When a Damsel in Distress Dares to Dream

“The idea of perfect womanhood is perfect independence”

-Swami Vivekananda

What happens when you marry off a 16-year-old urban girl, who has never had to do so much as wash a plate, married into a rural family where she is expected to single-handedly manage the entire household? Moreover, what happens when her in-laws begin to harass her for not paying a sufficient dowry? Well, in Asha’s case, the girl emerges from the situation as a strong, independent woman who narrates her heart-wrenching story with a heart-warming smile.

Even before she had graduated from middle school, Asha was engaged to a man she had never met earlier. She was informed that she was to move into a strange village, in a strange state with a strange language, and live in the company and service of complete strangers.

“On the first night I spent in the family, they emptied my suitcase and distributed all my clothing amongst themselves. Even though my parents had paid a dowry well beyond their means, my mother in-law was not satisfied. She locked me in my room in a fit of rage and forbade anyone from talking to me. I cried all night.”

For the first two years of Asha’s married life, her husband was working in a different city. “Those were the most challenging years of my life.” She recounts spending endless days working tirelessly, without exchanging a word with another person. “Even those who offered help were sent away by my mother in law.” She recalls.

One afternoon Asha’s husband returned with devastating news – he had lost his job, the only steady source of income for the family.

The whole family was shattered. Asha realized that this was her opportunity to find a place not only in her family but her society as well.

Although it took a great deal of convincing, Asha’s husband agreed when she proposed that the couple should migrate to Delhi. Asha knew this was her only chance to alter her fate.

In Delhi, Asha found employment before her husband did.


Asha at work

Asha at work

"There is no greater achievement for me than sending my children to school"

“There is no greater achievement for me than sending my children to school”

She was now working as a Housekeeper, using the little she earned to support her family. It was eventually Asha who found her husband a job. Together they began earning enough to afford urban living. Soon they had children, for whose education Asha saved every penny she could.

Today, Asha hopes to establish her own business in tailoring. She has a come a long way from being the outcast of the family to being its greatest source of pride. What is most remarkable is that Asha has no hard feelings. “ My ambition arose from my internal rebellion. For that, I’m only grateful to my husband’s family. “


My game, my rules…and it’s a goal!

A proud Gulafsha

A proud Gulafsha – lovely photo taken by Mansi Midha

In action - lets play ball

In action – lets play ball

In a one room slum in the degenerating settlements of Bhalswa, one of the Indian national capital’s largest dumping grounds, lives a source of true inspiration. Despite living in extreme poverty (her entire family comprising seven members lives huddled together in a single small room) Gulafsha Khan, all of 19 years old, has not only secured herself a college education but is also working as a Community Youth Leader in a non-government organization (NGO) with a single-minded purpose of uplifting the lives of children who cohabit the slum with her.

And she knows just how to motivate them! She builds skill and awareness in them through sports and games sessions conducted a few times every week (using the NGOs researched curriculum of ‘Development through Sports’).  So, in each session, she organizes her little friends in a circle and briefs them, initiates a rigorous game of football or cricket right after, and ends with a debriefing of all the lessons learnt in personal hygiene, environment preservation, regular schooling etc!

In the face of extreme financial constraints, Gulafsha’s parents did the best they could to provide a semblance of education to their five children.  But when she managed to clear high school and expressed a desire to join college, her parents were very reluctant. They did not have the means to support her education, and could not justify it set against a context where marriage is the natural step for a girl her age.

But Gulafsha is no ordinary girl and she believes in carving her own path where there is none!  In order to raise money to pay for her education she began running tuition classes for younger children who needed extra help with their school work. She charged a small amount for assisting them and soon began to earn modestly enough to join college. Simultaneously she also joined the cadres of an NGO working in the area who gave her access to free courses in computer literacy and functional English. Now she could take on the world.

She continues to work relentlessly to break barriers within her community where dropping out, early child marriage and domestic violence are a norm. Often she faces challenges, having to repeatedly cajole parents to allow their children, specially girls, to participate in community sports and to stay in school, but she knows that it is only through continued effort that she can influence the community children and make their lives better. For Gulafsha, no mountain is too high to climb.