thoughts”. The biggest paradox I have seen in my journey is that the people who were more educated were the ones who contributed the most towards discriminating a girl.

Every child brides around the world should know that no social evil is bigger than your dreams and ambitions. So let yourself remain trapped in it. Just come out of it, with your full strength and be your own hero. The worst lines which I have hated throughout my journey is that “We are accepting you. This word in itself is enough to downgrade all your fights, struggles, ambitions and dreams. So pursue your inner voice to be in a position “to accept”, not “be accepted”.

For me, being a child marriage survivor, is a source of strength, an answer to many of my unanswered questions, an introduction to my personality and the real face of the society. Today nothing much have changed inside me except the way I take myself and my journey. I am still working to attain the best version of myself. Today, every other person whom I meet, tell me that only due to child marriage, you are better and different than others, a role model for many, though I don’t like this hero status, as the journey still continues and there are millions of women who need my presence. At last, I want to say to this society “If you can’t treat us like heroes, then you don’t have any right to treat us like victims either, as you can never understand the real cost of my child marriage, which took 11 years of my life”.
Photo credit: Images courtesy of the storyteller.

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Bhagyashree Saini

About Bhagyashree:- Bhagyashree Saini, a Child marriage survivor ( Women and Child rights Activist) is from Rajasthan India. She pursued her master's degree in Public Administration and got herself certified in International women rights from Stanford University, Child rights from Harvard University and Gender & Sexuality issues from University of British Columbia. She currently writes on platforms like "UNICEF", "International youth journal etc She is serving as a "Women and Child Wing President" in National youth council of India and National women secretary for Masoom Bachpan Foundation.