Vijay Lakshmi Sharma is 24 and is B.Ed. She has two brothers, Vijay Sharma, 22, also B.Ed and Mahesh Sharma, 20, pursuing Polytechnic in Civil. She was born to her mother Kamla Sharma, when Kamla was 14 years, obviously a child mother. Kamla was all of 19 when she had all her three children, and gone through operation so that she did not conceive any more child. Kamla’s husband is a daily wage labourer. When she was married to Shravan Lal Sharma, the latter was more than 25, easily more than 12-13 years older than Kamla. Kamla had no childhood, or so she said now. But she also never had an idea that child-marriage is not good.
But for some reason, Kamla gave birth to Vijay Lakshmi Sharma, who is a born fighter, fearless and activist to the core of her heart. She was 13, when her mother Kamla started discussion about getting Vijay Lakshmi married. Vijay Lakshmi could not even conceive or comprehend those discussions. But one day when she saw one of her classmates getting married at the age of 13, she could get a sense of those discussion her parents were having at home about looking for groom for Vijay Lakshmi. The discussion used to be among her parents and one of her paternal uncles. Unexpectedly, from no-where, Vijay Lakshmi interrupted in between the discussion her parents were having and said, “I would not like to get married”. The whole family looked at each other, totally shocked as where did that come.
Several more times, Vijay Lakshmi heard or eve teased the similar discussions about the groom searching for her, and she could not resist one last time, when she shouted with vengeance, “I said I am not going to get married, if you people insist, I will do something you all would never had expected”. This time the family was not only shocked but also felt threatened as they could see fire in the eyes of Vijay Lakshmi. She tells all her stories with great passion as if that had happened just yesterday.
Meeting Vijay Lakshmi is no ordinary feeling. She sounds 40 plus in her early 20s. She talks with passion. She talks with commitment. She fires truth, wisdom and compassion. And she is not alone. In her journey, her mother accompanies her, her two brothers who all are equally passionate and appreciative about Vijay Lakshmi’s fight for abolition of Child marriage – socially.
In 2002, when Vijay Lakshmi had the final declaration that she did not want to get married, she had all her family in in shock and panic. There were curse all around her, especially by her mother, who still reveals, “that I used to curse her a lot and would ask God what kind of daughter had she got”. But every time that her mother would talk about her marriage and pressurise her husband to look for groom, Vijay Lakshmi could feel a quiet father who gave an impression that he was with her daughter but he had no voice to express against his wife. According to Vijay Lakshmi, one day she pleaded her father, “papa I will honour your decision and I trust you, and I also you to trust me that I really do not want to marry now. I want to study.” And as God would will, some time in the year of 2002, when the tension was prevailing in the house of Sharmas, a village girl who got married at the age of 13 gave birth to a child at the age of 14, but she died in the process of delivery. Vijay Lakshmi got a perfect timing and did not loose the chance to point out to her parents, “this is exactly what would happen to me if you are going to get me married as you would immediately loose me forever.”
That was the turning point for the parents of Vijay Lakshmi, and since then, led by Vijay Lakshmi, both the brothers of Lakshmi and both parents work with complete strategy to make sure that no girl get married as a child. Their strategy is meticulous. They work quietly. They work as a team. They have a wide network of informers who bring into notice if any girl child is planned and scheduled for marriage. As soon as Vijay Lakshmi comes to know, her entire family take up the task at various fronts. While her brothers reach them out through their friends circles, mother Kamla reaches out at her level through ladies circle and through the mother of the girls child. If it still does not work out, then the father tries to reach out man to man. And if nothing works out, then Vijay Lakshmi rolls herself out, which is usually not the polite and route. She takes up the issue head on. She first tells them it is wrong, then she tell them it is legally wrong, and if they still do not budge, then she threatens that she will go to police and court.
In the last ten years, however, in none of the efforts, Vijay Lakshmi and her family had to approach any police or legal route to prevent child marriage. They have been successful in more than 12 instances to prevent girl child marriages but all through social pressure, and through counselling. Yet, as per Lakshmi’s brother explains, “girl child marriages are just an issue of traditional practices, or that of lack of education; its mostly an issue of extreme poverty. In most of the girl child marriages, you will find that the household income would be severely low and the reason for the parents to get their daughters to get them married is to get out of the economic burden of looking after their daughters for a long time.” And in such cases, the whole of Sharmas family feel that they may be preventing the girl child marriage, but not providing any quick economic support to those families who could have taken care of their daughters without economic challenges.
Vijay Lakshmi is at her ripe age of being married. She is 24, and has been fighting against child marriages for the last 10 years. But she sounds in all her conversation as if she is fresh and has just started off her movement. She is adamant, rather sure that she does not want to marry. But talking to her intimately, she would however confess that she would marry if she gets a good match. One she does not get too many proposals because of her being very non-confirmative, secondly, she does not find anybody who could be inspiring enough for her.
Interestingly, when we met on Saturday, March the 10th 2013, it was Shiv-Ratri, the occasion when all women pray and wish for best groom, but Vijay Lakshmi, had no such desire or intention to do so. She even prayed in front of us in a temple but as she said, she never asked from the God for good husband. She rather all the prays that there should be no girl child marriage. “I see myself every time I hear of any girl child being planned to get married, and then something happens to me, and I get a very strong inner force to fight against it,” that’s Vijay Lakshmi. Her mother says, “I have no idea where she gets her strength. She has no fear of the world. She has even slapped many boys for teasing girls, and many of them left villages fearing Vijay Lakshmi.”
Vijay Lakshmi is perhaps less than 5 feet, bare bone, and sharp nose. Her strength is her soul, inner belief, commitment to cause, and immense self-belief. She also is the sole bread earner of the family through her engagements as teacher in some of private schools and she also takes tuition classes. Her monthly income is about 4,000 and her father adds up almost the same amount through his petty labour jobs. But meeting any of the Sharma’s family, you will feel like you have met extremely rich persons, rich at heart and soul, honesty and truth.
POST SCRIPT: Got so inspired, Digital Empowerment Foundation has decided to start a Community Information Resource Centre along with Digital Literacy Centre. I discussed the idea with her, and we hope to start off the centre in less than 2 months time.
If you want to contribute in any ways, please write me at email@example.com.
Osama Manzar is founder & director of Digital Empowerment Foundation, and he is traveling with the three women, Laura, Carina and Sunita, who are driving auto rickshaw from Delhi to Mumbai in the celebration of women, raising awareness and funds to help women. DEF is also Red Rickshaw Revolution’s digital partner with Vodafone Foundation as the lead of RRR project.