Joining forces for the greater good

“I no longer feel the void of not having a family to support me. People in my community now look up to me and discuss their problems with me, hoping I could help them. Having the ability and knowledge to help them make me really happy. Yes, not having my parents by my side was hard in the beginning but some things can’t be changed and I have accepted that in my life.”—Varsha 


In India, alcohol consumption is one of the top ten risk factors and attributable to instances of domestic abuse. The world has entered into a new millennium, but from the dawn of civilization to date, the woman of the patriarchal society of India continues to be oppressed and ill-treated. She is dependent, weak, exploited and faces gender discrimination in every sphere of life. Nearly 1 in 4 women have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime. 


Varsha is a 14-year-old from Nagepur, Rajatalab from the district of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, India. Her enthusiasm and creativity always reflect an aura filled with energy. Her dance moves are the finest, but apart from that, she is also good at painting and outdoor games of which football is her favorite. She was one of those people whose bright smile can brighten up your day. But the most beautiful kind of smile struggles through tears and the same was the case for Varsha. 


Varsha belongs to a community where misogyny, alcoholism, gambling, and various other social issues are part of their everyday life. Her father is a daily wage laborer on construction sites while her mother took care of the household. Every night her father would come home drunk and hit her mother. 


As a 10-year-old it was very hard for me to understand what my mother was going through. So I and my brother would hide in the corner of the room and wait for it to get over in terror,” shared Varsha. 


Approximately 5 million children are exposed to domestic violence every year. Nationally, 50% of batterers who abuse their intimate partners also abuse their children. 


Varsha’s childhood started becoming gloomy as she was growing up to understand her father’s abusive behaviour but it was one terrible night that shattered her childhood leaving her and her brother orphans. 


“I remember my parents fighting over dinner and me consoling my brother who was in tears. After that my mother put me to sleep and it was in the middle of the night that I woke up to see her burning. I regret being young and not doing anything for my mother.” 


That one tragic night changed this 10-year-olds life, drastically. Her father was arrested and she was put into a residential hostel. With time, her wounds started healing and she started enjoying her days in the hostel with her friends.  


Varsha’s inherent positivity kept her going and she was selected as a Girl Icon at the age of 12. “I was very excited as it was the first milestone that I successfully qualified that was not a school academic exam and that made me very happy and proud at the same time.” 


It was in the month of November 2018 that Varsha went to attend her first residential leadership training after becoming a Girl Icon in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. It was for the first time that she was travelling alone and staying away from her hostel. It was then she discovered her potential in a true sense and found the leader in herself. She learned life skills like interpersonal skills, which enabled her to voice her opinion in public without any fear.  The training gave her knowledge of socially constructed gender roles, a child’s right to free education, the importance of goal setting in life and the many social ills that exist in our society which are unspoken barriers in a girl’s path towards success. 


When she came back to her village after the training, she was a much more aware person. She was no more the naïve girl that she once was, she was now confident in her own skin. Varsha now had to form her peer group of twenty girls and take the initiative of teaching these girls from her community about the issues she learned in the training. She showed remarkable determination in forming this group and leading discussion on issues that were barriers to the progress of girls and women in her community. 


It was this experience that led her to decide she wanted to be a social worker in the future. She dreamt about changing the misogyny which is taking a toll on the life of young girls, like her. She started holding meetings with her peer group members discussing issues like menstruation, domestic violence, gender-discrimination which are never openly discussed in communities like Varsha’s. 


“I can clearly see my personality changing after joining the Girl Icon Program. I was too shy to speak in public but now I can confidently voice my opinion. I didn’t have a goal in life because girls like me are taught from a young age that our ultimate goal in life is to get married and start a family, nobody gives us any guidance to build our careers. Milaan has taught me the importance of having goals in life and now I know what I want to be and how to reach there.”


Varsha’s peer group meetings were so impactful that women from the community also started attending them because of the new things that they were learning; which they didn’t have the opportunity to learn when they were young. From here on, young Varsha’s dream of becoming a social worker came to life. 


“I want to end alcoholism and gambling in my community and I am working on it each day at a time to help the women and the girls realize their worth through my meetings. I could take ownership of my life because of Milaan and I am truly grateful for that. I was always looking for identity amidst the crowd and Milaan has given me this identity of a Girl Icon which I am proud of.”—Varsha


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