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Village girl sets bold example

Mar 31, 2008

A young village girl from Rajasthan has become a role model for her community by protesting against her own marriage as a child, a tradition generally accepted as norm in rural India. For her act of heroic defiance, Congress Kanwar was given the National Bravery Award on the Indian Republic Day on January 26.

Jaipur: Young, determined and 13, Congress Kanwar from Patlai village in Dag block of Jhalawar district in Rajasthan has become a role model in her community for raising her voice against child marriage.

Congress stood up against her own family and age-old tradition when she stopped her own marriage as a child. When the prospective groom's family arrived at her home, she threatened to dial 100 – the police helpline - about which she had learnt when she visited a police station on a school trip.

She now addresses large community gatherings of different caste groups and speaks on such issues.

Congress Kanwar was one of the 22 children selected for the prestigious Indian National Bravery Awards presented on January 26, 2008.

Gaining confidence through education

Congress attributes her daring act to her life skills education at a non-formal school run by Prayatan, a non-government organisation, supported by UNICEF-Rajasthan.

Like many others in her village, Congress’ parents wanted her to get married at the age of 10. But being keen on educating herself, she tried to persuade her reluctant parents to let her study.

Almost two-third of the village population lives below the poverty line. Female literacy has never been a high priority in the district. The opening of ‘Prabhatshala’ an initiative supported by UNICEF and run by a voluntary organization, Prayatan, provided her the opportunity to pressurize her parents.

Prabhatshala offers an alternative path to children who for reasons cannot attend primary school, for instance, girls who have to look after their younger siblings and attend to domestic chores, etc.

The teacher from Prabhatshala managed to convince Congress’ parents to let her attend classes. Her commitment to her studies and the organisation’s bold environment helped young Congress not only attain basic literacy and arithmetic skills but also enabled her to gain self-belief and confidence.

During her schooling, she was exposed to the outer world through student excursions and interacted with officials of various government departments, including the police department.

At the police station, she developed an understanding of the misconceptions about the police force. The police officials also explained to her about the helpline that can be accessed by dialing the number 100. This exposure further developed her confidence.

International recognition

Congress recounted her story to UNICEF India Country Representative, Dr. Gianni Murzi on his recent visit to Jaipur. Dr. Murzi congratulated her for continuing her education despite all odds.

Congress dreams of becoming a police officer, and believes that education alone can be the key to success.

A celebrity in her own right, Congress came into limelight when she was selected to participate at the launch of UNICEF’s flagship publication ‘State of the World’s Children 2007’ at Berlin, Germany, from December 8 – 17, 2006.

There she spoke on education and child marriage and answered the queries of the world media. She met politicians and film stars and participated in press conferences.

Dr Satish Kumar, Rajasthan State Chief of UNICEF, says UNICEF uses community level knowledge to develop innovative interventions to ensure that children are able to access basic services such as education. The Prabhatshala programme is moving towards mainstream education by ensuring a link to the formal system.

Kumar described Prabhatshala as a vital part of the overall strategy of universalising elementary education.

“Education, especially for women, is an important agent of socialisation and an instrument of social transformation. It is a channel of both social mobility and equality,” said Dr Kumar.

Congress has been felicitated by her own community as well by the Chief Minister of Rajasthan for her heroic act to curb the social evil of child marriage and for her zeal for education.

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