18-year-old Ruby’s voice breaks into a wry smile when she thinks about her life before Magic Bus. Ruby is Magic Bus’ community youth leader from Bhalaswa. Bhalaswa is a 15-year-old settlement which was formed after an eviction drive that pushed thousands of inhabitants to this slum cluster in west Delhi. Ruby’s family moved to Bhalaswa from Nizamuddin under similar circumstances. Their financial struggles worsened after they moved there since her father could not find suitable employment opportunities.
|Ruby: a picture of silent resolve|
Poverty is often cited as a reason why parents want their girls to get married at an early age. The reasoning is simple, "What could she do even if she got an education?"
Such was the situation that faced Ruby. "Girls from my community were either married, or searching for grooms to get married. I was supposed to follow suit. I was in VII standard and at that moment I didn’t think I could study any further", she recounts.
Four years ago, Magic Bus’ youth mentor spotted Ruby during a home-to-home survey. She came across as a cheerful yet determined girl who dreamt of becoming a police officer one day. Her father works as daily wage labourer. He is barely able to eke out a living for his family with a monthly income of just Rs.7000.
Ruby has three sisters and a brother. The threat of being married off as a child lurked in the minds of all her sisters. "When Mahadev bhaiya (youth mentor with Magic Bus) came to our house to convince us to join Magic Bus, my father disagreed. He believed that it was not okay for a girl to play – what would she do by learning how to play kabaddi and football", Ruby adds laughingly, "Also, he wasn’t sure if it would be safe at all".
Discussing play strategies: Ruby with Youth Mentor Mahadev and TMO Santosh
The breakthrough came when Ruby’s father started seeing things in a different light.
After frequent interactions with Mahadev, and a visit to the sessions, Ruby’s father was finally convinced that her children would benefit from the programme. At the same time, he started believing that his daughters could progress further with education and they did not need to get married early. Thus, Ruby is now in the twelfth standard and has joined the computer classes at the Magic Bus’ Connect Center at Badli.
"The happiest moment in my life?" Ruby pauses on the question as she wades through her memories to choose the moment most dear to her. "The happiest moment in my life is when my father agreed that I could go back to school; I needn’t get married. My dreams suddenly seemed real", her voice brightens up with suppressed excitement.
After being a proactive participant in all the Magic Bus initiatives in her community, Ruby has now graduated to become a community youth leader (CYL) at Magic Bus. However, her journey as a CYL has not been an easy one. "Initially, parents would refrain from sending their children to my sessions. Being a girl and from a lower caste takes away a lot of credibility", she explains. Her grit kept her going. She spoke to parents through meetings and even invited them to her sessions.
|‘Reclaiming the right to play for girls is perhaps a step towards a gender-equal society’, Ruby|
Today, she has the entire community standing by her and looking up to her as a leader. She uses her influence in the community to spread the message of importance of educating girls and the perils of child marriage. She is now fondly called didi (sister) within her community.
Ruby aspires to become a police officer so as to crease out the rampant discrimination that women face at every step. "We lack role models in our community. I want to break that and be one myself!"
Free a girl from stereotypes and prejudices, and see her bloom into a leader. Meet our Ruby from Bhalaswa – a dreamer, a doer in every sense of the word.
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Photo credits: Nancy Farese
Photo credits: Nancy Farese