What a woman! She battled personal odds to become crusader against child marriages (IANS Special Series)
Jaipur : Her struggle for survival began even before she was born. Her own family members wanted to kill her in her mother's womb after her father abandoned them. Rajasthan-based Kriti Bharti had been fighting ever since -- which eventually led her to battle for those who are are let down by their families and forced to get married as children.
Born prematurely at seven months, she first fought for her own survival; then she fought her family which considered her to be a curse. And now she has been fighting for years against child marriages despite facing death and rape threats.
While Kriti's mother decided to have her as it was too risky to go for an abortion, her personal struggles were not over as she was constantly tormented by her relatives. Owing to some medical complications, she got stuck in the womb, due to which she had serious head wounds.
"This was my first struggle -- to survive in this world. Born against the will of my relatives, I had to face torture and taunts in my childhood. When my mother went out to work, I was ill-treated and mentally tortured by my relatives who said I had bad blood," Kriti told IANS.
"Some relatives went to the extent of changing their paths to avoid seeing my face (thinking she brought ill-luck)," she recounted sadly.
While such experiences scarred her psyche, it was her mother Indu and grandparents, Nemichand and Krishna Mahnot, who supported her, becoming pillars of strength.
But the social torture crossed all limits when one of her relatives gave her slow poison when she was just 10 years old. Even as she survived, the poison paralysed her body, save her head and a hand.
"I could not sit, walk, stand or even change sides while sleeping. About 90 per cent of my body became insensitive. Despite being taken to several hospitals, nothing worked," she said.
During this traumatic time, her mother took her to Reiki teacher Brahmanand Saraswati's ashram in Bhilwara where several Reiki (a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing) sessions led to some improvement.
For the second time in her life, she had to again learn to walk. At 11, she was able to crawl like a toddler. Then she learnt how to sit and walk with some support. At the age of about 12, she could again stand on her own feet and started walking.
But traumatised by her childhood memories, Kriti was disenchanted from the world, gave up everything and changed her last name to Bharti, becoming the "daughter of Bharat (India)". She learnt the Reiki art of healing while also learning Yoga practices.
After being counseled by her mother and her teacher Brahmanand Saraswati, she resumed her education and appeared for open board exams after a gap of four years and skipping six standards.
"With regular 15 to 16 hours study, I cleared my class X exams, followed by class XII and then did my graduation, post graduation and doctorate in psychology from Jai Narayan Vyas University in Jodhpur."
After her doctorate, she set out on her mission to work for the welfare of stigmatised children and women and now has a dream to make Rajasthan child marriage-free.
After freeing many girl children from child marriages, she has become the guardian and mother of such "balika vadhus" (child brides).
In 2012, she started Saarthi trust in Jodhpur and is now a rehabilitation psychologist and managing trustee of the organisation.
"With a firm pledge to eradicate child marriages in the country, I prevented dozens of child marriages. But such marriages continued and innocent children were forced to follow traditions, thus wasting their lives," she said.
Faced with the challenge of finding a solution, Kriti turned her attention to a legal remedy and discussed the situation with legal experts and came up with the idea of annulment of such illegal child marriages.
"Annulment of child marriage means the marriage which took place years ago is made legally null and void. After annulment, the boys and girls who tied the knot of child marriage years ago are freed from this bond," she explained.
A victim of child marriage, Laxmi Sargara, came to Kriti seeking help and her marriage was successfully annulled -- a first in the country, setting a precedent for future cases. This also brought national and international fame to Kriti and her organisation.
Not only did she find a place in several record books for the first annulment of a child marriage in the country, her campaign also found a place in the syllabus of class XI and XII of Central Board of Secondary Education.
Once infamous for the highest number of child marriages in the country, Kriti's campaign is slowly bringing about a change in Rajasthan, especially Jodhpur, which tops the list in the country for the most number of child marriage annulments.
Kriti's efforts have helped annul 36 child marriages so far, which took place years ago. She has also created a record of preventing thousands of child marriages, finding a place in record books like Limca Book of Records and World Records India, and Unique Book of World Records.
In 2016, her name was once again registered in World Record India, India Book of Records and Unique World Records for nullifying three child marriages in three days.
Besides working for annulment of child marriages, she also works for rehabilitation of child labourers, victims of child trafficking and child abuse. She also works for the rehabilitation of women. Till now she has rehabilitated more than 6,000 children and more than 5,500 women.
"I face many brutal attacks and threats but I continue working for the protection of girls. Being a woman, I received rape threats several times, but I stood firm," she said.
At the international level, Pixel Project ranked her seventh in the list of role models, and her organisation Saarthi was ranked 10th in the global list.
With grit and determination, she continues to pursue her life's goals.
(The weekly feature series is part of a positive-journalism project of IANS and the Frank Islam Foundation. Archana Sharma can be contacted at email@example.com)