Impressed by their stories of courage, President invites them to Rashtrapati Bhavan

Economic progress is not the only indicator of a country's development, a nation requires its people to show courage against social pressures and overcome social evils, said President Pratibha Devisingh Patil on Wednesday after meeting five teenagers from West Bengal who fought social and family pressure and resisted child marriage.

The girls, with little education and almost no support, turned down marriage proposals and faced the anger of their families and the community. Their stories of courage impressed the President so much that she got them invited to the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

They earned praise from the President, who described them as “icons” and asked them to share their stories and encourage girls to say no to under-age marriages.

For Afsana and Sunita, it was their second meeting with the President who encouraged them to campaign against child marriage among their peers.

Ms. Patil asked them to propagate the idea of eradicating social evils. She said the government had a number of schemes for the girl child, to encourage their education and though there are schools in distant villages, the onus now lies on the parents to send their girls to school.

While education opens up new avenues for the girl child, an early marriage brings with it a cycle of misery, poor health and poverty, she said. A young mother with children often become victim of poor health and mortality. She urged the district authorities to create more awareness of what the girls have done by taking them on a tour of their district during their school holidays to inspire others.

Ms. Patil urged the girls to encourage others through stories and to stand up against social evils. The President also presented the girls with a cash purse. While Sangita Bauri, Bina Kalindi and Mukti Majhi were presented Rs.10,000 each, Afsana and Sunita were given Rs. 5,000 each.

“It is a very big honour to be here and meet the President. The last time we were here in 2008, before leaving home we were taunted by the community members. But when we returned with Madam's [President] blessings, everyone was impressed,” said Afsana, a Class VI student who hit the headlines in 2008 for calling off her wedding.

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