I have known Sarita (name changed) for almost ten years.

She is a self-employed woman. When I met her, she had reached a plateau in her professional growth. She had tried all she could think of to expand professionally but she had run against one brick wall after another. Someone introduced her to me and we drew up a program which would help her get to the next level.

Her story intrigued me initially. As I learned more about her, I was impressed and awed. But under that awe was a thread of outraged sadness. She really didn’t need to go through such terrible hardships.

Sarita is the only girl amongst five children in a strongly patriarchal family. Consequently, although she had an insatiable hunger for learning, she was discouraged from going to school. Her mother had to fight to let her complete her matriculation. It was decided that she would be married off as soon as possible. At the age of seventeen, when she was considered sufficiently trained in household responsibilities, she was married off.

Learning is an ornament in prosperity, a refuge in adversity, and a provision in old age.

~ Aristotle

There was no question of taking her opinion or letting her have a say in the matters of her own life. Her family decided what was best for her and that was that. She had been raised to be a wife and mother and not have an opinion; or to quash it down when she did. She was launched into this career summarily.

No one asked her what she wanted to do with her life. No one had any idea of the canvases she had lovingly painted behind her eyelids. The thought of her daring to have dreams beyond her family’s will was akin to the most terrible blasphemy. Yes, we are talking of twenty-first century, educated, middle-class URBAN India.

She knew nothing of the world. She had been raised in a cloistered and sequestered space. Her girlish friendships were discouraged and forbidden lest they spoil her.

She did not rebel or protest. Not only would it have been inconceivable for her to do so but also because she was too kind-hearted to bear hurting anyone by thwarting their wishes by word, intention or action. For her, honoring people’s wishes was paramount. She had experienced the pain of dashed expectations so frequently that she hadn’t the heart to give the same pain to another. This tender gentleness remains intact to this day.

Her trust in them was complete. She was certain they knew her better than she knew herself and would take only the best decisions for her. For years, painful, terrible years, she believed that.

Her love of learning, kept in abeyance for a while, raised its head again. A year after her marriage, after a great deal of pleading and entreaty, she was reluctantly permitted to appear privately for her high school certification. When she told me that she has NO recollection of the examination center in which she wrote her exams, I knew of the pressure she was put under. Despite all that, she became a high-school graduate!

If you would hit the mark, you must aim a little above it: Every arrow that flies feels the pull of the earth.

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The career she was raised for, the one she was told was her sole raison d’etre, came undone in her hands. Her in-laws turned out to be brutal, cruel and mean. Her husband was a spineless good-for-nothing whose only solution to her pain was to inflict more physical and emotional violence on her. Her new family robbed her of everything; confidence, dignity- and her jewelery.

She had zero support from her own family. Leaving her abusive in-laws and marriage was not even an option. Only if her husband could be persuaded to leave home with her would they permit her to leave her in-law’s house. That way their izzat in society could be preserved. She pleaded with her husband but he would not agree to leave his family. He did not earn anything and was completely dependent on his parents. She endured the unendurable for over four years.

Things progressively became so bad that her in-laws themselves kicked their son and his family out. She was compelled to return to Jabalpur with her husband and two year old daughter with no money and no support from anyone. She was married to death to a no-account, foul-mouthed, physically and mentally abusive man who had never moved a finger in his life- and intended never to.

Brokenness is often the road to Breakthrough. Be encouraged.

~Tony Evans

While her husband took it easy and threatened to leave her every other day, she went through a harrowing time financially. By this time she was also expecting her second child. She had no skills as a bread- winner but she had to feed herself, her husband and her child.

She sold off the last two pieces of jewelery. With these limited resources, she enrolled for a beautician’s course. She began practicing as a beautician by year’s end. Her gentle manner and soothing hands augmented her efficacy.The birth of her son obliged her to curtail her efforts at establishing herself in this field. This proved to be a blessing in disguise, as all apparent setbacks ultimately prove themselves to be.

In the next two years, while she took care of her children and catered to loyal clients at home, she heard about acupressure. Her passion for learning fueled her research and she dug deeper. It is a miracle that she found out as much as she did, for she had many difficulties to contend with, each more potent than the last.

It wasn’t a Internet/ Google empowered time. Jabalpur is a VERY small town; fifteen years ago it was smaller still. Innovation and new ideas are abhorred by the populace as an abomination. To top it all, the mind set of those who are blessed with a bit of knowledge is to keep it as close to their chest as they possibly can. This last hasn’t changed in the past four decades; but that’s another story.

She desperately needed a Breakthrough but her limitations would not let one come through to her. Her passion and will must have knocked a few holes in the solid wall that surrounded her on all sides. She wasn’t the kind to be defeated when hit by a wall; she learned to crush them under her determination.

Unexpectedly- and for no reason at all- she came across lots of information about acupuncture. That’s when she knew that she had found her North Star. She had found her calling at last. Then began a journey from which there was no looking back.

If you do not see light at the end of the tunnel, consider it an opportunity to create an opening yourself, wherever you want.

