Nine girls who refused to toe the line, because they felt it was unfair. They made a difference not only to their lives but to the lives of many other girls.

Look at the feisty 17-year-old Madhuri Ganesh Pawar and you get a glimpse of her courage. She lives in a remote village in Jalna district of Maharashtra. Armed with fierce oratory and articulate arguments, this teenager has managed to mobilise a few villages in her vicinity to convince the authorities to start a State Transport bus from her village Nivdunga to the nearby city to enable the education of other teenagers in the village.

What prompted her to do that? Some of her classmates had to get married because there was no school in their village.

“They would have otherwise studied with me, had they not been married off by their parents. I fought with my parents and continued my schooling, but could not stop their marriages. That is when I decided to do something. I studied government schemes, and kept sending petitions to the government repeatedly for a bus to facilitate our education. When it seemed like the authorities were adamant, we even organised a protest,” said Madhuri, daughter of a blacksmith and a house help studying in Std. XII. Her hardwork paid off, and the authorities finally relented.

In the past six months, she has stopped 35 child marriages in her village, threatening some with police action when they refused to listen to her.

This year, Madhuri is among the nine girls selected by UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and Doordarshan Sahyadri from remote rural areas of Maharashtra for the Navjyoti awards.

Sunita Bora Vachami, a 15-year-old tribal girl resisted her family’s pressure to join the naxal movement in Gadchiroli. She wanted to continue studying.

Award and reward

This year’s theme for the awards was early marriage and the agency chose nine girls who not just stopped their weddings, but also put a halt to other child marriages in the villages. They were felicitated at Doordarshan Sahyadri recently.

Asha Babasaheb Tonde (16), daughter of two daily wage labourers, wrestled with hostile circumstances and managed to cancel her marriage. Her uncle, without consulting her or her parents, had fixed her wedding. This wrestling champion, who now studies in Std. X, put her foot down after the family refused to listen to her. She successfully convinced them, and now aspires to become an IPS officer “just like Kiran Bedi, who weeded out criminality from society”.

All these girls stay in residential schools striving hard to turn their dreams into reality.

Sunita from Bhamragad in Gadchiroli, does not have a family to support her. Her family threatened to disown her after she refused to join the naxal movement. No member of her family has any information about her. They haven’t yet heard of her award. She is in Std. IX, and plans to do social work after her graduation so that she can help her community.

Baby Thoke’s (14) father abandoned her family a decade ago. When Baby’s relatives fixed her wedding, her elder sister Savita informed the authorities and stopped it. “I didn’t want her to suffer. Early marriage takes a huge toll on a girl. I was married off at the age of 12. I have suffered. I didn’t want her to have the same fate,” Savita said. Pranali Sontakke (13) from Gondia, Savartoli, acted fast when she came to know that her teacher was about to marry off his 17-year-old daughter. Fighting all odds, she convinced the girl not to get married.

“Finally, that didi, after being convinced by me, told her family strongly that she did not wish to get married. They had to call off her wedding,” Pranali said.

Monica Islawat (18), daughter of two daily wage labourers, is the pride of her village Bhadravati in Chandrapur today. She flew to Delhi last year to tell her tale in a national convention about how she fought for her right to education and stopped her wedding. She has since been sensitising girls in the surrounding villages, and persuading them to get an education. She also mobilised people in her village to ban alcohol.

Saraswati Sarje (23) from Lori in Latur is a nurse now. She wants to get a secure job for the financial stability of the family, before tying the knot. Roshna Maraskolhe (18) from Hivardara in Yavatmal, stopped not just her wedding, but the wedding of another teenager in her village. When the bridegroom persisted and pestered her with calls, she threatened to hand him over to the police. “He hasn’t called me after that,” she said, adding that she is fascinated by the power of the uniform, and wants to become an IPS officer.