Rajni is 19. A typical day in her life starts with a 60-kilometre cycle ride to college.
After a long day spent with books and learning, she cycles the same distance back home. She then feeds her father’s cattle and takes care of any household chores that need to get done.
Most people in her village and the villages nearby know her. The local police are familiar with her barging into their offices to fight against another girl child getting married. Many know her as an active member of the village’s Mahila Samakhya. Some call her ‘Mardani’ (manly) and believe that as a girl who flies too high, she will soon fall.
None of this matters to Rajni. She knows that her calling is to drive change and will stop at nothing until those around her understand the importance of education and the value of a girl.
Too young to get married
Rajni was 14 years old when her parents started discussing her marriage.
She is the daughter of a wheat farmer from a small village in Sitapur called Bhauna Mau. In her village, it’s a common practice for girls as young as teenagers to get married. But Rajni had different plans for her future. She had limited access to education but a limitless zeal for knowledge. She made the most of whatever she could learn in the government school she attended and always topped her classes.
During UNICEF’s Meena Manch workshops that were held in her school, she learnt about gender discrimination. She knew she had to do something to change this and started by standing up to her family and refusing to get married.
It was hard to convince them but Rajni held her ground and fought to keep studying. When they saw her passion for education and relentless pursuit for justice, her parents eventually agreed.
Rajni passed school with an excellent academic record. This made everyone in her village reconsider what girls could do if they were given a chance. Rajni became a point of contradiction between what they knew to be true and what they were now witnessing.
Rajni’s rise to become a Girl Icon
Rajni was aware of how her decisions were opening people’s eyes. The trust she had earned gave her a chance to start educating many more young girls in her village. Rajni has a sharp ability to scrutinize societal issues and norms. She used this to form arguments for girls’ education that were logical and transformational.
With the support of the police, she was able to stop the marriages of five other young girls in Bhauna Mau.
When Milaan discovered Rajni, they found her strong will and ability to bring a social change inspiring. They offered to enroll her in their Girl Icon Fellowship program which she accepted.
The fellowship trained Rajni to develop her leadership qualities. She started her own peer group that campaigns about various issues faced by adolescents in her community. She works with young girls and boys who have dropped out of school and has been able to bring many of them back. She also helps parents realize what they lose when they choose to not educate a girl.
Rajni has never allowed her poverty-stricken environment to stop her from dreaming big. Her hunger for learning and her daring attitude has made her a true icon of brilliance in her village.
In her treasure chest of accomplishments, the latest has been getting invited to share her story at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2018 in London!
“Our society needs to realize the benefits of a good family,” she says. “Girls and boys should walk together and only then can we create a healthy society.”
She believes that it is the collective responsibility of a community to educate all their children, both girls and boys. Only then can each of them grow into adults who can give back to the community.