The Story of Lalitha
Promised to be married at a young age, Lalitha instead wholeheartedly pursued her education. Her determination and commitment to her studies have inspired her friends and broken new ground for other girls in her community.
19 May, 2015
Lalitha comes from a very poor family. A brilliant and smart girl, she dreams of uplifting her society, liberating the girls from age-old customs and practices that have kept them like bonded labourers in their own houses. One such practice is child marriage, where a girl is given to a much older man in the family.
“When girls become learned, it is difficult to find a suitable bridegroom as most men become agricultural labourers at a very early age. This is the fear that haunts our parents,” says Lalitha.
Lalitha was pressured to marry her uncle when she was just 18 years old, but her grandmother Papyamma firmly stood her ground to protect her, an uncommon response in her community.
Lalitha’s father, Sanyasa Rao, worked as a porter in railway station and would spend the majority of the family income on alcohol. Lalitha’s mother had no paid employment.
“We were unsure of where the next meal was coming from. If not for Compassion, we would have starved. Compassion even took care of my school and college fees. If not, I would have spent the rest of my life in the kitchen and agricultural fields, like almost all the girls in my village,” says Lalitha.
“I spent days in tears at the feet of God, fasting and pleading, to give me a clear vision in life. His grace was sufficient for me. If not for God, I would have perished long ago,” says Lalitha.
She struggled when her family pressured her to quit her education and marry her uncle.
With her grandmother’s support and Compassion’s help, Lalitha continued her education and is now a pharmacy student at one of the top colleges in the state. She has inspired her friends, who have decided to follow in her footsteps.
“There is a hospital in my community. I want to work there. I have received a lot and I want to give back everything I can,” says Lalitha.
“My friends are a great treasure. I have one or two good dresses to wear. They give me their best clothes and let me be pretty. Compassion has taught us great values in life; we share what we have,” says Lalitha.
“Ravi and Sunitha, Compassion centre staff, are like my father and mother,” says Lalitha.
When the community gathered to convince Lalitha to marry her uncle, Ravi stood beside her and campaigned for her future. He endured hardship, as he was looked down upon for breaching the values of their community, to ensure that Lalitha was not a victim of tradition and custom.
“I couldn’t stop myself, I felt responsible for her. The thought kept me going despite all the bad names I was given in the community,” says Ravi.
Lalitha has embarked on a life-long journey of education, despite the long-held practice of child marriage that has kept women in her society restrained. Her actions have been ground-breaking; she was the first young woman who stood up to talk about her rights.
This content was correct at the time of publishing. Compassion closed its programs in India on 15 March 2017 and no longer works in that nation.
Words by Fenn Moses E and Monique Wallace Photos by Fenn Moses E