The members have stopped eight weddings in past two years
She has faced rape threats, stone pelting and her mother and sister have been stalked because of the work she carries out in her community. Nineteen-year-old Koyel Sarkar is the head of an all-girls group in Siliguri that works for ending child marriages in her community, and they have together stopped eight child marriages in the past two years alone.
“On more than one occasion, men have stormed into my home and threatened me with rape and murder. They have warned my mother that they will harm me on my way back from school or my tuition classes. Once someone pelted stones at me, after which I decided to stop going for my tuition classes,” says Koyel, who has been intervening to stop child marriages in her village for the past seven years. The name of her village is not being disclosed for reasons of safety.
Mostly grooms or their families are behind these attacks and intimidation.
She heads the 25-member “Girl Power Group” in her village, which is a community-led initiative supported by NGO World Vision India. More than 1,500 girls across 65 villages in three blocks of Darjeeling are part of this group. The girls have the job of sensitising their peers as well as other residents on issues of child rights, trafficking and child marriage.
Her work involves making public announcements in the local market to spread awareness about child marriages, conduct street plays as well as talk to her community members to collect information about an impending child marriage. Other girls in her group also tip her off. In many cases, she then tries to meet the young girl whose marriage is being planned, and strikes a casual conversation with her to find out the time and date of the wedding. She then strategizes on how to stop it.
Once, she even dressed in festive finery to gain entry into a house, where a wedding was scheduled, in order to stop it.