Rekha’s* parents were casual labourers, so work was hard to come by and they had no reliable income. Left to their own devices, Rekha would have no education, but they were able to send her to stay with some of her relatives in the city where she completed seventh grade in school (Yr 7). Even this was not enough to prevent her from being exploited and abused.
Sadly many Indian families still see daughters as a burden, and this was the case for Rekha. She was dedicated as a Jogini before she reached her teens. Joginis are dedicated to a goddess to serve the temple, but once they reach puberty they are expected to give sexual favours to any man who approaches them. To cover this up – Jogini dedications are illegal – Rekha was nominally married, although still only a child, to her cousin on her mother’s side of the family.
Rekha went to live with her ‘husband’ and his family. She was treated not as a daughter-in-law but as a maidservant who was also expected to have sexual relations with their son. It was a miserable existence.
Plagued by nightmares, Rekha was sent back to her own family. Instead of welcoming her back, they were extremely annoyed that she had returned. The family believed they were cursed as they were encumbered with what they saw as only a burden!
Treated like a street dog
Two months later, Rekha was sent back to her ‘husband’ and his family, even though she had been ill-treated there. Rekha was resigned to her fate. After all, she had been conditioned to think that she was destined to live in a state worse than street dogs.
After a few years, life became even more unbearable for Rekha when her ‘husband’ married another woman. Now more than ever her life had no value whatsoever. It was some years later that our Indian colleagues came across Rekha and began working with her. She embarked on one of our tailoring skills training courses, which enabled her to start a small clothing repair business in her village.
Things turned around more than she could have imagined. Not only did Rekha benefit from the help that we have been able to offer her, but miraculously her parents have decided to stand with her and help her to have a new life. Now Rekha is able to live with dignity as she has learnt new skills through our programmes. The work she is now doing has also given her standing in the village.
* name changed and representative image used to protect identity