In urban India, we are talking about how women in their 30s are rejecting marriage, breaking the holds of patriarchy. But, for a lot of girls in rural areas, the picture is very different and quite stark in comparison with the prevalence of child marriage.
This was what Payal Jangid’s life would have been. Growing up in Hinsla, Rajasthan, Payal’s parents too arranged her marriage when she was just 11. But, the story took a different turn as she fought back so vehemently that the groom’s family backed out. Inspired by her struggle and message, other families in her village stopped pressuring their girls into child marriage.
Payal’s inspiring tale not only had a domino effect in her village but the teen’s persistent efforts also went on to bring about true change in her corner of the world. Soon after her wedding was called off, Payal took on the role of President of her village’s bal panchayat (Children’s Parliament). She protested the social evil of child marriage and working with many women’s groups, used her agency to rally for the rights of women in the surrounding villages.
Today, the 17-year-old is the youngest Changemaker awardee of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Changemaker award is presented to young activists and innovators who bring about impactful social change across the world in accordance with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
A jubilant Payal accepted the award earlier this year in New York, along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who also won an award for strides made in India’s sanitation with the Swachh Bharat initiative.
Sumedha ji and I are so proud & moved to watch our daughter Payal receiving Changemaker Award from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation now in New York. She refused her marriage and her entire village was free from child marriages & labour. @gatesfoundation @BillGates @melindagates pic.twitter.com/zMc8KMUHf2— Kailash Satyarthi (@k_satyarthi) September 25, 2019
And praise has come pouring in from all quarters for Payal, including Nobel Laureate and child rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi, whom the teen refers to as her mentor. Kailash tweeted:
“Sumedha ji and I are so proud & moved to watch our daughter Payal receiving Changemaker Award from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation now in New York. She refused her marriage and her entire village was free from child marriages & labour.”
Payal’s efforts have resulted in her hometown Hinsla earning the moniker ‘Bal Mitra Gram’, meaning child-friendly village. Her drive has also helped children earn their right to speak up and voice their opinions, stay in school, and receive an education. She has helped create young changemakers, much like herself, who are now encouraging other children to study.
And she has several accolades to her name. In 2017, Payal received the Young Achiever Award from Reebok. Earlier, in 2013, she was chosen as a jury member of the World’s Children Prize, in recognition of her efforts to protect the rights of children.
Rajasthan ranks among the top 12 states in the country with the highest incidences of child marriage, according to a study by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).
The state’s top 10 districts fall under the top 100 districts of India with high child marriage rates. According to the National Family Health Survey 2015-16 data, around 40 percent of the women between the ages of 20 and 24 in rural Rajasthan said they got married before they were 18.
Feudal backgrounds, deeply entrenched patriarchy, poverty, and a lack of education are factors contributing to these worrying figures. But with concerted efforts, change is being achieved in recent years.
And with champions like Payal, it is not just plausible but quite possible too.