Afflicted by polio, she has battled her illness with determination. Yet she has brought succor to villagers in Bihar by preventing girl child marriages. Social worker and an Art of Living faculty, Sangeeta Sinha recounts her journey.
She sits in an electronic wheel chair but that does not stop her from helping others. Through her grit and love, hundreds of young girls across Bihar, between 12-17 years, are no longer browbeaten into early marriage. Instead, they are taking control of their lives and rebuilding a sense of self-esteem.
“My objective is to raise awareness about early marriage. I want these girls to receive formal education, so that their potential is explored. It is painful to see 12-year-old girls doing household chores with babies in their arms. What is even more disturbing is their early and repeated motherhood. These girls have been through hell and I don’t want others to experience the same.”
Sangeeta has extensively worked in the three districts of Nawada, Gaya and Vaishali, in Bihar where child marriages are rampant. Her various training programs have had a profound impact on victims, parents, panchayats, and pramukhs, to the extent that over 40 child marriages were prevented in a short period. “68.9 percent of the marriages in Bihar were girl child marriages, according to a UNICEF report,” says Sangeeta. “Every third or fourth girl was being dragged into marriage. UNICEF approached Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for support. Today, over a lakh people have benefited from our shibirs,” she adds.
Meditation, satsang, counseling, pranayama, yoga and community participation exercises - all these together allow every individual to develop a sense of security and clarity. A clear mind is then ready to take responsibility,” shares Sangeeta.
From Darkness To Light
Since Sangeeta and her volunteers began work, there have been no child marriages in many villages of Bihar. Even parents and hardliners have softened their stand on orthodox customs. “Our Youth Leadership Training Program (YLTP) has tremendous potential to empower the young mind. Through YLTP, we aim at creating self-empowered individuals who will lead service projects in their villages,” affirms Sangeeta.
Voice Of The Girl Child
YLTP also puts special emphasis on training women to become youth leaders. “It’s extremely encouraging to see that girls aged 12 and 13 years have vowed not to tie the knot till they reach the right marriageable age,” exclaims Sangeeta. “Finally girls are speaking up for themselves. They have inspired the village panchayats to change their views. Today, I am flooded with calls by panchayat leaders to organize training programs across Bihar.”
Overcoming The Odds
Was the journey easy? “No doubt, it was challenging to work in the interiors. We encountered Naxals. When they saw our work, they would help us – like escorting us home in late hours. However, we had to work in difficult weather conditions and that was more challenging. Summers would be over 50 degrees, while winters would be zero and one degrees. Yet we beat the odds.”
For a Better Tomorrow
Sangeeta has also worked in childcare homes in seven districts of Bihar. Most were runaway teens who would be forced to live with convicted juveniles. “After our workshops, the fights and violence reduced,” says Sangeeta.
This dynamic social worker works round the clock. “I am never tired. At times, I unwind by listening to music. My real joy lies in spreading love and peace. I have made community service my life. It’s my dream to see Bihar free of poverty, conflict and atrocities. I have the conviction of changing this society, from a wheel chair. Till then, I won’t rest in peace,” Sangeeta smiles.