Sony Kumari, Ruby Kumari and Manorma Kumari -- all minors and Class 9 student in a sleepy Bihar village -- have been barred from study by their parents after nearly a 50-year-old private coaching teacher of the same village reportedly married his 15-year-old student.
The incident in Narayanpur village in Supaul has shaken the villagers so much that they are withdrawing their young girls from study. There are dozens of girls who have been forced to leave their studies by their parents after Chandra Prakash Mehta, a teacher in his 50s, married a minor girl.
"Our parents have told us not to go to the private coaching centre -- the lone village school is non-functional. Our study is likely to be badly affected," Sony told IANS.
Mehta, who runs a private tuition centre in the village, quietly married 15-year-old Guddi (name changed) despite being fully aware that the marriage with the minor is illegal and punishable under Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006, villagers said.
The villagers also alleged that Mehta has blood relationship with Guddi, further fueling their anger.
Mehta while admitting that he married the minor girl claimed his wife has no problem with him. "My wife is happy," Mehta told IANS.
A team of Gender Alliance, led by eminent women rights campaigner Prashanti Tiwari, have rushed to the spot to salvage the tense situation in collaboration with the police and district officials.
"We have received multiple SOS on Bandhan Tod mobile app from different numbers and by different people suggesting a highly distressed situation," said an official of Gender Alliance.
She said when contacted, the villagers wanted Tiwari herself to intervene in the situation immediately.
Tiwari, who is camping in the village, told IANS that initially the local police station was reluctant to register a criminal case, but after she and her team of Gender Alliance threatened protest, a written complaint was accepted by the police station officer in-charge, Brajesh Kumar Chouhan.
Tiwari said this is a clear case of breach of community trust, crime against young girls, exploitation and phenomenal governance gaps when it comes to protection and empowerment of adolescent girls.
"The only school in the village is completely non-functional, forcing parents to send their girls to the tuition centre owned by Mehta. Had the government school being functional, this incident could have been averted," said Tiwari.
"We have completely lost trust and want to protect our daughters. The administration has been a spectator. So we reached out to Gender Alliance", said Raju Kumar, a villager and father of one of the girls who stopped going to Mehta's coaching centre.
As per Census 2011, the Narayanpur village has a population of over 5,000 people with 48 per cent females. For a total of 977 households in the village, it has no pre-primary school and has only one government middle school.
Basant Kumar, the principal of the only government middle school, said the girl was admitted to the school in June 2014 and her date of birth as per school records is December 5, 2003. The old electoral records show the age of Mehta at 46 years, nearly matching the age of Guddi's father.
Bihar has one of the highest incidences of child marriages in the country.
Prashanti Tiwari says they are now attempting to re-instil confidence among villagers to send their daughters back to school. "We will persuade parents not to withdraw girls from study as education is the only source of empowerment".
Gender Alliance and its Bandhan Tod attained global acknowledgement last year for its work to eradicate child marriage, but was discontinued by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) after Tiwari pressed criminal charges against its India representative.
Gender Alliance was re-initiated in an event held at Patna on December 19 in the presence of national and international activists.
Gender Alliance says it has received over two dozen alerts from different states on child marriage and nearly 10 alerts on sexual abuse and violence since its launch last month.
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