Eliminating Child Marriages

“I have gifted children the option to come out from the ‘black room’ and remove the ‘handcuffs’ of child marriages. For this we are in the World Records of India and have been awarded the titles of ‘Fastest Legally Annulled Child Marriages’ and ‘First Ever Child Marriage Annulment’ in India,” says Kriti Bharti, Founder and Managing Trustee of Saarthi Trust.

Kriti Bharti is a Rehabilitation Psychologist and Social Activist. For the past seven years, she has been busy rescuing young and adolescent brides and grooms, many from brutal circumstances. She has annulled more than 40 child marriages and stopped over 1300 unions involving minor boys and girls. The highest occurrences of child marriage continue to be from Rajasthan, Bihar, and Jharkhand. 

“The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, passed in the Imperial Legislative Council of India, fixed the age of marriage for girls at 14 and boys at 18, which was later amended to 18 and 21 respectively. Still, 91 years later this practice is continuing. My work also involves receiving threats to my life when I rescue child brides. The parents and their families who want these marriages, threaten to rape me, break my limbs, or harm my family,” she says.

Kriti Bharti annulled the first child marriage of India in 2012. The first-ever Child Marriage Annulment in India was that of Lakshmi Sargara who got married when she was one year old. “In 2011 upon seeing my interview on TV, Lakshmi’s brother approached me for help to stop her ‘gauna’ (ritual of sending the girl to her in-laws’ house forever). Lakshmi, 17, did not want to go to her in-laws. At that moment I thought if I stopped the ‘gauna’ this time, her in-laws would come back again for her after some months. So, I wanted a permanent solution for this,” she reveals. 

“Lakshmi became my first case of Child Marriage Annulment (CMA). While trying to get her out of this marriage, I discovered the Annulment in the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006. It had never been implemented. Nobody, including magistrates and consultants, were aware of how to take it further. At that moment I did what a person does to light up a black room. I too started switching on many ‘lights’. And, it all began when I annulled the first child marriage of India,” she adds satisfactorily. 

Two years later Lakshmi got married again to a man closer her age, and someone of her liking.

Perhaps, what has made Kriti tough are the circumstances of her traumatic childhood. “I gave up my father’s surname, Chopra, and adopted ‘Bharti’, indicating I am a daughter of Bharat /India. This was because my father abandoned my pregnant mother – and me before my birth. My relatives wanted my mother to abort me as I was a girl. But God wanted me to take birth on this earth. As a child, I constantly faced verbal and physical abuse from my mother’s family. Some words I recall were – ‘dirty blood’ and abuses related to my father. My mother worked, so I was deprived of her constant protection, but she never opposed her family as we were dependent upon them. It made me an introvert. At 10, when I was in 4th standard I became sick. I am sure I was slowly being poisoned. I was in acute pain and soon became completely bed-ridden. My mother took me to many hospitals and tried every line of treatment to no avail. In 1998 I met my Gurudev, Shri Brahmanand Paramhans in Bhilwara. He cured me by Reiki. People can’t remember their first crawl or first walk. But I remember learning to crawl, sit, and walk again when I was 12 years old. It took another two and a half years for me to gain my health again.”

“After a lifetime of abuse and exploitation, I took ‘sanyas’ and went with my Gurudev. My relatives taunted my mother, and she brought me back. I started studying again at 14-1/2 years, taking a jump from the 4th standard, which I had left because of my illness, to 10th standard because of my age. With the knowledge of a 4th standard student, I studied diligently and passed my Boards. The same year I competed in the district level English debate and stood first! Next, I graduated in psychology and am now pursuing my Ph.D. in Psychology. Additionally, I have completed Diploma courses in Counseling and Rehabilitation,” informs Kriti. 

“While studying psychology and counseling child brides, I felt connected with their pain as I had experienced a distressing childhood. Child marriage is not being dealt with strongly by the government. And NGOs are not working operationally to stop these as it involves physical risks for the volunteers. Challenges continue as even the literate support child marriages today,” she regrets.

According to Kriti, “The Government of India is not focused on the curative approach of CMA. Their budget is fixed for the prevention approach. While prevention is important, the curative approach is also important to wipe out any issue completely. When we approach government projects even for the preventive approach, we find the politicians become the barriers when I fight for justice for any girl.” 

“I don’t consider my work as a ‘sacrifice’ because I am not showering mercy on my children. I work 18 hours a day with no break because I have to do two positive things each day. First, as they call me Didi, it’s my responsibility as a sister to protect them from further abuse and exploitation. Secondly, I have to earn enough to rehabilitate them. In a month perhaps there are four-five days when I get a chance to have two meals. Rest of the time my hectic schedule only permits a single meal a day. But surety of threats is there – instead of breakfast, lunch or dinner. My life is like that….” she declares.

