As a Dalit girl, Jayam Manohar was a victim of various inhuman practices. Life was not easy for her in a community where a semi-feudal system is still prevalent. She was treated as an untouchable. Her family was a victim of bonded labour, a system which traps marginalised Dalit families into a lifelong cycle of indebtedness thereby,
leading to the denial of every right of children and family members. They are forced to work for long hours without wages and have no access to education. As a child, Jayam was forced to work as a bonded labourer for almost 15-16 hours a day.
Later, poverty and the social pressure made her a child bride. The sex ratio of her district was 929 against the state ratio of 972 and the child sex ratio was 918 in the district against the state ratio of 946.In such a social setting, she was also forced to undergo female foeticide.
Her experiences as a child bride, child labourer and a victim of female foeticide and untouchability have fuelled her efforts to bring to light the plight of people and children ruthlessly crushed under these practices.
She started working for others in her community because she had an urge to interact with other people who went through circumstances similar to hers. She decided to personally ask people whether any of their family members were a victim of such social evils. This constant questioning helped her fathom the gravity of these issues.
Jayam now spearheads the Salem People Trust (SPT), a project supported by CRY – Child Rights and You that works for the most marginalised, especially children. Her team consists of people who have been victims of exploitation. She works extensively against bonded labour, female foeticide, infant mortality, child labour, child marriage and illiteracy. Owing to her experience, she is now aware of every single nuance related to such issues.
Through her efforts, 28 families were brought out of bonded labour and 98 children from these families were enrolled in schools. 227 children were re-enrolled in school including 60 child labour from bonded labour families. 28 parents of child labourers were enrolled in MNREGA. 140 part time child labourers and dropouts were re-enrolled in schools.
She has prevented 86 female foeticides and 34 infant foeticide in the past four years. Her persistent efforts resulted in a scan centre in Vazhapadi to shut down because it was undertaking sex determination test and performing female foeticide. Over the last five years, Jayam was able to completely stop the practice of delivering babies at home. She stopped five Dhais (local midwives) from undertaking female foeticides and home deliveries. She prevented 16 child marriages by counselling the parents and panchayat leaders, and motivated them to enrol children in HSS.
These are just a few of her many accomplishments. Jayam is still not satisfied with her impact. She is determined to do a lot more and ensure that government addresses these issues and helps change the whole scenario. Her experience and commitment to the cause are visible in her work.