At 11, her brothers married her off to a man who was 10 years older than her. Shakti (named changed to protect identity), continued to live with her brothers and pursue her studies at an informal school at her Jaipur slum run by NGO Sakhi Bal Niketan Evam Sewa Samiti.
“I was married off because one of my brothers was getting married to a girl from my husband’s family. In our society, there’s a tradition of exchanging girls – if you want a bride, you give your daughter in marriage in return,” she explained in a Hindustan Times report.
All her nightmares came true at 16, when she was sent to live with her in-laws. But fate and more so, her friends, had a very different plan for her.
On May 30, 2017, she was sent to her husband’s home. Her classmates from class 10 noticed her absence a day after that and raised an alarm about her missing.
Barefoot, they ran looking for her and reached her home. They were told that she had been sent away to live with her now 26-year-old husband. They did everything in their power to get her back.
Shakti has now been rescued and reunited with her friends. But the road to the rescue was full of hurdles — her friends first went to the local police station, only to be told that no action could be taken without Shakti’s parents complaining.
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One of them spotted the phone number of the district collector written on the wall of the police station and called up the collector from a PCO crying, “Please rescue our friend.”
“The collector first asked me to text him the address of Shakti’s in-laws. But when I told him I don’t have a phone, he took down the address himself,” she said.
Collector Siddharth Mahajan, who came to the aid of the children said, “The girl was sobbing. She said she had tried the women commission and the police and no one helped her. I calmed her down and took down the address before sending cops to them to rescue their friend.”
The police arrived a few hours later at the address and Shakti was brought to the District Child Welfare Committee(CWC) office.
When the CWC sent her to live in a shelter home, her friends retaliated. They were adamant about wanting her back in school. They sought help from their teachers in the slum school who convinced Shakti’s parents to appeal to the CWC and request them for her release. After due consideration, the CWC sent Shakti home on July 22 and she was welcomed with joy and adulation back to school.
“It is an inspirational story. They are true mascots of the campaign against child marriage,” said Gopal Singh of Sakhi Bal Niketan Evam Sewa Samiti
All 13 students, seven boys and six girls, including her were enrolled in government schools to continue with their studies on Wednesday says the report.
Insisting she is too young to be married and wanting to continue her studies, Shakti said, “I want this marriage to end.”
They have now moved to the Jaipur family court for annulment of her marriage and are confident of the ruling in her favour.
Feature image credit: Hindustan Times.