Taking control in adversity

“My name is Padma. I’m 21 years old and I live in a small village in Pali District, Rajasthan, India. My journey so far, notwithstanding my youth, has been filled with harsh realities – things I never expected could happen to me.”

Padma’s story

My name is Padma. I’m 21 years old and live in a small village in Pali District, Rajasthan, India. My journey so far, notwithstanding my youth, has been filled with harsh realities – things I never expected could happen to me.

When I was in the 8th standard [13 years old], my parents arranged for me to be married along with my elder brothers and sisters. This custom of getting brothers and sisters mass married is common in my region to cut down on wedding costs. While boys are often given the freedom to continue studying after marriage, girls are expected to stay at home. My father told my in-laws that he wouldn’t send me to their house for at least a year after the marriage, so I could finish the school year. Soon afterwards, however, my in-laws started pressuring my father to send me to their home, and finally he relented.

In the beginning my new family members were fine, but eventually I started experiencing a change in the way I was treated. Fights were picked about the smallest and silliest of things, and household chores were increasingly heaped upon me. Every day I was sent alone to the jungle to collect wood to be made into charcoal and then sold. I also had to use that wood for cooking each night. Soon I was being regularly abused and beaten. My husband was fed up with having me around, seeing me as more of a nuisance than a wife. He threatened to leave home or commit suicide if I continued to stay with him and so my father-in-law begged me to leave.

Soon I was being regularly abused and beaten. My husband was fed up with having me around, seeing me as more of a nuisance than a wife.

Padma

Believing that I was taking a step to make my in-laws happy, I left and returned to my parent’s home. I didn’t tell my parents about my previous situation. I thought I would finally have a few moments’ peace, but the calm didn’t last long. My in-laws’ neighbours and other members of the community had started questioning my whereabouts. Rumours spread that I had run away. Having a runaway daughter-in-law made my father-in-law appear weak and unable to control his household. A few days after I had left, he came to my home with a few others and beat me up. They also beat up my mother and younger brother. Though they did not want me to return, attacking my family and me was punishment for bringing shame to the family. My father vowed to never let me return to their home.

That’s when I knew I had the opportunity to start afresh. I returned to my studies, completed my 10th and 12th standards and began a Bachelor of Education degree. I’m grateful for my parents’ support and their good decision not to forcibly send me back to my husband. I know many girls don’t get this support and lead miserable lives.

I’m grateful for my parents’ support and their good decision not to forcibly send me back to my husband. I know many girls don’t get this support and lead miserable lives.

Padma

I was approached by an Educate Girls Field Coordinator to become a member of Team Balika. Since I was among the most educated in the community, they thought I would be a good fit. I went to a recruitment meeting and learned about the opportunity to help girls who may not otherwise have the opportunities that I had to go to school. I saw Team Balika as a chance to help my community realize the downside to marrying girls young and the importance of education and teaching a girl her rights.

Today, it’s been a year since I’ve become a Team Balika member and I’ve learned so much. I have the confidence that I can achieve anything I put my heart to and my sincere desire is that no one has to suffer what I did.

As a member of Team Balika, when I speak to students, parents and teachers I know I am reaching my community in a way that will shape our future for good. 

As a member of Team Balika, when I speak to students, parents and teachers I know I am reaching my community in a way that will shape our future for good.

Padma

Educate Girls’ Team Balika is made up of over 5,000 community volunteers who work as champions for girls’ education and catalysts for school reform in the districts of Rajasthan that have the worst gender gaps in education. They boost enrolment, retention and learning outcomes for all students and have helped to enrol over 70,000 out-of-school girls in school.

See also: Educating girls to change the world