Kriti Bharti: a story of tri­umph over ad­ver­sity

Child mar­riage ac­tivist re­fuses to let rape threats de­ter her from help­ing women and chil­dren

Sunday Tribune - - WORLD - | IANS

HER STRUG­GLE for sur­vival be­gan even be­fore she was born. Her fam­ily mem­bers wanted to kill her in her mother’s womb af­ter her fa­ther aban­doned them. Ra­jasthan-based Kriti Bharti had been fight­ing ever since – which even­tu­ally led her to bat­tle for those who are let down by their fam­i­lies and forced to get mar­ried as chil­dren.

Born pre­ma­turely at seven months, she first fought for her own sur­vival; then she fought her fam­ily who con­sid­ered her to be a curse. And now she has been fight­ing for years against child mar­riages de­spite fac­ing death and rape threats.

Al­though Kriti’s mother de­cided to have her as it was too risky to go for an abor­tion, her per­sonal strug­gles were not over as she was con­stantly tor­mented by her rel­a­tives. Ow­ing to med­i­cal com­pli­ca­tions, she got stuck in the womb and had se­ri­ous head wounds.

“This was my first strug­gle – to sur­vive in this world. Born against the will of my rel­a­tives, I had to face tor­ture and taunts in my child­hood. When my mother went out to work, I was ill-treated and men­tally tor­tured by my rel­a­tives who said I had bad blood,” Kriti said.

“Some rel­a­tives went to the ex­tent of chang­ing their paths to avoid see­ing my face (think­ing she brought ill-luck),” she re­counted sadly.

While such ex­pe­ri­ences scarred her psy­che, it was her mother Indu and grand­par­ents, Nemic­hand and Kr­ishna Mah­not, who sup­ported her, be­com­ing pil­lars of strength.

But the so­cial tor­ture crossed all lim­its when one of her rel­a­tives gave her slow poi­son when she was 10 years old. Even though she sur­vived, the poi­son paral­ysed her body, save her head and a hand.

“I could not sit, walk, stand or even change sides while sleep­ing. About 90% of my body be­came in­sen­si­tive. De­spite be­ing taken to sev­eral hospi­tals, noth­ing worked,” she said.

Dur­ing this trau­matic time, her mother took her to reiki teacher Brah­manand Saraswati’s ashram in Bhilwara where sev­eral reiki (a Ja­panese tech­nique for stress re­duc­tion and re­lax­ation that also pro­motes heal­ing) ses­sions led to some improve­ment.

For the sec­ond time in her life, she had to again learn to walk. At 11, she was able to crawl like a tod­dler. Then she learnt how to sit and walk with some sup­port. At the age of about 12, she could again stand on her own feet and started walk­ing.

But trau­ma­tised by her child­hood mem­o­ries, Kriti was dis­en­chanted from the world, gave up ev­ery­thing and changed her last name to Bharti, be­com­ing the “daugh­ter of Bharat (In­dia)”. She learnt the reiki art of heal­ing as well as yoga.

Af­ter be­ing coun­selled by her mother and her teacher Brah­manand Saraswati, she re­sumed her ed­u­ca­tion and sat for open board ex­ams af­ter a gap of four years and skip­ping six grades.

“With 15 to 16 hours (of daily) study, I cleared my class X ex­ams, fol­lowed by class XII and then did my grad­u­a­tion, post grad­u­a­tion and doc­tor­ate in psy­chol­ogy from Jai Narayan Vyas Univer­sity in Jodh­pur.”

Af­ter her doc­tor­ate, she set out on her mis­sion to work for the wel­fare of stig­ma­tised chil­dren and women and now has a dream to make Ra­jasthan child mar­riage-free.

Af­ter free­ing many girls from child mar­riages, she has be­come the guardian and mother of such ba­lika vad­hus (child brides).

In 2012, she started Saarthi trust in Jodh­pur and is now a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion psy­chol­o­gist and manag­ing trustee of the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

“With a firm pledge to erad­i­cate child mar­riages in the coun­try, I pre­vented dozens of child mar­riages. But such mar­riages con­tin­ued and in­no­cent chil­dren were forced to fol­low tra­di­tions, thus wast­ing their lives,” she said.

Faced with the chal­lenge of find­ing a so­lu­tion, Kriti turned her at­ten­tion to a le­gal rem­edy and dis­cussed the sit­u­a­tion with le­gal ex­perts and came up with the idea of an­nul­ment of il­le­gal child mar­riages.

“An­nul­ment of child mar­riage means the mar­riage which took place years ago is made le­gally null and void. Af­ter an­nul­ment, the boys and girls who tied the knot years ago are freed from this bond,” she ex­plained.

A vic­tim of child mar­riage, Laxmi Sar­gara came to Kriti seek­ing help and her mar­riage was suc­cess­fully an­nulled – a first in the coun­try, set­ting a prece­dent for fu­ture cases. This also brought na­tional and in­ter­na­tional fame to Kriti and her or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Not only did she find a place in the record books for the first an­nul­ment of a child mar­riage in the coun­try, her cam­paign also found a place in the syl­labus of the Cen­tral Board of Se­condary Ed­u­ca­tion.

Once in­fa­mous for the high­est num­ber of child mar­riages in the coun­try, Kriti’s cam­paign is slowly bring­ing about a change in Ra­jasthan, es­pe­cially Jodh­pur, which tops the list in the coun­try for the most num­ber of child mar­riage an­nul­ments.

Kriti’s ef­forts have helped get 36 child mar­riages an­nulled so far. She has also pre­vented thou­sands of child mar­riages, find­ing a place in record books like the Limca Book of Records and World Records In­dia, and Unique Book of World Records.

In 2016, her name was once again reg­is­tered in World Record In­dia, In­dia Book of Records and Unique World Records for nul­li­fy­ing three child mar­riages in three days.

Be­sides work­ing for the an­nul­ment of child mar­riages, she also cam­paigns for the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of child labour­ers, vic­tims of child traf­fick­ing and child abuse. She also works for the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of women. Thanks to her, more than 6 000 chil­dren and more than 5 500 women have been re­ha­bil­i­tated.

“I face many bru­tal at­tacks and threats but I con­tinue work­ing for the pro­tec­tion of girls. Be­ing a woman, I re­ceived rape threats sev­eral times, but I stood firm,” she said.

At the in­ter­na­tional level, Pixel Project ranked her sev­enth in the list of role mod­els, and her or­gan­i­sa­tion, Saarthi, was ranked 10th in the global list.

With grit and de­ter­mi­na­tion, she con­tin­ues to pur­sue her life’s goals.

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