Participants stage a play at the launch of the campaign in Ranchi on Thursday.
Picture by Hardeep Singh
It is a tough challenge Monica Kumari Gorai wishes to meet.
The 16-year-old victim of child marriage from Silli, Ranchi, has vowed to discourage the practice in Jharkhand, where more than half the population of girls under 18 are forced to tie the knot, primarily because of acute poverty.
Unlike her five contemporaries from Bengal’s Purulia district — Sangeeta Bauri, Bina Kalinidi, Mukti Majhi, Afsana Khatoon and Sunita Mandal — who the President hailed as icons for resisting early marriage, Monica could not burden her hard up rickshaw-puller father.
She entered a conjugal life at the tender age of 15, but promised herself that she would not let her aspirations die an untimely death.
A year down the line, Monica — a tenth grader of Project Uchcha Vidyalaya in Silli — is the protagonist of an audio-visual clip made by international HR organisation Breakthrough. In the four-minute film, the teen vows to discourage others from child marriage.
Seated next to father Tapan Gorai, Monica watched the clip as the state launched a six-month campaign against the social malaise from Ranchi on Thursday.
“I will continue my studies and encourage girls my age not to marry till they are 18 and, if possible, financially independent,” the gutsy teen told The Telegraph on the sidelines of the programme.
Recalling the past, her father said: “I have five daughters and it is difficult to make ends meet with a rickshaw-puller’s income in a small town. So, I agreed to marry my eldest girl (Monica) off when the groom did not demand dowry.” But, he added: “I am so glad that they (Monica’s in-laws) have agreed to let her study.”
Sonali Khan, the country manager of Breakthrough that is spearheading a campaign against child marriage in Bihar and Jharkhand, said 55.7 per cent girls in this state were cast into a conjugal vortex of confusion — and often abuse — before they attained the age of 18.
State chief of Unicef Job Zachariah, who was also present at the launch, pointed out that Jharkhand had the third highest child marriage rate in the country, after Rajasthan and Bihar. “Educating the girl child is a viable solution,” he said, adding that the Unicef would extend technical support if the state government drew up an action plan against child marriage.
Observing that becoming mothers at a very young age often led to serious health problems, state women’s commission chairman Hemlata S. Mohan described child marriage as another form of violence.
“No plan can succeed unless there is popular support,” said social welfare and child and women development minister Annapurna Devi, pushing for public awareness.
The minister flagged off a vehicle that will travel across Jharkhand and Bihar for the next six months, carrying a group of artistes who will stage plays to campaign against child marriage.