[Editor's Note: Today, we received an email from our guest blogger Natasha Khanna, who is volunteering at Shanti Bhavan Children's Project, the India partner in our directory. Natasha asked her fellow volunteer, Aurora Masum-Javed, to work with a student on writing a piece for the She's the First blog. That special girl is Maheshwari Raj of 11th grade, and these are her words -- they touch us at our core and we hope they inspire you as much as they do us...to create many more firsts for girls in 2011 and beyond.]
She was weeping. Her sobs were deafening. Arms once gentle and soft were now biting into my skin. With her head buried in my hair, her tears fresh and hot against my cheek, she pleadingly repeated, “I don’t want to go; I don’t want to go…”
Just fifteen years old, my cousin was forced into leaving our village to marry a man almost twice her age. Her family could not afford to pay for her education, and the village did not believe that a young girl should be kept unmarried in the house. Her mother knew there was no other solution. She did not want her husband to continue beating her daughter every day because of silly mistakes. She wanted a better life for her child – not the life she had been sentenced to. The young fifteen-year-old could not refuse her parents’ wishes. Girls in villages are not brought up to say no.
A young girl at that age should have been studying in the tenth grade, playing games, and enjoying her youth. However, living in the village, she knew nothing of human rights, the world outside her small community, or even how to hold a pencil. All she knew was to cook, wash, clean, and make others comfortable.
As sorrow flooded her eyes, the only thing I could think about was how lucky I am. Studying at Shanti Bhavan has molded me into a strong, confident, and educated woman. Whenever I go home, mine is the only female head held high. My voice is the only voice heard above the elders, always questioning and demanding recognition. Mine are the only answers that seem right. Unlike the other women, I can walk past the village priest, my eyes straight ahead, without him getting offended. They know that I am educated, and that I can judge what is right and wrong for myself.
When I pass by a group of villagers, I often hear them whispering, “Look, there goes the girl who is studying to become a doctor.” I was the first girl in the village to get an education. When I was twelve, my dad died in a quarry accident because a rock fell on him after a dynamite was blasted. He was taken to the hospital, but a crack in his chest caused the fluids to mix in his heart. Ever since, I’ve felt that if I had grown up a little faster and become a cardiologist quicker, I could have saved him. At home, when I hear everyone speak about me, I am motivated to do my best and live up to their expectations. It is not a pressure, but an internal happiness that I am able to make a difference in their lives.
My parents sent me to Shanti Bhavan because they could not afford my education. They did not have a place to keep me while they worked, and they were scared that I would get hurt roaming the quarry. Their choice to educate me has not only influenced me, but also shaped my family. After twelve years of staying at Shanti Bhavan, I have seen a drastic change in my mother. She has become more liberal than the other villagers. Her superstitious beliefs have reduced tremendously, and though our village is divided by religion, I now see her approach Muslims, which she never used to do. My mother never brings up the topic of marriage or stopping my education. She supports my dream to finish medical school and become a cardiologist.
To my fifteen-year-old cousin, I was a role model. I had made my mother believe in me. Anything I did, said, or asked, she would do. Despite her age, my cousin inquired about simple things like how I drew my circles so perfectly. She was my cute and always laughing sister, but I knew things would change after her marriage. I felt guilty inside that I couldn’t do anything to help her. I knew she would either work in a quarry breaking stones or dig wells with her husband. At such a tender age, she was forced to turn and act as an adult. All I could think was that she was being robbed of her childhood. The girl inside her should have been allowed to live. My fate was altered because of one decision. Shanti Bhavan has given me the freedom to be myself and not only ask for but also demand respect and independence over my own life.
This is why we are so happy that She’s the First bracelets by Asha Patel Designs support Shanti Bhavan girls (more info here)!