Freedom or lack of decides the direction your life will take. Saifunisa and her elder sister Hadinusha are a proof of this. Both the sisters, along with their five brothers, live with their parents in Batehra village of Shravasti. Still in their teens, the girls’ lives are a study in extreme contrasts. I met them at the monthly meeting of the Ekta adolescent group—one of the groups in which JMV implements its Girls’ Leadership Program.
Saifunisa has been with JMV since it came to her village a year ago. She attends all the meetings and brings in other girls from her neighbourhood as well. Saifunisa, or Saifu as she is called by friends, is studying in class 10 at a nearby college and, in the last few months, has started teaching at a school that her father started.
Her confidence—a trademark of all of the young women who participate in JMV’s adolescent girls groups—was evident. Saifu greeted me with a handshake and introduced herself.
“We have been having meetings at the village for over a year. I have seen the change in myself and the other girls. They are so much more confident now,” she tells me.
Saifu wants to complete her graduation and work as a teacher. “Teaching at my father’s school is sort of a practice for me. It keeps me abreast with my course.”
I was stunned to find out that while her younger brothers were all studying, her elder sister never went to school. In fact she was married off at a young age.
Surprised, I wanted to know more about her sister but Saifunisa had to go back to school to teach.
Within five minutes of her leaving, another girl came to the meeting with her friend. She was peeping from behind the door and seemed unsure whether to enter or not. The shy girl was Saifu’s sister Hadinusha, who had overheard Saifu tell her mother that someone had come to meet the girls.
Hadinusha had gone through unimaginable trauma. A child bride, she became a teen mother when due to her young age and improper care, she lost her son a few months after he was born. The young mother was trying to come to terms with her loss, when her in-laws decided she was of no use to them and dumped her back at her parents’ home.
Hadinusha spends her day taking care of her parents and siblings. The only time she leaves home is to buy groceries. The school her father owns runs out of her home but she has never set foot in it. She doesn’t even know the letters of the alphabet.
Doesn’t she feel left out when she sees Saifunisa go to school to study and then teach other kids?
“Education was not an option for me. How can I regret something I never knew? The only thing I miss is the fact that she can talk to city people like you more confidently and I can’t,” said Hadinusha.
“I knew about the JMV meetings and Saifu used to attend them but I felt ashamed coming here since the girls here are all studying and much younger than me. Today I convinced my friend to come along because I really wanted to see what goes on here,” she says.
“I didn’t know we could sing here and dance too. These girls have also performed a play as I found out today.”
So will she now come to the meetings with Saifu? “Not really. I’ll never have the kind of freedom she has to move around. My father will never agree to it,” she said.
“How come Saifu has the freedom to come here and you don’t?” I asked her.
“Saifu is stronger I guess. She can fight for what she wants, I can’t,” she whispers. She stares at the ground when I ask her why.
When I ask her if I can take her photos, Hadinusha refuses. I show her Saifu’s photos and her reply is, “Oh she can get her photos clicked. If I do the same, I will never be allowed out of home again. I am married you know.”
I didn’t want to force her so I let it be.
One sister took her freedom and soared, the other remains caged by social pressure.