Debating India

RAJASTHAN

This Congress is different

Sunday 24 December 2006, by SUNNY*Sebastian

She is young, she is tough, she is no-nonsense... .

JAIPUR: Congress Kanwar (yes, that is her name!), a young girl who fought an early marriage proposal and braved parents and a tradition-bound society to go to school in a remote village, is the poster girl of UNICEF in Rajasthan. The 13-year-old from the backward Dug tehsil in Jhalawar district took part in the "State of the Children Report" launch in Berlin a week ago and addressed a group of experts as well as media there sharing her experiences back home.

Congress — no one seemingly knows why she is named Congress — appeared before a gathering here in Jaipur over the weekend on the occasion of presentation of the "State of the World’s Children Report 2007" in the presence of Rajasthan Women and Child Development Minister Kanakmal Katara and UNICEF State representative Satish Kumar. German language expert and former Chairperson of the Rajasthan Women’s Commission, Pawan Surana, who had accompanied the girl to Germany, too was present though Congress needed no prompting this time.

"My father’s name is Nathu Singhji and my mother is Mana Bai. I have three brothers and three sisters. My brothers went to school and I was not allowed to go with them. My mother told me, `Kya fayada? Tu tho jayegi sasural’ (What is the use? You have to go to your in-laws)", Congress repeated what she had told the German experts and lawmakers a week back.

"My neighbour, Dev Karan, went to school and I pleaded with mother again. But my mother admonished me saying that I wanted to go to school to skip work," she said.

The scenario did not change much initially for Congress even after the opening of a "pathshala" (basic school) by UNICEF in her village. She was not enrolled even when some of the children in the neighbourhood started learning the alphabet in the school run by one Chail Bihari Sharma.

The turning point came when the authorities spotted Congress peeping inside through the window of the school building. "My mother finally agreed to send me to school on condition that I would do all my household work along with attending the school. I promised her that," she said.

The school authorities did not know about this condition till they enquired about her unkempt hair.

"I confessed to them that even after getting up at 4 in the morning I don’t get time to comb my hair after all the household work." Congress fought her prospective (child) groom’s proposal for engagement with a threat to call the police. The knowledge of the possible role of the police in preventing child marriages came to her during a school trip to the Gandhi Sagar dam site, which included a visit to a police station as well.

"I had quizzed the police on what all they could do to help young village girls. I then came to know about the telephone No.100 for calling the police," she recalled. "When the boy’s relatives came to my house to fix the engagement, I warned them that I would dial 100," Congress said.

See online : The Hindu

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