My Leadership Journey - Sabita

Sabita is a Core Team Member
of YRC Swapno
Youth Fellow 2012-13
I live in the Namkhana island of the Sundarbans. Here most of the people are farmers or fishermen, and this society does not value women though they work as hard as the men.

Through my childhood my mother was overworked and never had time for me. I felt ignored. My father would beat her very badly and make her cry. At one time my mother was upset and she left me. I felt very angry and thought that perhaps my mother did not love me.

I withdrew from everything and everyone. My elder brother was also never willing to let me or my sister go out anywhere.

At this time, my 15-year-old elder sister was married off. But she was unhappy. Her husband and in-laws were violent with her and she silently bore it. This made me cry and think that no one stays happy after getting married. So I decided to study a lot, grow up to be a respected person, and never to get married. When I was about to appear for my Madhyamik, my parents decided to get me married. I tried to hide but the boy’s family approved the match based on a photograph. My sister’s marriage had already broken up and using her example I convinced my parents that I did not want to marry now.

Sometime after this, I heard about a youth group called Swapno. I learned that the group members were trained by Thoughtshop Foundation (TF) in Kolkata. I informed my family that I wanted to go to Kolkata. At that time no one objected and so I went and really enjoyed myself.

I joined Swapno and became an active member. One day I found the group sharing stories about their mothers. I gathered the courage to share my innermost feelings - my resentment and conflicts with my mother. I was also able to recall good memories with her. Within the group I found a space to share my sorrows and joys and look at things from a new perspective.

Then one day my brother announced that he did not want me to go to TF or visit the group anymore, I had a huge fight with him and my parents. He beat me up and locked me up for the night. The next morning my mother unlocked me and I asked my brother directly, "What is your objection?" He said, "You’re a girl, and there is no need for you to go out of home". I said, "I will take responsibility for whatever happens to me." I did not stop attending group meetings, nor my visits to TF.

At the TF trainings I first learned about gender discrimination and violence against women. All the sessions indicated that it was possible to come out of any problem through dialogue, acknowledging the perspectives of all the parties involved. This made me think about the way my brother and I had been behaving towards each other. I realized that my brother too was a part of the society in which we had grown up. He had also always known that women are not supposed to go out of home, or to have independent opinions. After this realization, I stopped quarrelling with him, ensuring at the same time that I expressed my opinion assertively.

Now I am in college and I manage the group. When I was first building this group, many parents were reluctant to allow their children to come for group meetings. But then my friend and I made several home-visits. We organized a community event on gender equality; had a discussion with local people showing them some pictures. Because of this many people started encouraging us and many young people joined. We hold regular meetings and talk on a diverse range of subjects through fun and games. Like me, many more members are getting the inspiration to fix a life-goal for themselves from this group. Others are being able to see a way to come out of their problems. Together we have stopped another young girl’s early marriage and inspired yet another girl to rejoin school.

My dream is that we girls all become self-reliant, and our group will continue to work to ensure that not a single girl of our neighbourhood gets married too early in life. We want a future where our village starts believing in the equality of men and women.