Late in the evening of June 7, a local NGO in Maharashtra received an intriguing text message -- a cry for help.
The sender of the message was a 16-year-old girl who contacted the NGO that runs care centres for kids of construction workers, saying she was being forced into marriage by her parents. She said she wanted to pursue her studies instead.
In an interview with The Indian Express, Pranita Madkaikar, the CEO of the Tara Mobile Creche (TMC), said the centre was moved by the desperation in the message. “She said she wanted to study... and she wanted us to take her away from home. We called her mother and spoke to the girl.”
Nitya (name changed) single-handedly took on almost every member of the Maratha community in her village in Ahmednagar — largest district in Maharashtra — to stop the wedding. She was beaten up by her father but she refused to change her mind. Finally she turned to TMC in desperation: she had been going to the centre since she was nine.
“Her parents were from Nagar, and she was being looked after by her grandparents who were construction workers (they’d drop her off at the centre)," said Lalita Kamble, assistant programme coordinator. “We got her admitted to class 2 in a local school. Soon, her marks improved, and she started scoring exceptionally well in mathematics. We then put her in a residential school so she would not have to move about as construction workers keep moving from place to place based on the work they get.”
This May, she passed her class 8 exams and went home for summer vacation. She returned on June 5, only to be taken away by her father the very next day. After they reached their home, she was told about her wedding scheduled after five days, said Kirti Kamble, programme coordinator. “Somehow she managed get access to somebody’s phone and texted us. She also made sure messages were deleted afterwards.”
Once they came to know that the marriage was fixed for June 11, the centre immediately took matters in their own hands. With the help of NGOs Childline and Snehalaya, four people from the centre went to the village and informed the local police station. They were greeted with hostility.
“The police asked me what I wanted to do. I told them I wanted to go with TMC people. I was scared when I came to know about my marriage. I want to study further and get a job. I knew if I wavered, it would be the end of my ambitions,” said Nitya, who loves to paint and wants to eventually become an architect.
Luckily for Nitya, the law was on her side. Nitya was taken to an observation home and produced in front of a child welfare community, who let her go with TMC after acquiring an affidavit from her parents.
“If it was not for the courage of this girl, we would have lost her to case in the village itself,” said Madkaikar, who hopes to help other such children through the centre. “She knew her rights, she knew it was illegal to get married at 16, and all this because she had education."