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Anti-child marriage crusader Ashok Dyalchand wins Swedish award

 (from left) James Kofi Annan, Queen Silvia and Dr. Ashok Dyalchand at the ceremony. Mr. Annan and Dr. Dyalchand were conferred with the prestigious honorary Child Rights Hero award by the WCPF.

 (from left) James Kofi Annan, Queen Silvia and Dr. Ashok Dyalchand at the ceremony. Mr. Annan and Dr. Dyalchand were conferred with the prestigious honorary Child Rights Hero award by the WCPF. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

City-based Ashok Dyalchand, who has been tirelessly campaigning against child marriages and for girls’ rights in India for more than four decades, was conferred with the prestigious Honorary Award at the World’s Children’s Prize (WCP) ‘Child Rights Hero’ ceremony held in Sweden on May 23.

Dr. Dyalchand, a crusader for the rights of adolescent women through his Aurangabad-based Institute of Health Management Pachod (IHMP), was, along with Ghana’s James Kofi Annan and Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai among the eight nominees for the prestigious WCP ‘Child Rights Hero of the Decade’ award given by the World’s Children’s Prize Foundation (WCPF).

While Dr. Dyalchand and Mr. Annan were conferred with honorary awards, Ms. Yousafzai was voted as the WCP ‘Child Rights Hero of the Decade’ for her “fight for the right of all girls to education and freedom”. A previous recipient of the award was Nelson Mandela.

“I am honoured to be conferred with this prestigious award and it is a privilege to be sharing space with Malala Yousafzai,” Dr. Dyalchand said. He received the award from Queen Silvia of Sweden at a ceremony held on Monday evening at the Gustav III theatre in Mariefred’s Gripsholms Castle.

After gaining admission to the Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore in 1965, Dr. Dyalchand, upon completing his postgraduate studies in 1972 in ophthalmology, worked in villages in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh.

Speaking to The Hindu from Sweden, Dr. Dyalchand said that while he had planned planning to return to a conventional life after completing this practical coursework with a rural mobile hospital, a profound incident changed his orientation from being a successful eye doctor to something more.

“Something very disturbing happened to me around 1974-75 and I decided to switch from ophthalmology and my aspirations of leading a comfortable life to giving myself to public health. So, in 1975, I found myself in charge of an old hospital with five beds in the backwater town of Pachod in Aurangabad, which had been buffeted by severe drought and famine for four years,” he says.

Rattling around the region on a motorcyle to talk to people and find out what they really needed, Dr. Dyalchand was at the time the only doctor in 78 villages in Aurangabad.

He recognised that for villagers, the biggest problem was that many pregnant women were dying owing to the lack of good maternal healthcare for women while they were pregnant. More than eight in 10 girls in the villages married before they reached the age of 18, with most of them being about 14 years of age.

“The girls were getting pregnant before their bodies were ready to give birth because they were still children themselves. Often, both the girl and the baby died during childbirth. I felt I had to put an end to child marriage not only in order to save lives, but also because the girls were victims who lost their own childhood and had their rights violated… Every day, 15,600 girls are subjected to child marriage in India. My mission is to put an end to this,” Dr. Dyalchand said.

This led Dr. Dyalchand, along with villagers, to set up clubs just for girls, where they could support one another and learn important life skills to help them cope.

Today, the IHMP has touched the lives of 50,000 girls in the country and vastly improved their living standards.

“When we started our work in Pachod, the average age of a girl when she got married was 14. Today, it has risen to 17. While it is better than it was, but of course we won’t be satisfied until everyone who marries is at least 18 years old,” Dr. Dyalchand said.

In 2014, Dr. Dyalchand and the IHMP started boys’ clubs as well, which work in roughly the same way as their girls’ clubs. Here, the boys get together once a month and are sensitised about about girls’ rights, child marriage and gender equality.

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Printable version | May 25, 2022 3:40:28 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/anti-child-marriage-crusader-ashok-dyalchand-wins-swedish-award/article65457620.ece