Today's Paper

They saved minors from the `jaws of marriage'

The five girls (from left) — Neelam Rani, Sarita Tyagi, Sunita Devi Singhdoya, Swati Tyagi and Sushma Rani — who have won the Bravery Awards for stopping two child marriages, at a press conference in New Delhi on Monday . — Photo: S. Subramanium

The five girls (from left) — Neelam Rani, Sarita Tyagi, Sunita Devi Singhdoya, Swati Tyagi and Sushma Rani — who have won the Bravery Awards for stopping two child marriages, at a press conference in New Delhi on Monday . — Photo: S. Subramanium  

NEW DELHI, JAN. 19. They could easily pass off as a group of innocent school girls oblivious of their surroundings, but their act of bravery has brought them national acclaim. Standing up to a social evil like child marriage, these five girls from rural Haryana have not only shown the way for others to follow but also proved that with persistence and determination, outmoded customs could be eradicated.

"You're just flies. What can you do?," they were told by their peers and elders in the village when they wanted to thwart the attempt of their neighbour to marry off his two minor daughters. But the five — aged between 10 and 17 — proved that they could not be brushed away easily.

The social "musketeers" — Neelam Rani, Sarita Tyagi, Sunita Devi, Swati Tyagi and Sushma Rani — of Harisinghpura village, Haryana, on hearing that Bhopal Singh was marrying off his minor daughters — aged 12 and 6 years — in order to clear his debt, went to the venue and ensured that the wedding was called off. "He was almost selling his daughters. In order to repay his debt, he was marrying them off to two men aged 26 and 30 years. We intervened because we did not want the lives of our friends to be ruined," recalled the 13-year-old Swati Tyagi at a press conference at the Indian Council for Child Welfare(ICCW) today to announce the winners of the National Bravery Award.

For their extraordinary courage in standing up against a social evil and saving the life of two children, the five girls will be honoured with the Award on January 24 by the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee.

"When we heard about the proposed marriage, we spoke to our teacher and he stood by us. We decided to oppose the wedding and reached the venue along with the former sarpanch, Naano. We did not allow the girls to sit in the `mandap' and even took off the groom's sehra''.

The girls stood firm in the face of threats by the groom's family. Eventually, the guests departed one by one. Two more attempts were made by Bhopal Singh to conduct the marriages but the girls opposed them tooth and nail.

The ICCW president, Andal Damodaran, said that this was the first time such an incident had been included in the National Bravery Award list. "We thought this incident should definitely be included in the acts of bravery. It is only when the younger generation realises that these are social evils will they be able to fight them. Adults may let these things pass because they are used to them. They may think that such incidents are part of social customs. But when the younger generation rises, then we can be sure that they would bring about change."

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