Almost every afternoon one can find her crouching on a wooden frame at their verandah, and, with a needle in her nimble fingers, stitching zari threads in a saree. She is doing the same thing for the past four years, since she was just a 10 year old girl. Though she started as a young apprentice mainly to support her parents at her spare time, today, she has gathered some experience, and has graduated to a full time worker in their household zari workshop.

Sabina, a 14 year old girl hailing from Mallikparah village in the district of South 24 Parganas, West Bengal, is the eldest among five brothers and sisters. Her father Nur Ali Mollah sells chicks in the local market, and Ruksana Biwi, her mother is the home maker who also runs a miniscule zari workshop at their courtyard. Since being a student of class five, Sabina was introduced to zari stitching. Every day after coming back from school she helped her mother in stitch-works. As the afternoon light faded into the evening and her friends ran around playing hop-scotch and other girlie games in the field, Sabina had to keep on sewing zari threads in the saree, along the thin pencil-designs drawn by her mom. With tired eyes fixed on the zari threads, she eagerly waited for the next morning to come, as that announced school hours for her. Going to school was her only respite, her only window to freedom, where she could play with her peers at the recess.

Two years later, suddenly came the blow which she was not prepared for. One day a relative brought a proposal for her marriage. As the groom was from quite a well-to-do family in the next village, and the demand for dowry was remarkably low, Sabina’s parents considered it a lucrative proposal, and instantly agreed to get her married.

But Sabina was not willing to marry at an early age, before completing studies. Wasting no time she shared the news with some of her friends, who were members of Kishori Bahini, an adolescent girls’ group empowered by SSDC, a local grass-root level NGO supported by CRY. Kishori Bahini members raised the issue to the Mahila Mandal of the village. Several rounds of counselling and some lukewarm threat of legal actions finally made the trick, and the marriage was postponed. Sabina was indeed happy that she would be able to continue with her studies.

But the happiness was short-lived. Within a few days she had to be back to her daily chore of zari works. Taking care of younger brothers and sisters and helping her mother in everyday household works added to her misery. This reached to such an extent that she had hardly any time to pursue with her studies. And finally she had to drop out from school.

“I will never let my two younger sisters come into zari stitching,” says Sabina, as her fingers are busy with the needle and zari threads and eyes transfixed on the design… “I want them to continue with their studies… at any cost… and work only after they have passed Uccha Madhyamik (Higher Secondary) exams.”

“Won’t it be difficult to convince your parents?”

“Yes, it will be…” contemplates the little girl, “…but otherwise life would become much more difficult for my sisters…” Sabina’s eyes sparkle with confidence.


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