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Kanyashree Yoddha: The young women souls of Murshidabad

24 January, 2021 11:47:42
Kanyashree Yoddha: The young women souls of Murshidabad

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in his article ‘ill-effects of Child Marriage’ had highlighted how marrying off boys and girls at a young age can hamper their natural growth and health. Almost a century has passed since Vidyasagar made this statement. Yet, his words hold relevance even today as child marriage in India is rampant. However, a new brigade of mini Vidyasagars seems to have born in this era, not in East Midnapore’s Birsingha village, but in Hariharpara of Murshidabad, one of the most downtrodden districts of Bengal.

Shahina Akhtar Banu, Ashapurna Biswas, Sangeeta Biswas, Shampa Hazra, Beauty Dutta, Mallika Khatun, Mariyam Khatun; they all come from different religions, castes and creed, but have only one identity --- that of Kanyasree Yoddha.

They are the feisty girls of Bengal, who are bringing about a change in the male-female ratio, in the psyche of villagers and their take on a girl child. They are poverty stricken and malnourished, yet they have the conviction and courage to stand out in the crowd. They are known as ‘Kanyasree Yoddha’ by locals. May be in future these young girls would be called Begum Rokeya or Pritilata. But surely Hariharpara is giving shape to a feminist movement far from media glare.

Sessions of cultural activities being conducted

Most of these girls are aged between 15-22 years and are students. When religious intolerance is rocking the entire nation, this small hamlet in Bengal reflects an encouraging trend of pluralism. The list of names of this women brigade is a stark testimony to this truth. Shahina Akhtar Banu, Ashapurna Biswas, Sangeeta Biswas, Shampa Hazra, Beauty Dutta, Mallika Khatun, Mariyam Khatun; they all come from different religions, castes and creed, but have only one identity --- that of Kanyasree Yoddha. They all wear blue kameez, white salwar and white churni, their common dress code. They all have school bags on their back. Their collective image sends a message of hope.

West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee was the first among her peers to address a Public Service Day event at the United Nations headquarters. The Mamata Banerjee government's Kanyashree scheme got international acclaim and she received the UN award for this programme. She spoke in front of 500 dignitaries from across the world that graced the special event. Incidentally, two other public service schemes of the Bengal government, Sabuj Sathi and Yuvashree also received praise for their effectiveness in addressing pressing social concerns.

Social awareness programmes

West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee was the first among her peers to address a Public Service Day event at the United Nations headquarters. The Mamata Banerjee government's Kanyashree scheme got international acclaim and she received the UN award for this programme.

In line with her dreams, this brigade has successfully stopped more than two dozen child marriages. Girls like Sangeeta Biswas, Fajila Khatun, Barnali Khatun, Aparna Haldar and Ashapurna Biswas have successfully stopped their parents from marrying them off with the help of Kanyasree soldiers. They have also joined this movement. Take the example of Manira Khatun, trafficked to Mumbai. She called up her mother, who contacted an NGO called CINI. Zakirun Bibi of CINI took the initiative of bringing back Manira with the help of police. Today Manira is a Kanyasree Yoddha herself. And so is Sangita Biswas, who was about to be sold off. 

These days women in the area do not dial 100 to call the police, whenever in trouble they take help of this girl brigade. The problems they solve are varied. They get calls from girls whose families are trying to marry them off. If the area from where they get calls is far off, they take help of the Block Development Officer or BDO.

The Kanyasree Brigade is now a model for entire Murshidabad. Other than Hariharpara, Suti Block II has another brigade of 40 girls. They are also working against child marriages and trying to bring back school dropouts.

These girls teach all to fight for women’s rights, they help girls open bank accounts, get small loans from the government to start small businesses and be financially independent. The girls love sports too, breaking all gender stereotypes, they even have their own football team and take up martial arts classes

Training sessions for the girls.

The Kanyasree Brigade is now a model for entire Murshidabad. Other than Hariharpara, Suti Block II has another brigade of 40 girls. They are also working against child marriages and trying to bring back school dropouts. Had Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar been alive, he would have undoubtedly blessed these young girls. In his article he wrote: “Oh! Almighty, when will that day arrive when young girls will be rescued from such atrocious customs.” However, the movement that has started against child marriage has at least come as a blessing. May be Vidyasagar had envisaged such a day and wrote these lines in praise of the young women of the Kanyasree bridage of Hariharpara.

Story Tag:
  • Kanyashree Schemes, West Bengal Government

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