Finances are tight as Saarthi provides many rescued children shelter, education and rehabilitation, and helps them join the workforce and become independent and self-sufficient. The Trust also pays for legal proceedings of annulment. Kriti’s approach to corporates, organizations, and individuals has generated limited financial assistance. But unfortunately, support from within Rajasthan is negligible, as many people are still in favour of this age-old ritual of child marriage. 

“Despite having received recognition and awards for my work from numerous important people and institutions, I am often told by so-called benefactors that they would pay for me to run orphanages and educational institutions – but they avoid answering when I ask for financial support for eradicating child marriages. Most of my revenue comes through my earnings as a motivational speaker and the psychology sessions I hold. While word about my work is spreading far and wide day-by-day, my concerns for the future of our mission remain,” expresses the multi-award winner.

Kriti’s stressbuster is her love for dance. “I am a born dancer. Dance is not just an inherent skill, as along with the music it has provided healing from my emotional and physical pain during my dark days since childhood. It also provides a vision to see life beyond negativity. Whenever I get too stressed and feel burnt out, dance and music wipe out everything undesirable, and strengthens me to fight against abuse and exploitation,” the activist reveals.

Finally, what about marriage for herself? “At present, I don’t think it’s the correct time to marry. I have to cross some more milestones before that. I will marry at the perfect time with the perfect person,” assures the lady, smilingly. 

Dr. Kriti Bharti receiving the Channel News18 Marwar Alankaran
Dr. Kriti Bharti receiving the Channel News18 Marwar Alankaran award from Mrs. Vasundhra Raje erstwhile Chief Minister of Rajasthan.
 Kriti Didi with some of the girls she rescued from child marriages
Kriti Didi with some of the girls she rescued from child marriages
Amita Sarwal
Amita Sarwal

After an erratic 10-year practice as a homeopathic doctor, Amita took to writing in 1973.  Her 45+ year career encompasses contributions to a very extensive gamut of magazines and newspapers- in India and abroad-on lifestyle, travel, architecture, personalities, book, and restaurant reviews, etc.  
During her 21 years based in Singapore, she was an Editor with the renowned publisher Editions Didier Millet and completed six pictorial encyclopedias on Indonesia and Malaysia among other coffee table books.  Her personal passion was writing ‘The spirit of SKV’- Chronicle of a Girls’ School to mark the Golden Jubliee (2006) of her alma mater Scindia Kanya Vidyalaya, Gwalior.
Now Amita has an increasingly strong focus on featuring Changemakers/Unsung heroes of India who are helping make a difference to society-“because the world needs to know about their exemplary work.”  Yoga, social work to help the underprivileged, reading and collecting forms of Lord Ganesh also keep her busy.

Read more by Amita Sarwal


Share


Photo credit: Saathi Trust, Jodhpur

14 thoughts on “Eliminating Child Marriages”

  1. Such inspiring work being done by Kriti. You are an inspiration for many. Thank you Amita for sharing this article. It’s sad to see that such traditions are still in practice. May such traditions be eradicated from the society and the society be progressive.

  2. Such a commendable work by Kriti.. kudos…

    Congratulations Amita ji to you too for sharing this article.

  3. What a difference this brave lady is making to the lives
    Of these young lives. Life changing contribution. There has to be more ways to support Kriti in her gutsy mission.

  4. Such an amazing story of grit and good intentions, and of course of Immense perseverance. More power to Kriti and thanks Amita for sharing this story 🙏

  5. Excellent and inspiring work being done by Kriti. Her frustration re: lack of funding will be shared by many other NGOs. I think CSR route works well for institutions that are able to showcase their work with focus on transparency and accountability. Mumbai marathon has become a huge platform for fund raising by many NGOs.

  6. Wonder woman Kirti..what an inspiration for all of us ! So sad to know that such primitive practices still exist but so happy to know angels like Kirti are there doing sucha selfless job & giving a totally new life to these young lives.Amita you have brought out the best of Kirti & her work & thank you for sharing & enlightening all of us🙏

  7. Inspiring , brave , selfless and tenacious ! Truly a Wonder Woman !
    Thank you so much for sharing Amita.

  8. Fantastic work by Dr Kirti Bharti!
    She’s very brave and inspiring. God bless her!
    May her tribe increase 🙏
    Thanks for sharing Amita.

  9. Fantastic work by you, Amita for bringing these amazing people behind curtains into the foreground to inspire & motivate us to do our share in our community.
    Dr. Kriti has shown the great tenacity of the human spirit to overcome bleak & painful circumstances to emerge into an inspiring, empathetic, altruistic human light in the lives of these children! I hope to meet these inspiring people on my future visits to India. My prayers & sincere best wishes to this remarkable lady of dignity!

  10. I am proud of Kriti and her commitment to the fight against child marriage.
    Fortunately, she is my student who had participated three workshops on capacity building on elimination of child Labour .
    Kriti has become Role model for the activists in the field of child Marriage . I wish her great future.
    Dr. Mahaveer Jain
    Process Facilitator

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.