How many articles and stories have you read about girls growing up abused, impoverished, and uneducated in the developing world? If you’re a supporter of She’s the First, probably several, especially if you follow Nicholas Kristof’s columns in The New York Times. But how many times do you hear the girl tell the story in her own words? It’s rare — that would require an escape from the lowest levels of society and the saving graces of a quality education.
Fortunately, Sheeba J., a 12th grade student in India, was one of the lucky ones. Shanti Bhavan, a school for India’s “Untouchable” children [one of the members of the She's the First network] rescued her when she was five. This June, she will be part of their very first graduating class. You can contribute to the sponsorship of a girl’s education here on ShantiBhavan.org ($4 a day can sponsor her for a year!) But first, read the power that any small donation toward her tuition can have below, in the personal essay Sheeba wrote for Shanti Bhavan’s monthly newsletter.
“No……!”, I screamed but it was too late. She had already forced the heated knife on to my hand. Aunty Nazia had asked me to get her a cigarette packet from the shop for her husband who had just come home. I hurried down the road to the shop only to find that the shopkeeper had none left. I went back as fast as I could to tell Aunty Nazia the news. This made her enraged and so she dragged me all the way back to the shop. This time, the shopkeeper gave her what she wanted. I felt betrayed. Aunty Nazia thought I purposely lied to make her walk all the way to the shop. She began to hit me with her purse full of coins. She hit me so hard that my face began to bleed. She threw me on to the cement floor when we reached home but it did not stop there. She went into the kitchen and began to heat a knife in the fire. She placed the hot knife on my hand to teach me a lesson.
Aunty Nazia was not related to me at all. She had bought me from an old lady when I was two, probably to keep me as a maid. It became really hard for me to live in that house but I had no choice. I was told that I had lost both my parents so I had nowhere to go. When I was four, I ran away from Aunty Nazia’s house because another Aunty Naseema promised to give me a better and happier life.
Unfortunately it was just the beginning of a whole new life which was much more harsh and cruel. Aunty Naseema cared a lot for me but her husband Shiek was just the opposite. He was tall, dark and scary looking. He did not want to accept me into the family because he considered me a huge burden. Aunty Naseema wanted me to stay but not her husband, and because of it they had many fights. They kept hitting and screaming at each other which were extremely frightening for me.
At one point, Aunty Naseema was so fed up that she decided to kill herself, along with her two children and me. She took us to a huge well which was covered with grilled shutters. We were all about to jump through the open space in the well when luckily some neighbors found out and asked for the shutters to be closed. Aunty Naseema was too depressed to stop there. She took me back home and poured kerosene on me to burn me alive, but for that moment I guess her love for me was greater than her despair. She promised me that day that no matter what she had to go through, she would protect me and keep me safe.
Aunty Naseema did not usually leave me alone with her husband. But sometimes she had to leave me at home with her husband and her two kids to do other things. It was in those occasions when Shiek took full advantage of my naiveté. It was also the only time when he was really fatherly towards me and it made me feel happy. I thought that he was accepting me into the family. But, during those short absences of his wife, he used to sexually abuse me. I was only four. He gave me a rupee or so and told me not to tell my Aunty. It took a long time before I understood what he was making me do was not right. Apart from that, he used to give me a big glass of beer to drink. I had to gulp it down or else he said he would kill me.