WHEN Fatima was returning home from the Union Council Chairman's office, she had no idea that the disappointing evening was about to get worse. She had gone to the Chairman's office with her mother and younger brother; because they had heard saris were being distributed. They found, instead, a large queue of angry women and children but no saris.
On their way home, Fatima heard a scuffle in the bush and thought it was a ghost. If only she had been so lucky. In the dark, she could make out the silhouette of two men, one with a hammer in his hand. The men attacked, pushing her mother to the ground. Fatima saw to her horror, the dacoits were none other than her uncles, her mother's younger brothers. While her brother begged them to stop, Fatima ran for help. She ran straight to the police station and returned with the police to her mother's rescue.
Her mother had suffered major injuries to her head and knees and remained in the hospital for two weeks. During this time, Fatima was afraid to return home, a small hut where she lived with her maternal uncles, her mother's would-be assassins.
Fatima's mother had left her husband some two years earlier when he remarried. They had moved in with Fatima's maternal grandparents, uncles and uncles' families. Though her mother earned a meagre income as a seamstress and contributed to the household expenditures, they begrudged her, as the hut was small and all of them had to live in very cramped conditions.
After the attack, Fatima began doing odd chores for neighbours, to pay for the medical bills. She stayed with a friend's family. She tried to press charges, but her uncles bribed the police. Neighbours were shocked but could do very little to help. When her mother was finally well enough to return home, they went back to their corner of the hut, and pretended nothing had happened.
Now, 5 years later, Fatima still lives with her uncles. Their position has deteriorated, as her grandmother has died. Fatima has scored an A+ in her studies (grade 9), despite the challenges in her life. She desperately wants to complete her SSC, but she is afraid that if anything happens to her mother, no one will pay for her schooling and in fact, she will have nowhere to stay.
Fatima is bright, brave and beautiful, but most likely she will be married off soon and left to live the rest of her life cloistered within a single room. With over 4 million extremely poor adolescent girls like Fatima in our country, I shiver when I think of what enormous heartbreak and suffering we cause them. If we could empower Fatima and all the others like her, so that they could all bloom, what a mighty garden we might have in this country of ours!
This is a true story, but the names have been anonymised.
The writer is Advocacy Advisor at shiree. firstname.lastname@example.org