My name is Bhagyashree Saini, and more than anything, my primary identity is that I am a child marriage survivor. I fought for 11 years to come out of this social evil, and I am proud of it.
“Earlier, I wasn’t empowered enough to say no. Now, every inch of my body, mind, and soul is ready to fight for others like me.”
Remembering my Khetri days
I was born and brought up in the rural setup of Khetri Nagar, a small town in the Jhunjhunu district of Rajasthan. I am highly thankful to my parents for raising me, because the birth of a girl child in my area is considered more of a curse or a bane. I studied up to fifth grade in an English medium school and then switched to a Hindi medium. There, I skipped many classes to complete my school education as early as possible. Life, for me, was very normal. It was just like a brief silence before the storm, which would change my life forever.
The storm Arises – My Child Marriage
The month of April 2006 brought a huge storm in my life, in the form of my child marriage. I will not say that it was forced upon me, but it was definitely against my will. I was too young to understand the upcoming consequences of this mere “one-day-long event.” I couldn’t foresee how society would treat me – including my parents, relatives, my so-called friends, and anyone else in my life with short-term pre-destined contributions.
The roller coaster ride begins – The beginning of an 11 year-long journey
I immediately raised the red flag. My inner voice rebelled, “No Bhagyashree, you never intended to live like this. You wanted to pursue your dreams and maybe this will act as a roadblock for your bright future”. Though I was not aware of the legal validity of this event, I went against my family’s will, left that place, and went to Jaipur. I didn’t have even an inch of an idea of what I would do next or how I would survive.
I tried my level best to remain attached to my dreams and ambitions. I joined NCC during my graduation, which, for the first time in my life, made me realize the capability, energy, and discipline inside me to pursue my dreams. Within NCC, I gradually got promoted to the rank of “Senior Under-Officer and won “Best Cadet award,” “Best Shooter award,” and earned a gold medal in anchoring. This instilled passion inside me to pursue my dreams further. I graduated from science and then went on to complete my post-graduation from Public Administration.
In Jaipur, I took the responsibility of sustaining my life on my own. I started my career by working as a counsellor and then as a placement officer. The biggest irony with this social evil is that when you share this illegal tag of “child marriage,” many will think of you as a “rebel running away from her reality.” For others, it was an interesting story to discuss. This is how society functions and thinks. In many societies, including our Indian society, child marriage is such an accepted norm. Though declared illegal by the government, many equate it with a legal institution, like marriage. Jaipur made me realize that to do something better with my life and pursue my dreams, I needed to be aware of the opportunities available. With this thought, I decided to prepare for civil services.
My encounters with society
While staying in Delhi, I realized that the event that occurred with me some years back is an age-old social evil. It is not only me – there are millions of girls, even in developed societies like the USA, who become victims of child marriage every year.
Delhi taught me how society treats a child marriage survivor. I was being judged based on my purity and chastity. This instilled so much fear inside me that I started hiding my past. Whenever a friend found out that I am a child marriage survivor, they suddenly stopped talking to me, as if they would catch some contagious disease. The majority behaved as if I were an outcast or a slur on women in society. There was a point where even I started taking this event attached to myself as some mistake committed by me. I became a victim of false promises, taunts, abuses, devaluation, emotional tortures, rejection, and demeaning treatment.
I still remember someone saying: “You should stop praying to God, as nothing good can happen to you. You are a bad girl – that’s why bad things only happen to you, like child marriage.”
Some would say, “You should be grateful towards us as we are doing a huge charity for you by accepting your child marriage.”
I even got to listen to some laughable statements like “Come on, your marriage was not a child marriage. Child marriage is only if the girl has not attained the age of puberty. You are just doing it to gain sympathy”.
Gradually, I went into depression because of all these feelings of worthlessness, severe financial constraints, zero support from my family, fear of rejection, etc. But life had something else in store for me, something bigger and better than I had expected.
The rise of a proud survivor
It is rightly said that “God is always for those who have no one.” The almighty always provides you with a window of light when there is darkness all around. Many life-changing events happened. I was legally able to get rid of being a child marriage victim in 2017. However, the word “divorcee” got attached to my profile. This is the second biggest irony of my life, a loophole in our legal system, where a word used to describe the end of a legal marriage is also used for ending an illegal custom of child marriage.
Secondly, I got myself certified from world-renowned universities like Harvard, Stanford, and British Columbia on Women & Child Rights issues. Presently, I am an author and a blogger on many national and international platforms like UNICEF, International Youth Journal, Women Web, Story Mirror, PenThere, youth ki aawaz, etc., writing about issues concerned with Women and Child rights. I also run my own blog for generating awareness on child marriage. Very recently, I have been conferred with the “Women Achievers Award” on International Women’s Day, 2020, by B.N.Patel Institute, Vadodara. I am currently serving as the President of Women and Child Wing for National Youth Council of India (NYCI), Rajasthan, and as National Women Secretary for Masoom Bachpan foundation, along with my preparation for Civil services. Most importantly, today, I proudly proclaim myself a child marriage survivor.
The lessons learned and my future ventures
Sometimes people accept me, and sometimes they reject me. Sometimes they think I am a rebel, sometimes they believe and try to ensure that I fit in. Sometimes I am ambitious, which is a dirty word according to them. Trust me; I am very okay with it because they are not accepting this social evil attached to my personality. For me, it includes my overall package, which I carry. Often, it’s a filter that removes people who are not like-minded. Now, I am clearer in myself, and I have realized where this mentality comes from. I completely understand that it’s not only about low education; it’s about deep-rooted and regressive thoughts they carry with themselves throughout their lives. I chose to be ambitious, a woman of my own words, and I know its cost. In this journey, with my heart and soul, I can tell everyone that “It’s very hard for a girl to fight with her own family, society, and regressive thoughts.” The biggest paradox I have seen in my journey is that the most educated people contribute the most towards discriminating against a girl.
Child brides around the world should know that no social evil is more significant than your dreams and ambitions. So don’t let yourself remain trapped in it. Come out of it with your full strength, and be your own hero. Throughout my journey, the words I have hated hearing are “We are accepting you.” This line is enough to downgrade all your fights, struggles, ambitions, and dreams. So pursue your inner voice to be in a position “to accept,” not “be accepted.”
For me, being a child marriage survivor is a source of strength, an answer to many of my questions, an introduction to my personality, and society’s real face. Today nothing much has changed inside me except the way I take myself and my journey. I am still working to attain the best version of myself. Today, every other person I meet tells me that only due to child marriage, you are better and different from others, a role model for many. However, I wouldn’t say I like this hero status. The journey continues, and there are millions of women who need my presence. If you can’t treat us like heroes, you don’t have the right to treat us like victims. You can never understand the real cost of my child marriage, which took 11 years of my life.
—Bhagyashree Saini, a Child Marriage Survivor – Rajasthan, India