Ambedkar Nagar is a slum right in the heart of the holy city of Varanasi. Arti, the president of the girls collective in this slum is not just an agent of change but a ray of possibilities and hope for many girls. And her story is one of grit and determination.
Arti was the third youngest in the siblings of
seven children (5 brothers and 2 sisters) in her family. Her father, a street vendor sold small things of domestic use. The large family size, lack of livelihood opportunities and extreme destitute conditions forced her mother along with two elder sisters to take up domestic work in the nearby posh colonies. After completing class 5, Arti was also forced to join her mother and sisters in the job. Though reluctant she started helping them on the job but simultaneously continued her studies and somehow managed to pass class 8. But from here on continuing studies looked impossible to her and then she came in contact with the team of CRY supported project Dr. Shambhunath Singh Research Foundation (SRF) working in the area. Arti became an active member of the children’s collective and started participating in the various activities and initiatives to create awareness on children’s issues in her slum.
Around the same time Arti’s parents fixed her marriage. It was a norm in the slum to marry the daughters off at an early age but Arti wasn’t ready. Due to her active involvement in the children’s group and participation in community and girls collective meetings, she had complete understanding on the perils of child marriage. Her two elder sisters, who were married at an early age and were suffering from varied health issues, were also live examples. She decided to talk to her parents and convince them against her marriage. But they didn’t agree. There was immense pressure on Arti and soon she became extremely quiet, scared and kept to herself. When the team of CRY Supported project SRF visited the slum she shared her ordeal with them. Arti along with the community workers together decided to convince her parents. After much deliberation and persuasion they agreed to stop Arti’s marriage. They also agreed to let her continue her studies.
From then on Arti and her parents with the support of the team at SRF became active members in the campaign against child marriage in the slum. A girl’s collective was formed, community meetings were held and conversations with parents were conducted to emphasise on the issues of early marriage along with highlighting the fact that it is a crime. While there was a lot of reluctance from many elders of the community in the initial phase but slowly they started listening to her. With her efforts Arti managed to stop many child marriages in the slum and has gained immense respect.
Today she is a role model for many girls in the slum. She has recently passed Higher Secondary examinations with a first class. Her motive in life is very clear – “I will not only learn and educate myself but will constantly work towards the various issues of girl children in my slum.”
Her efforts have already started showing signs of a lasting change which is not just permanent but sustainable.