My name is Padma. I’m 21 years old and live in a small village in Pali District, Rajasthan, India. My journey till now, even during these young years, has been filled with harsh realities – things I never expected could happen to me.
When I was in the 8th Standard, my parents got me married along with my elder brothers and sisters. This custom of getting brothers and sisters mass married is common in my region to cut down on wedding costs. While boys are often given the freedom to continue studying after marriage, girls are expected to stay home. My father told my in-laws that he wouldn’t send me to their house for at least a year after the marriage, so I could finish the school year. Shortly though, my in-laws started pressuring my father to send me to their home and finally my father relented.
At the beginning my new family members were fine and I was learning to adjust in my new home, but eventually I started experiencing a change in the way I was being treated. Fights were picked on the smallest and silliest of things and household chores were increasingly being heaped on me. Daily, I was sent alone to the jungle to collect wood to be made into charcoal and then sold. I had to use that same wood for cooking each night. Soon I was being regularly abused and beaten. My husband was fed up with having me around; he saw me as more of a nuisance than a wife. He threatened to leave home or commit suicide if I continued to stay with him and so my father-in-law begged me to leave.
Believing that I would be taking a step to make my in-laws happy, I left and returned to my parent’s home. I didn’t tell my parents of my situation or that I couldn’t go back to my husband. I thought I finally had a few moments of peace but this calm didn’t last long. Neighbors and other members of the community had started questioning my whereabouts. Rumors spread that I had run away. Having a runaway daughter-in-law made my father-in-law appear weak and unable to control his household. A few days after I had left, he came to my home with a few others and beat me up. They also beat up my mother and younger brother. Though they did not want me to return, attacking my family and me was punishment for bringing shame to the family. My father vowed to never let me return to their home. That’s when I knew I had the opportunity to start fresh. I got back to my studies, completed both my 10th and 12th standards and pursued a Bachelor of Education degree. I’m grateful for the support of my parents and their good decision to not forcibly send me back to my husband. I know many girls don’t get this support and lead miserable lives.
I was approached by an Educate Girls Field Coordinator to become a Team Balika. Since I was among the most educated in the community, they thought I would be a good fit. I went to a recruitment meeting and learned about the opportunity to make a difference in my community, and to help girls who may not otherwise have the opportunities that I had. I saw Team Balika as an opportunity to help my community realize the downside to marrying girls young and the importance of education and teaching a girl her rights. Today, it’s been a year since I’ve become a Team Balika and I’ve learned so much. I have the confidence that I can achieve anything I put my heart to and my sincere desire is that no one has to suffer what I did. Perhaps if I had been more educated and my parents, too, understood all our rights, I wouldn’t have taken the abuse as I did.
As a Team Balika, I find myself in a position of influence and an agent of change. I have become more confident and am more informed of my rights.
As I speak to students, parents and teachers I know I am reaching my community in a way that will shape our future for good. Educate Girls has had a profound effect on me, and I am happy that I can be a part of such a wonderful organization!
Educate Girls’ Team Balika is comprised of over 5000 community volunteers who work as champions for girls’ education and catalysts for school reform in the districts of Rajasthan that have the worst gender gaps in education. They boost enrollment, retention and learning outcomes for all students and have helped to enroll over 70,000 out-of-school girls in school.
Educate Girls works to mobilize communities to take a stand against gender disparity in schools and prioritize girls’ education. Our comprehensive program model engages students, teachers, schools, communities and the government to ensure increased enrollment, retention and improved learning outcomes. Because of our innovative, cost-effective, and results-oriented model, Educate Girls has recently been awarded the Millennium Alliance Award from USAID and the 2014 Wise Award for innovation in education.