Rising from the dust

There are many NGO's operating in India who are trying day and night to improve conditions of people, specially women. They operate for different causes, some are there for children, some for women who are harassed by men or by their in laws, some are for physically disabled people. In my post I want to highlight about  an NGO that operates to improve the plight of women from NOMADIC tribes of Gujarat.

I am Meenakshi. I want to begin my story from the time when I was about 10 yrs old. I had a younger sister and an elder brother. We were very poor and our parents had absolutely no money to raise us. We are from the Nomadic tribe. My mother says that our ancestors owned the haveli where currently we own a one bedroom place. Our grandfather used to perform shows on streets. He had a pet snake, elephant and some other animals. He used to make decent money, but due to the wild life protection act he was forced to stay home. They were uneducated and didn't know what else they can do to earn money. He had to sell this haveli to a man who converted it into a whore house. You might be wondering that I am too little to speak like this.

My mother always wanted me to go to school and learn something. We were given admission in a NGO based school, but I never had interest in studies. I used to dance with girls of my neighborhood and perform acts like walking on a rope etc. I had these skills by birth I guess. My father never spoke to me properly. He was always angry with me and never allowed me to show my face to anyone. My mom used to cover my face with a duppatta. I never understood the cause of his anger. He used to punish me and I would go and sit on the stairs of this haveli. I used watch many things here. Strangers walked past me who used be drunk and leaned on women. I used to like Barkha didi who was our neighbor. But I never understood why she would take these strangers to her room, lock the room and then after sometime let the person go. I used to watch all this and sleep there until my mom used to take me in. Time passed by and I was around 12 years now.

My mother wanted me to go out of this village and lead a respectful life. But unfortunately I never focused in my school. She made me to join a NGO center where I met Sunitha didi. She always used to make me read books but I used to tell her I will become a dancer. One night something unusual thing happened. I was sitting on the staircase and slowly fell asleep. After a while I don't know a stranger took me to a deserted room of my haveli. I opened my eyes and saw him getting undressed. He was drunk completely and he closed my mouth forcefully. I cried a lot and was scared. He forced himself one me and after a while he did few things that I could have never imagined at that age. "I will come back again ! You are a firework." he told these words and left.

My father came and locked me up there for two days. I cried for my mother but perhaps no one knew where I was. Third day I woke up from my sleep, it was evening. My father came to my room. He was drunk. I cried and asked him to release me but he forced himself on me. He told me this is our tradition. It was painful, it was tormenting. I waited for my mother to come and rescue me. After a while he got up and told me clean myself. After a while my elder brother came. He repeated the same thing. I thought I should jump off this building and end my life. I didn't know what was happening at that time. My mother came in a short while. I cried a lot and she consoled me. Barkha didi came and gave me a flashback on our culture. I came to know that main service our community women do is prostitution. Men from our community prepare and put their women on market. I cried a lot. I didn't know whom should I talk to. I came to know that the person whom I thought is my father was not actually my father. I was born from an unknown man. My whole world came crashing !

Days passed by and I became very quiet. I dreaded about that day when all this happened. I couldn't take that pain. I hated the whole thing. I wanted to get out of this world. I was sitting quietly when Sunitha didi came up and asked me why I was so quiet. At first I didn't speak much but when she comforted me I told her "Didi, it pains a lot. I don't like it but my father and brother keep forcing themselves on me, please take me out of this hell !" She looked into my eyes and hugged me. I felt comforted at that time. She spoke to her supervisor and they found a bigger NGO's who take care of women in my situation. She spent all her time with me and made me to focus on my education.

Slowly, I started understanding basic maths and science. They moved me to a bigger city where I was given accommodation. I started going to a english medium school and started working very hard. Soon I was in 10th std where I passed with flying colors. Slowly I understood that the basic thing of life is Education. It is very important to be educated in this century. I understood the plight of my community people through this NGO and told them that I would also help them in their campaigns. Soon I entered college and I got admission in engineering. My education was being sponsored by the NGO group and I thought it was my responsibility to study well and pay back their favour by creating awareness in my community. My mother was very happy to see me stand on my feet. She was happy that I am an independent woman now. I cannot describe how much I love my mother, Sunitha didi and this NGO group who has given me a new life. Now my aim in life is to spread this love among everyone. Women is not an object of sex and desire. But we have the basic right of education and respect. India's education rule is not different for different castes but no one follows the rule. When the government fails, NGO's play a powerful role in our society. We should all pay back to our society by doing selfless work and bringing back smile on some faces.

This can be a story of a girl protected by the NGO run by Mittal Patel. I am very impressed by the work they have been doing for the NOMADIC tribes of Gujarat. It is an eye opener video for people who don't know about this tribe. She has helped them getting a voter id card, land allotment and what not. I really appreciate the efforts put by Mittal and her team. Her video can be viewed here:


Franklin Templeton Investmentspartnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012

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