Breaking barriers to educationPhoto credit:
Despite child marriage being illegal, it is still common in many parts of the country. Kakkaladoddi of Devadurga taluk is one such village where Bharathi was married at the age of 5 years to an 18-year-old cousin. However, until she attained maturity she was retained at her parents’ house. This was the point of contact for the village nutrition volunteer (VNV) to intervene in Bharathi’s life and bring about a life-changing transformation. Renuka, the VNV of the above said village registered Bharathi for the “Karnataka Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Pilot Project” at the age of 15 in the year 2015 under the adolescent category. Renuka later learned that Bharathi was already married to Shivraj. Her family was impoverished; her parents, Hanumantha and Huligemma worked as wage labourers to earn a living. Their earning being insufficient they had to move to Bangalore along with their other 3 children in search of better job. However, they had to leave Bharathi in the same village with her paternal uncle and aunt who pleaded for letting Bharathi stay with them since they had no children. As soon as her parents left the village, Bharathi’s grandmother forced her to move to her husband’s house after a small ceremony. She was 16 years old and was studying in grade 10. Without even consulting the young girl, grandmother dumped her decision which led to Bharathi discontinuing her studies which she enjoyed the most.
On hearing this, Renuka was sore distressed and rushed to Bharathi’s uncle’s house to convince them and bring her back from her in-laws’ house. The conversation went on for hours together with Renuka pleading them to change their decision and allow Bharathi to continue her studies. But all her efforts turned futile and she was rebuked angrily. This act did not stop Renuka from gathering strength and courage to face the family. She went on to seek help from Accredited social health activists (ASHA) and anganwadi worker (AWW) as well as Auxiliary Nurse & Midwife (ANM). All of them together counselled the family on the ill effects on Bharathi’s health if she bears a child and also lack of her preparedness to conceive. Not once, not twice but ten times they made repeated visits but nothing could melt the hearts of the family members. Alternatively, Renuka along with the three sisters (ASHA, ANM, AWW) approached Bharathi’s mother-in-law. Here again they were turned down by the mother-in-law who wanted Bharathi to be with her son in Pune where he worked as an engineer to do the household chores and cook food for him while he worked.
Disappointed they returned back to their village with little or rather no hope for Bharathi’s education to continue. It was at this juncture they met Bharathi’s school teachers Mr. Basavalingappa and Mr. Manjunath along with the school principal Ms. Rekha. When they heard about Bharathi’s situation, they did not think twice to go visit both Bharathi’s in-laws’ and her relatives. The school faculty explained Bharathi’s performance in school, her abilities and that she was very studious. On hearing the plea of all her well-wishers, Bharathi’s husband, his family along with her uncle’s family could not resist saying yes to let her continue education until 12th grade. At last, a sigh of relief to Renuka and the three sisters! Relentless efforts of such dedicated volunteers can bring about life-changing transformations breaking norms, culture, every ritual, inequality and gender norms.