This Varanasi-based man is eliminating dowry, casteism, child labour, child marriage and much more in an interesting way. Know more about his mission and his efforts to reduce the excessive expenditure on weddings in India.
A young boy who worked as a child labourer 10 years ago now has a government job. Another kid has a Masters degree, and the girl who was all set to marry at a tender age is now learning various life skills.
These are just a few examples of change that one man’s efforts have brought in the lives of people of Rajatalab, a village near Varanasi. All thanks to a local weaver, Nandlal Master, who has spearheaded the initiative to not only abolish child labour from the state but also empower women and educate them for a better future.
“I have seen young kids working and sacrificing their studies. Young girls were getting married at such an early age, they didn’t come to school at all. So I thought of starting a school for such kids,” recalls Nandlal.
He started a learning centre in 1994 with a handful of students. The initiative now engages over 500 students from nearby districts.
But this was not enough. Nandlal had different ambitions. He wanted to solve many problems. From education to child labour to child marriage and women empowerment, Nandlal wanted to cover many grounds and he did just that with help of his NGO Loksamiti.
Having a strong dedication to educate the girls of the community and spare them from early marriages, he started a personal training centre where girls learn various life skills like stitching.
“But all this while, there was a bigger issue that I wanted to address. In our society, marriage holds such an important place. People spend so much on a wedding. I wanted to change this,” he says.
He started an initiative of group marriages to reduce the burden on the less privileged communities and put an end to child marriage.
“I observed that people get their daughters married at an early age because they can’t afford to educate them and then find a suitable match for them, as ‘eligible’ guys demanded more dowry,” says Nandlal.
Nandlal started a group wedding programme in 2007 where he got 13 couples married at one place. He raised funds through his community and asked the guests to give gifts which can be beneficial for the newly-wed couple. So all the expenses for food, lodging, gifts, etc. for the couples as well as for the guests are taken care of by the villagers.
Nandlal, with the help of his team of 25 members and over 400 volunteers, has managed to conduct over 700 low-budget weddings so far.
“Our expenses per wedding is just Rs. 25,000 to Rs. 30, 000 while the rich spend lakhs on this occasion. My idea is not just to avoid such expenses for the poor, but also involve the richer community and inspire them to organize such simple, non-expensive weddings,” he says.
In the beginning, it was very difficult to convince people for a group marriage, especially since the couples would be from different castes (including Hindus and Muslims) and, in a society like India where caste plays a crucial role, it was a huge challenge to bring people of so many different castes on the same stage. But Nandlal’s tenacity and conviction finally paid off and managed to successfully bring people together. Now, many other organisations have started similar initiatives and are encouraging people to organize group weddings.
“It is so sad to see that farmers sell their lands and houses to arrange funds for their daughter’s wedding. Marriage should be an occasion of bringing two people together and not spending so much money,” he says.
Nandlal is also promoting inter-caste marriages and looking forward to breaking some of the age old traditions of marriages within the same caste like dowry.
Through his NGO, he has also set up over 40 self-help groups for women, which helps them get access to various opportunities and life skills.
The impact of his work is evident through the tremendous change Banaras has seen. Child labour has gone down by a great extent and the number of child marriages have reduced too. Girls have started working and benefits of MNREGA scheme are now being utilised by women, who constitute 35 percent of the total labour force.
“This is just a start. There is a long way to go. We want to empower more women, organize more weddings and completely abolish child labour and child marriage,” he says.
In the future, Nandlal wants to engage the more privileged communities in his initiative and inspire them to organize weddings across different castes in a simpler way.
“The money we spend on weddings can be utilised for so many other more productive things,” says Nandlal.
In case you want to reach out to Nandlal and support his cause, you can provide monetary support for the group weddings or can help the newly-wed couples with some useful gifts like cycle, sewing machine, fan, blankets, etc. The next group wedding is scheduled as follows:
Date – 10 May 2015, Sunday
Time- 11 A.M
Venue- Hanuman Mandir Mohansaray, Rajatalab, Varanasi
Total Participant-150 couples
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