From a Survivor of Child Marriage to a Women’s Rights Champion

From a Survivor of Child Marriage to a Women’s Rights Champion

“The word ‘Shivaratri’ means light that emanates after a long period of darkness. Hence, I want to be a light for others and try to eradicate darkness from every woman’s life”, says Shivaratri Patra, a 49-year-old woman from the Gond tribal community in Odisha's Kalahandi district.

She lives in Borbhata village. Shivaratri is a survivor of child marriage who went on to become a pillar of support for the women in her community. She challenged the gender-based power structures in her village and ensured that the women and girls in her village take charge of their own destiny.

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Oxfam’s Creating Spaces Project was an initiative to reduce violence against women and girls, including child, early and forced marriages. Some of the many aspects of the project involved improving access to social services, medical assistance, counselling, job training, and legal aid. 

“I was married off as a child the minute I attained puberty. My husband was also only 17. I learnt that I have to leave my parents and go to my husbands’ house. The idea of leaving my parents’ house, my friends and my goat and going to someone’s else’s house upset me deeply. Why couldn’t my husband come and live in my house instead?” Shivratri asks.

At 16, she became pregnant and miscarried. She had no idea as to what went wrong nor did anyone tell her. In 17 years of her marriage, she gave birth to 14 children but only four of them survived. When Shivaratri told her mother that she did not want to have any more children, she was told she had no choice because she was a wife and it was not her duty to question anything.

The pain of losing her children and years of suffering from bad health has ingrained in her a conviction to battle the system of child marriage. Shivaratri is committed to ensuring that her children will not suffer the way that she did, nor should the girls in her community go through the same. Shivaratri vows, “In our times things were different. It will not be this way for my children”.

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Through the project, Oxfam India was committed to equal participation of women’s collectives in sustainable livelihood programmes under the Odisha government. With support from the Odisha Livelihood Mission, 15 members from a women's collective (including Shivaratri) were trained in mushroom cultivation from paddy straws. After the training, Shivaratri and 10 other women formed two mushroom cultivation units and started mushroom farming on a trial basis, which yielded positive result.

Shivaratri states, “Earlier we had no idea about mushroom cultivation. After receiving training we know that growing mushrooms is easy and does not require a lot of space and time. For women who have no extra source of income, this is a viable venture”.

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After taking charge of her own income and her household’s food security, things started looking up for Shivaratri. She was selected as the leader of the women’s group. Along with enhancing livelihood opportunities, the group gave her a platform to understand that anguish caused by child marriage was a form of systemic violence.

Being part of the project gave Shivaratri the courage to share her story as a survivor of child marriage and be able to inspire others to push back against it. She learned the connection between education of girls and combatting child marriage.

Shivaratri has been nominated as a member of the School Monitoring Committee and she ensures that all girls and boys attend school. She has also been accepted into the Gond Samaj (community council), which was previously a very male-dominated area.

The denial of the right to choice, mobility, residence, food, clothing and respect are part of the violence that survivors of child marriage undergo without realising it and they are socio-culturally conditioned into tolerating it. Like Shivaratri, other women in the Gond community of Borbhata are taking action against it. They are committed to ensuring that no one drops out from school, and preventing child marriage. The Gond Samaj has been influenced to raise the age of marriage and maintain marriage registers at the village level. Shivaratri has played a pivotal role in making all this happen.

Shivaratri proudly states,“My daughter was married after she had turned 20. As was the case for my daughter-in-law. My older son is working, and my younger daughter and son are both going to college.” The resilience and strength that Shivaratri shows even after having gone through so much, and her bravery, is highly commendable. Her positivity is infectious - which not only helped her heal but is also the beacon for motivating other women in her community.

📢Oxfam India is now on Telegram. Click here to join our Telegram channel and stay tuned to the latest updates and insights on social and development issues. 

 


Gender Justice

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