Fighting gender inequality
Baruipur: Youngest of five siblings and the only girl, Sabitri Mondal hails from a family of farmers based in Das Para of Bishnupur, South 24 Parganas. Her hamlet is some 160 kilometers north-west from Kolkata. From an early age itself she was introduced to the gender imbalance in society when she was told that she ‘need not’ receive ‘a complete education’ unlike her brothers.
When she queried why was this the case, she was slapped by her mother and told, ‘because she was a girl’, her brothers are men who needed to be educated so that they would get out of the house in due course of time and make a career for themselves. She would have to get married, manage the house, her husband and children.
It did not stop at this. Whilst she was still in the eighth grade she was married off to a mason from who was far older to her and lived in Baruipur, some 25 kilometers away from Kolkata. Her husband’s hamlet was almost 100 kilometers away from her birth place.
“I was married at the age of fifteen and gave birth to a girl child at the age of sixteen,” says the mother of three.
She adds, “Life in my husband’s house was no fairy-dream. I was told that I was useless, my mother had not taught me anything and that I did not know any work.”
“My mother-in-law would thrash me regularly. She never found me competent enough to do the house chores and because I had given birth to a girl child,” recollects the volunteer with Children International (CI)- SAHAY.
She admits, “In my father’s house poverty was my constant companion which became no better in my husband’s house.”
There were no happy memories of childhood for Sabitri either where she could escape into them and elevate her spirit from the situation she found herself in. She states, “In my father’s house my brothers were given enough food to eat. As I was a girl child I was often deprived of food.”
By the time she was eighteen she gave birth to her second girl and faced further alienation being held responsible for the birth of two girls. The domestic violence continued, now with greater frequency than before. Her husband began staying more often out of the house using his work schedule as his alibi. This continued for several years.
“Today as I recollect all those incidents, they make me stand up for the rights of the girl child and every woman,” opines Sabitri. So she chose to volunteer her services at the NGO who came to her aid by enrolling her daughters in the sponsorship programme, thus taking care of their educational needs.
“CI-SAHAY was a guide and hand-held me in the darkest hours which I will never forget,” adds Sabitri.
By twenty-one Sabitri gave birth to her third child- this time a boy which finally changed the tide of her fortunes and elevated her position at home. She actually began to get two square meals a day with rice, sabzi and fish!
Even though she works tirelessly on the field as a farmer and at home as a zari worker the volunteer mother finds time to also give off her bit to the CI- SAHAY programme. She assists children and youth with their with letter writing and as a nutrition volunteer cooking and serving supplementary meals. She also completes her daily household chores, looks after her husband and in laws and the rest of the family.
CI-SAHAY works in eight districts of West Bengal and directly operates three community centers in the urban slums of Kolkata. Twenty-three thousand children and youth are enrolled in the organisation’s sponsorship programme. SAHAY is based in Kolkata and is affiliated to CI, Kansas City, U.S.A.
Currently, Sabirti is also the office bearer of a women’s group and often rushes in to help victims of domestic violence.
Sabitri recalls something her mother had told her as a child, “As a girl child you need to have the strength to adjust to every situation.”
Today she leads a contented life with her children and husband and is even respected by her in laws and relatives. “Time,” she says “is the greatest healer. The condition of my life has improved.”