At the age of 16, I was devising ways to go and watch Kaho Na Pyaar Hai, the highest grosser of the year 2000. Though my teenage heart belonged to Shahrukh Khan, my school friends and I particularly wanted to watch this new kid on the block.
This is pretty much what teenagers do; plan what movie to see, which stream to pursue, discuss which teacher teaches the best, and what profession to take up in the future.
Sadly, there are girls at the other end of the spectrum, who are forced to abandon their education by either family or circumstances, married off at an age when they do not even understand what marriage means, and carry the burden of household chores when all they should be worrying about is the next exam.
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Khushboo Goel, too, had to go through the same ordeal when, at 16, she was forced to marry without her consent. A teenager being married off does not make headlines anymore, and as a society we have become blasé to this cruel reality.
So why am I writing about her?
Khushboo is a 23-year-old young woman whose life is a testimony to the fact that there are unsung heroes living in our midst, who take challenges head-on and make something of their lives.
“As a child, I saw more violence than love. I saw my father get drunk and beat my mother ruthlessly. I grew up believing that being aggressive and violent were normal characteristics,” informs Khushboo in a conversation with The Better India (TBI).
Having a person tell her struggles to your face makes you wonder how they faced it all and still found the strength to move on. For Khushboo, the answer lay in her resilience and indomitable spirit.
Khushboo’s formative years.
Born into a family that had no financial stability, Khushboo grew up seeing her parents bicker, fight and often resort to violence which spilled onto the children.
“I would get beaten every other day, going to school with belt marks on my skin was getting so embarrassing for me as a child. There were many days when I felt helpless and even thought of killing myself,” she says.
Khushboo shares how her parents never lent any support or encouragement to her to follow her dreams, instead her mother was insistent on getting her married as soon as possible.
When Khushboo was in grade 10, her mother decided to get her married to her sister’s youngest son. Recalling that time, she says,
I was 16 at that time and my husband-to-be was 26 years old.
Though her fiance supported her right to pursue an education, it all came to naught later on. “Initially he supported me in everything and even wanted me to study – I realised much later that all he wanted was my body,” tells Khushboo.
On 6 May 2012, Khushboo was married. “On the assurance that I would be allowed to continue my education, I moved to Mysore, where my husband and his family stayed. While everything was alright initially, it soon started to become unbearable for me to stay there. I was beaten by my husband for no reason at all, my in-laws would not give me food, would put restrictions on my going to study – it was a living hell.”
She says her life was reduced to ensuring everyone’s happiness.
Within eight months of being married, Khushboo was pregnant. “It was only when I went to the doctor for a vaccination that I realised I was pregnant. I wasn’t ready for it but I was not allowed to abort. I reconciled myself thinking that a child would perhaps change things for me,” she says. All this when she was just 17.
In August 2013, Khushboo delivered her son whom she named Azaan. “It was his birth that perhaps changed me, now I had to be responsible for him and ensure that I do everything to provide for him.”
Life after the birth of her son
Life took an unexpected turn after Khushboo had given birth to her son. “After Azaan was born, I started staying with my mother in Mumbai, and much later, I was informed of my husband getting remarried. He did not even have the courtesy to tell me.”
With great difficulty, the young mother managed to complete her grade 12. She also took up odd jobs to support herself and her son. She goes on to say,
“It was on the insistence of a few friends that I took up a graphic designing course and that was what perhaps helped me – I got a job because of the skills I had learnt and thus started my life again.”
Khushboo is now pursuing her MSW and is based in Mumbai where she has been working with an NGO for more than three years. Azaan is now six, and while her struggles continue, she is in a much better mental space.
She talks about how life is now, living with her mother. “It is my mother who is now Azaan’s primary caregiver. That is the only way in which I can go out and work. Have I forgiven her? Maybe not, but I am indebted to her for what she is doing now. My son, Azaan, loves her and so does she. There is nothing that she does not do for him.”
Khushboo ends the conversation with the mantra with which she lives her life.
“It is your life, take charge of it, and you will realise that nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it. If I have been able to do it, so can you. No matter how bad the past is you can always begin again,” Simple enough to read, but powerful, if followed.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)