On A Road To Freedom

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Rinki comes from a conservative family where divisions of roles based on Gender are quite stark and neat. She lives in a joint family and the system is such that her brothers are allowed freedom to travel, roam around, and be more outbound, sometimes not even requiring any permission. The girls, on the other hand, are rarely given permission, to even roam around in the village. Her journey with the Pravah ICS changed it for her.

Rinki says, “I have always been trusted with responsibility, to be honest, more than my brother is. But I want to be trusted with freedom as well.” Her signing on for the ICS was a massive battle in itself. She was an in-community volunteer, which meant that unlike other volunteers she stayed in her own house (with her counterparts). The community was not new to her. The community is such that except on Sunday evenings when everyone is out for shopping, women are rarely seen in the market. The family, for the longest time, did not understand what Rinki was doing on the project. They did not like her to be out on the fields. She had to keep pushing and explaining. She says, “Ten days into the programme, I was exhausted of saying the same things again and again. I thought that spending 3 months like that would be impossible. I am glad I did not give up then. If I had, what I have today, would not have happened.” Rinki has won her freedom.

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She is looked upon as a leader by lots of young girls in the community, and is trusted not by her own family, but other elders of the community as well. She runs coaching classes for college students. “One of the girls came crying one day. A boy was harassing her for a long time whenever she came for my class. He wanted to marry her. She said she would not come for the class anymore because she felt embarrassed. I said that that was not the solution. She needed to face it and tell him off. I asked her to let her family know about it and should be shameful because it is not her fault. That evening the guy turned up again. She told her family about it and they asked her to stop going out! She called me and told me about the consequences. I spoke to her family and explained how they are disempowering them by not standing up for her. They resisted but understood. She has recently given her exams and has cleared it with flying colours. As she shared her story with other girls, three more girls have taken admission in college.”

On the ICS, Rinki worked with young girls and boys in the tribal villages, to inspire leadership in them. “I did not know how I could help them. I did not know if I knew. But speaking to them, listening to them helped me a lot, for standing up for me.” She is forever grateful to the relationship she shared with her counterparts, “We speak often with each other. I could share anything with them. I was so scared in the beginning because it seemed that things were not going well. I could not speak English and lacked confidence to go up to them but Hannah and Jess became a part of my life.” Rinki made great friend in the team, and learned a lot from them as well. She learnt how sessions are designed and facilitated. How conversations are made. How to speak publicly and address a gathering. “The conversations, undying curiosity about each other’s lives, made me think about and say things that I had no idea of! After the ICS, I had gone for an event with Synergy Sansthan, I decided to do a personal connect session with everyone on the bus, 4 hours of knowing each other deeply brought me closer to people whom I had known for 4 years! When I think about it, I feel happy that what I learnt from the ICS, I can apply.” She is also proud of the fact that she has improved in her proficiency in English.

It was an active citizenship day which she had planned with her counterparts on Gender Discrimination. As she went up to facilitate, she broke into tears, “It was hard hitting. Everything in my life seemed so wrong at that moment. Our programme coordinator took me out and I had, probably, the longest conversation about myself that day. I liked speaking about my life, my dreams, my hopes and my fears. Since then, I have spoken a lot.” This was before the mid-project review, Rinki went on to convince her parents to send her out of the village for the mid-project review which was not an easy task. “My brother told me that he would speak on my behalf, but I wanted to speak for my own self. They should listen to me as well.” And they did.

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Rinki, Hannah, and Jess facilitating a learning day on Gender

After ICS, Rinki is trying to inspire young girls to ask for their freedom. She has started it with 6 grils in her coaching classes. “I want to create a space for them where they can share about their struggles and celebrations. A space where they can trust and be trusted. I want to share my stories, and get them to share their own so that they can support more such girls. Such a space is non-existent for a young girl in our society. Such a space helped me grow and I feel so proud of myself. I want them to feel proud of their own self. This will happen only if they start making choices for themselves.”

 Recently, Rinki negotiated where, when and how her marriage would take place. “I told my parents that I was not going to say yes without having a conversation with the boy. When I met him, I told him what my dreams are and that I would like him to respect them. I told him that I intended to study and work in the social sector. He and his family has been supportive. I have invited my entire ICS batch for the wedding.”

In future, Rinki likes to work in the social sector, especially with children. This choice has been influenced by her interactions with children on the field and her realisation of skills she has to make a difference.

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