Rajina: Healing the wounds of forced marriage, one lesson at a time
Legal experts say that forced marriages are a violation of human rights and illegal under Article 15 of the Indian Contract Act 1872 and Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. The punishment could be up to one year imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 20,000. Women are unaware of legal remedies, and are oftentimes coerced into agreeing to marriage.
The State of World Population 2020 report released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) stated that 4,60,000 girls were missing at birth in India between 2013 and 2017. Gender-biased sex selection accounts for about two-thirds of total missing girls, and post-birth female mortality accounts for about one-third, the report said.
The UN report said that every year, millions of girls are subjected to practices that harm them physically and emotionally, with the full knowledge and consent of their families, friends and communities. They are forced into marriage so that the “burden” of the family can be passed on to a husband.
Rajina, a young woman from Kannur district, too, was coerced into marriage. She was not allowed to complete her education and was married one semester before she completed her Bachelors of Arts (B.A) in Malayalam. “I was told I was to go serve at the husband’s house and my degree would mean nothing,” she says.
She also has two more siblings who need to be married after her. A good alliance had come my parents’ way and they did not want to wait another year for me to finish my course, she adds. Her father, a fisherman, had become ill and had wished to get her married before his health worsened.
Rajina would have at least got the degree had she not become pregnant right before her examinations. Six years have passed since then and Rajina is now the mother of two children- a 5-year-old boy and an 18-month-old girl.
Her husband, a mechanic, was very supportive of her finishing college, but Rajina’s parents disapproved. After the pregnancy, there were no second thoughts about Rajina being relegated to the home. The COVID-19 pandemic brought Rajina’s husband’s job to a halt, and she decided to contribute to the family's income. “I was always career-oriented. My parents were not supportive. My husband is encouraging and wanted me to complete my degree. However, things did not fall into place,” she says.
She had discussed the apprehensions of joining the workforce with her friends, including being able to adapt to technology, etc. It was then that a friend shared a poster from Hira Charitable Trust, Sreekandapuram with her. Hira is one of Quest Alliance’s NGO partners in Kerala where a program which equips the youth with 21st century skills such as digital literacy, communication and life skills are offered.
As the primary caregiver for her two children, she would clean the house, prepare meals for her husband, parents-in-law, siblings and her children before noon. Bathing the children, feeding them, keeping them engaged, took a large part of her day.
When she expressed her interest in enrolling for the course, the parents-in-law gladly agreed to help care for the children. Her husband too helped her manage her time well, she says. The course at Hira gave her a new outlook on life, Rajina says. Previously, she only had time to focus on household chores and caring for her children round the clock, but is now able to balance professional and personal life and make some time for self-improvement.
An agent of self-learning, the Quest App guided her through improving her communication skills, especially conversing in English. “I am confident of speaking my mother tongue -- Malayalam; but I was not able to speak in English and that made me self-conscious. Now I speak to everyone with confidence,” she beams.
Rajina is now employed as a librarian at the EMS Granthalayam (library) in Kannur. The lessons at Hira also equipped her to manage customers and keep a digital record of the books at the library. “I can also help my son with his lessons at school,” she says.
Rajina is the first woman from her family to get a job and focus on her career. Her sister, inspired by her, went on to take up a job in sales recently. “I am immensely proud that others are learning from me. I continue to tell others I see to take the leap and believe in themselves,” she says.
“Right now, I love the librarian job. However, I want to continue growing in my career and need to keep learning to do so,” she says. While she has not decided on a career path yet, she is determined to set an example for her children.
Despite being coerced to marry, Rajina believes that her life has changed for the better. “Due to financial constraints at my parents house, they thought that giving me away in marriage was the best option. I do not blame them. Due to my good luck, I married into a family where they are supportive of my dreams,” she says. However, women need to play an active role in preserving their individuality, she adds. “While we must tend to our children's and husband’s needs, we must also make time for ourselves. Whether it is through self-learning, or the freedom to make our own decisions, all women must make efforts to take control of their lives.”
Rajina was part of our Skills To Succeed project powered by Accenture. Last year, we trained 6,700+ youth and 110+ trainers in 56 centres across the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Nagaland and Tamil Nadu.
Established in Mayyil, Kannur in 2001, the Hira Charitable Trust provides higher education to communities and helps marginalized people upskill and build their lives. Since 2020 it has partnered with Quest Alliance to implement a career-readiness course which equips young people between 18-35 years with 21st century skills. In the two year partnership, 570+ youth like Regina have been upskilled and 66% of them have begun their careers.
RajinaAlum, Hira Charitable Trust
“I am confident of speaking in my mother tongue — Malayalam; but I was not able to speak in English, and that made me self-conscious. Now I speak to everyone with confidence.”