There is a small village called ‘Bithuwa’ in the Suddhodhan Rural Municipality, the southern belt in Kapilvastu district where Sheshkala Pandey lives with her family – parents, two brothers and sisters.
The 19-year-old is a college goer. The girl from the Madhes where girls/ women are supposed to restrict themselves to private sphere was glowing as she was receiving the “Unsung Hero Award’ presented by the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare amidst a function in the capital few days ago. She received the award from Minister for Women, Children and Social Welfare, Bikram Bahadur Thapa.
In her village, child/early marriage, dowry and other harmful practices were prevalent until two years ago. Sheshkala, who herself once dared refuse her parents’ proposal to get married when she was just an eighth grader to chase her dreams for higher study and decided to get involved in small scale-income generating works to manage tuition fees, now heads a 30-member Girls’ Circle supported by the District Women and Children Office, under the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in her village. The circle campaigns against girl’s early/ child marriage, child abuse, sexual abuses and violence against women and girls, other harmful practices existing in the society, advocates for sexual and reproductive health rights of girls and so on.
“We have to change the society so why to get disturbed by obstacles on our way,” the Madhesh’s daughter who wishes to pursue her career in accountancy in the future was quick to reply to a question whether she was not finding to do all these challenging.
She seemed confident as she was recalling the incident dating back to some years ago when she and her fellows got the information that one 13 year-old girl from their locality was ready to get married with a 15-year-old boy from India as per wish of her parents. They took no more time to seek help from the local police and rush to the girl (Indu Shahani)’s house where the wedding ceremony was underway and succeeded in stopping it from being completed.
In the past one and half year, nine girls were saved from getting early marriage at the will of their parents in the village due to the Circle’s timely interventions.
It is surprising how Sheshkala who attends her morning college classes and teaches in a local English boarding school for primary students to financially support herself manages time to get engaged in efforts meant for ‘changing’ the society. “When there is will, there is will,” she says. “I utilise leisure time in the evening to unite girls, encourage them to fight against harmful practices against them and be bold to withstand all sorts of untoward violence against them.
Results of her efforts and like-minded have started seen in her locality where now parents rarely dare to send their girls to bridegroom’s house early.
Her actions do not end to here. She and her fellows keep themselves busy in street drama and door to door programmes aim to create and increase public awareness on gender-based violence and encourage parents to send girls to schools and girls for micro savings. Sheshkala believes that girls’ education is the best and effective means of empowering girls and women. In the beginning, the entire society was riled to see Sheshkala doing all these things. Some people used to come to her house to quarrel with her and parents over her actions.
“To bring positive change in the society takes time and not easy well, the same happens in the case of mine,” she added. The same society now wishes that they would have daughter like her. If you once decided to do something for the good cause of the society, so don’t stop, don’t get disturbed by obstacles, move on and move on to find the destination,” she opens her heart.
She and her peers run Friday and Saturday classes aim to empower girls.
UNFPA District Coordinator in Kapilvastu, Chitra Mahato, described Sheskala as an ‘amazing girl’ ready to bracing all odds to uplift the status of girls and women in her society. He, over telephone conservations, recalled the moment when a teenage girl from the Madhes community with her loud voice warned local representatives (mayors and chiefs of local levels) here in a public programme not to abuse their post and authority.
It was the same group who convinced the local level to allocate budget to them to celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child this year. “This is perhaps the first time in the country that a local girls’ group received budget from the local level to observe the Day through sole approach.”
After being honoured by the Ministry for her contribution in bringing positive change in society especially in the lives of girls and women, she shared that she was very pleased to be here to receive the award and it was obviously an aspiration for her to continue her journey aim to what she said “change the society”.
By Pabitra Guragain/RSS