~ Ashok Kallarakkal

For the past nearly fifteen years, she has been practicing as an acupuncturist. She has cured hopeless paralytics completely. She has given the gift of robust health to people on the verge of renal failure. Her expertise in second only to her dedication; her dedication is second only to her passion to bring the joy of perfect health to her clients.

Her challenges were disheartening and debilitating. They would have wiped out anyone with less tenacity. Her struggles have been many and varied. They are not yet over and in a way they never will be. They were aggravated by her lack of options. Had she received an education, she would have been empowered to deal better with her life’s challenges. She might also have been exposed enough to the world to take better decisions for her marital life.

She had to learn everything from scratch. How to open and operate a bank account, how to talk to strangers. Even today it is very difficult for her to talk to men but she doesn’t let it stop her. She doesn’t let her own fears stop her from doing what needs to be done.

She created her own Breakthrough and is now FREE!!

(This post is written in support of Breakthrough’s #Selfies4School Campaign to End Early Marriage. This post is dedicated to Uma, the Supergirl that lives in Sarita’s heart, and always will. )

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20 thoughts on “Breakthrough”

  1. The girls’ struggles leave me speechless. The first part is not something unheard of, quite common and heard repeatedly over several generations. However, the ‘Breakthrough’ is stupendous and inspiring. I often wonder, why are we called the ‘weaker gender’ when human history is overflowing with victorious anecdotes of steel-willed women. Cannot go away from your page without reading at least one or two more posts 🙂

    1. Anita, I can’t tell you how thoroughly I agree with you when you say that women are the stronger gender. In a way, that is the reason why I think that the whole feminist movement sometimes misses the point. If women would just recognize their own power, they wouldn’t need to engage in so much conflict. At least, that’s what I’ve seen in my own life.

      Thank you for your wonderful compliment. I am thrilled and grateful! 😀

  2. What an inspiration! While her breakthrough is definitely very inspiring on many levels, what touched me most deeply about Sarita’s story is her “tender gentleness” as you put it. This is her true character, I feel, and perhaps the deeper source of her strength and determination to go on despite all the extreme hardships and struggles. Hats off to her! And so many others like her (because there are many Sarita’s all over India and rest of the world, I feel) who somehow are able to keep their innate humanity and compassion despite all that the world has thrown at them. Thanks Dagny for sharing about her.

    1. Once again you’ve managed to amaze me with the clarity and depth of your perception. You have guessed the source of her power. Her compassion and sympathy are endless. She is intuitive to the pain and suffering of others. I have seen her in tears because she can’t bear the pain of her patient. For a heart as fluid as hers, it is very difficult to think of retribution. She has never ever wished anyone ill. A year ago her cruel MIL suffered a stroke. She goes over every three months to take care of her for a week or ten days. She actually feels sorry for her MIL for the suffering she has to go through.
      She truly is amazing.

  3. Her fate is so common in these lands, it should read like an inviolable theorem, till we come the denouement. Perhaps I cannot even begin imagining her pain through those years. I bow to her grit and determination to make an altar out of the dung festering about her, and therein lies her nobility.

    1. As you so eloquently put it Umashankar, for her to make an altar of the muck around her; to use the lumber of her life in making a temple instead of a tavern, she is surely to be admired. I have seen her struggles for ten years and I wonder sometimes why she is being tested to this extent. But He has His own reasons I guess.
      So happy to see you here… 😀

  4. Ugh! What unnecessary torture she had to go through! Imagine what heights she could have achieved if she had received even a small bit of support early on!

    1. Exactly Roshni. My thrifty soul cringes at the thought of such terrible waste of potential and ability. It’s like using a cannon to kill a mosquito! Criminal!

  5. Its in stories like this wherein lies the embodiment of grit and determination. We, urban women, with educated parents who have provided a lot of us with education and the necessary skills to pursue a career / ability to be self-reliant actually haven’t even come close to the grit these women from rural / economically deprived families show. The story of Sarita is truly inspiring !

    1. Asha, To tell you the truth, ever since I’ve met her, I am so grateful for all that I have been given. Things I took for granted- education and the freedom to choose my own path in life- I am grateful afresh. Sarita continues to be dominated by her family. I met her day before yesterday and she told me another upsetting story of how her brothers are now trying to clip her wings. It is truly terrible.

  6. Just to read her tale makes me so terribly sad. Why do even the basic rights seem so distant for so many? It makes me angry when I see girls married off like cattle without giving them any education to cope. It is a recipe for future abuse. God bless her! Her story seems familiar. Have you written about her earlier?

    1. Yes Rachna, I had written about this lady earlier. How sweet of you to remember it! 🙂

      The days when girls got married off like cattle are not past us yet. It is still happening. Women are forbidden to have a say in the decisions that affect their own lives. It is truly intolerable!

  7. I would love to get in touch with this wonderful brave girl. Kudos to you for shining a light on her achievements. anything I can do, anyone I can talk to I would only be too glad to help. I do believe in the power of “lean in”. I have seen many cases like these even in mu upper-middleclass educated set. its a mindset which needs to change and her brothers need a “talking to”!

    1. Thank you Tanuja. I will certainly convey your solidarity to her. She would be more than happy to know that she has your support.

      As for her brothers, I wish someone would knock some sense into them.

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