She has received rape threats. Her parents are stalked constantly. When she walks on the street, miscreants pelt stones at her. Simply because she works for her community to end child marriages. Nineteen-year-old Koyel Sarkar heads a 25-member “Girl Power Group” in her village in Siliguri,
that has stopped child marriages. It is a community-led initiative supported by the NGO – World Vision India.
More than a thousand girls across sixty-five villages in three blocks of Darjeeling, are part of this group and they sensitise residents on issues of child rights, trafficking and child marriage. They make public announcements in market places, and conduct street plays as well as talk to community members to collect information about impending child marriages. Once, Koel even dressed in festive finery to gain entry into a house where a child wedding was scheduled, to stop it.
COVID-19 caused a spurt in child marriages. Since the protocols didn’t allow large gatherings, it became a good time for child marriages, as they would be cheaper. Parents who live in abject poverty, married off their daughters to families who could afford the marriage expenses. During the pandemic, the use of digital media enabled better access of gangs to minor girls, and as Darjeeling is close to
Nepal, trafficking girls to Nepal became easier. Girl Power Group makes enormous efforts to fight this trafficking.
Asked what motivated her commitment to this mission, Koyel said that she was a victim of child marriage and she knows well how it can ruin a girl’s life. She was married at the age of 17, to a man who was 35 years old. Her father abandoned the entire family when she was only two and a half years old. Forced by circumstances, her mother got her married, but she ended up being tortured and abused. This made her resolve to work against child marriages despite having to face huge challenges every day. She takes a road that many don’t want to take.
The author is a former Director of Goa Institute of Management (GIM) and currently Director of St Joseph’s Institute of Management (JIM), Trichy.