In 2006, Suman was a six-year-old when her father died. Raised alone by her mother, she grew up in a desert village in Bikaner, Rajasthan, where child marriage is prevalent and is more of a norm rather than the exception. However, the winds of change were blowing through Jaisalsar village and a different future unfolded for Suman.
According to a VillageSquare report, Suman, who is now a 17-year-old says that her mother stood behind her always, otherwise the doors for her would have closed. Suman thanked her mother, pointing to an end of education, ill health and thwarted potential she would have suffered as an individual if she were given away as a child bride.
Suman secured first division in her 10th class examination. This year, she has appeared for the 12th boards. According to the report, she said that she wants to study further and this wouldn’t happen if she gets married at the age of 6 or 14 years.
Although India enacted the stringent Prohibition of Child Marriage Act in 2006, it was followed mostly in the breach in many parts of India. In Rajasthan, the rate of child marriage remains a horrendous 65%, way above the national average.
In districts like Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Barmer, child marriages have been part of the lifestyle for centuries.
Although the overall scenario in Rajasthan needs much improvement, some steps have helped in social transformation in parts of rural Rajasthan society. The people of Jaisalsar village, have decided that they wouldn’t marry off any underage girl.
Notably, girls are also fighting for their rights. Girls groups like Ekta (Unity) and Jagriti (Awakening) were formed in the village to build up awareness and drum up support for stopping child marriage in the village.
The people are also running a campaign to make the villagers aware that a girl shouldn’t be married before 18. The panchayat has a campaign van with boards displaying slogans calling for an end to child marriage that travels through rural areas with a troupe of musicians, singers, singers and puppet performers.
Interestingly, the movement to end child marriages is spreading through desert areas. The campaign is running successfully in 177 villages of Bikaner, Jodhpur, Barmer and Jaisalmer districts.