Kavya’s father abandoned her family when Kavya was barely 8 years old. The reason he cited was that he cannot live with a woman who is epileptic. Their’s was a love marriage, between a village girl and a migrant laborer from another state. When the sheen of the marriage started fading away Kavya’s father did not need any big reason to abandon the family. Back then, Kavya was staying with her paternal family in Tamil Nadu. Her woes started quiet early in her life when she had to witness her mother being beaten up by a drunkard father. She and her younger brother were too small to even stand up against him or realize that something was amiss. Later, the beating up reduced as he would turn up only after several months. After some point the family never heard from him. When the torture at the hands of her father’s family increased beyond tolerance, Kavya’s mother decided to return to her family in Bandi Harlapur.

Life was still not easy when the family returned home. Kavya’s maternal grandfather and grandmother are both HIV positive and are on ART.  Kavya’s house is set amidst a slushy groove of thatched roof houses set beside one another. A single room that multi-tasks as a kitchen, drawing room, bedroom and study. As we entered her house, there was something boiling on the stove next to the single cot neatly set in a corner. Kavya’s grandmother, a puny figure greeted us and offered a chair beside the door with a smile that came with much reluctance. Her brow was marked with thick lines that were a testimony to the burdens she had been enduring all her life. Kavya was dressed in a pretty maroon skirt and had neatly combed her hair. I assumed that she was informed about our visit. While we were chatting with Kavya, her mother summoned a young boy who kept peeking into the house — Kavya’s brother. He had just returned from a long day’s work at a nearby stone quarry.  Hardly 10 years old and he already had the gestures of a hard-working man. With a towel on his shoulder and his pants folded up till the ankles, looked like he had just washed up after the work at the quarry.

It was nothing unusual for the people in the colony to see a child of that age go to the quarry for a meager Rs. 100/- a day. None of the members in Kavya’s family except his brother went to work. Kavya’s mother a permanent epileptic was asked to quit her job as a domestic help when she was caught with a seizure at the home where she worked. She then tried running a provision store with the little money she had saved, but she incurred a heavy loss from the business. Kavya did really well in studies and that motivated her mother to continue sending her to school. She also encouraged her to be a part of the Sphoorthi RMAG meetings. Her aunt herself is a community organizer and encouraged Kavya to participate in all the events conducted by Sphoorthi. Her brother was never keen in studying and hence opted to be the bread winner of the family, also in an effort to send his sister to school.

“Once I gather some money, I will marry Kavya off and be at peace. I don’t know for how long I will be alive, or for that matter my parents also”, said Kavya’s mother. At that, Akkamma Devi, the Field Coordinator, snapped at her asking if she realizes that she will be repeating the same story of her life if she gets Kavya married at this age. Naturally, it was only the concern of a mother that found an easy solution to their miseries not realizing that they will be plunging into a bigger disaster if they decided to get Kavya married at the age of 13. We intervened and explained the repercussions of such a decision. If she can gather money to get Kavya married, why not use that money to educate her? She did not have an answer and only smiled faintly.

Kavya does not want to discontinue her studies, instead she wants to stay in a hostel and complete her studies. She was assured all assistance in this regard and we took a promise from her saying that she and her brother will finish their studies at any cost.

It was Kavya who enlightened her mother about the ill effects of child marriage after attending a couple of sessions conducted by Sphoorthi. After two months of the visit, the children now attend school regularly and are looking forward to accomplishing something in life.

By Sheena Lakshmi

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