Preethi is a 12 year-old girl from class 3 in BSS. She lives with her widowed mother in the leprosy colony in Rajghat,Varanasi. Without a male figure at home, they are vulnerable, unsupported and have met with some dangers in the past.
Recently Preethi has had a change of mind: she’s decided she wants to quit BSS and forget about developing all her good qualities. Instead she wants to marry a 40 year-old man from her colony who’s enticing her with promises of money, protection and love, but not letting on the hidden agenda he and his friends have to make money from her. Preethi is even spurning her mother who’s worked so hard to support them.
Preethi’s mother phoned me in tears, desperate and frightened and asking for help. She hadn’t eaten in two days. I called Preethi and spoke directly with her about her wishes. I asked if she really wants to marry at age 12 with an old man of 40. The way she said ‘no’ in response told me she is not speaking for herself but with the words of someone else.
I reminded her of the value of Mother: her mother who cares for her at home, and I, her mother at BSS, who teaches her the right path. I asked for her promise to come to school and said that one day I believe she can become independent. She promised to continue her studies, but she is still confused and her future is threatened.
Another similar incident recently happened in the Bengali refugee community with Devi, a 9 year-old girl from BSS. By her mother’s wish she has been promised in marriage to a 15 year-old boy – another BSS student in class 3. Devi’s mother is a widow, again influenced by her community for the wrong things. I called her mother and tried to make her understand, but she is only excited to have her child married.
These kinds of stories are most likely to happen to widows who have no power or respect in society after their husbands are gone. I have seen many cases like Preethi’s and Devi’s and to save these girls I aim to build a dormitory at BSS to act as an emergency women’s shelter. Also, if parents have to move elsewhere for work but their children wish to continue their studies, a dormitory at BSS would provide them with the option. Having a dormitory at BSS could make all the difference for the futures of students in dire situations like these.
By Rajan Kaur as told to Tenzin Chozom