With her chin cupped in her right hand and her elbow resting on her knee, 13-year-old Jyoti Yadav sat watching a group of girls from a neighbouring village practise a street play at one of Delhi’s upmarket hotels. The group was from Basai Bhopal, a village neighbouring Jyoti’s hometown Dabarwas, both in Rajasthan’s Alwar district.
Despite the geographical distance, the problems faced by the villages are more or less similar — inhumane treatment of widows, child marriage, rampant alcoholism and the practice of mrityu bhoj. Of these ills, Jyoti is most familiar with the treatment of widows — also the subject of the street play — with her mother having become one even before Jyoti was born.
From a young age, having witnessed how her mother was ostracised by the villagers, this Class VIII student decided to change the way widows are viewed through her “Widow Empowerment” campaign.
“My mother was not allowed to leave the house or attend community functions such as weddings,” Jyoti said about early observations that shaped her will to shake up the system.
“I approached my head teacher, Sangeeta Ma’am, and told her that I would like to change the way people think about widows.”
Jyoti learnt the art of street plays, spoke to elders in the village and knocked on 200 doors to spread messages that were naturally not accepted in a society entrenched in tradition.
“People used to push me out of their houses because they did not like hearing what I had to say. I chose houses in which widows or the village elders lived,” she says, with a confidence unusual in a child. But her resolve never faltered and she convinced people to the extent that women were not only allowed outside their home but several, including her mother, are now employed at places such as anganwadis and literacy centres.
Now, this brave village girl is all set for her next mission — she is in the city to participate in the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon on Sunday to raise funds for her school — Satya Bharti School, part of the flagship rural education initiative of Bharti Foundation aimed at holistic development of children.
Jyoti’s run on Sunday is seen as recognition to several other Satya Bharti School students who have stood up to societal problems in their respective villages. The spirit to fight these ills was articulated by Nidhi Sharma, an English teacher at Basai Bhopal.
“These children search for problems plaguing their villages and initiate campaigns to get rid of them. In our village, the children successfully shut down shops selling alcohol that were disrupting village life”.