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Why Am I Not Allowed to Play?

 

“Arre o Priyum… Jaldi aaja, meeting shuru hone wali hai” (Priyum! Hurry up! The meeting is about to begin).

Najma, the girl next door, was calling my sister-in-law. Priyum hurriedly came and told me she was leaving to attend the meeting organized by PRIA at the chaupal (village centre). I nodded. Curiosity made me get up and go outside;  I wanted to see what this meeting was about. I saw my mother-in-law with a small group of ladies outside the chaupal. I went and joined them, cradling my six-month-old son. I spotted the didi (sister) who has come to interview Priyum and me few months ago. I clearly remember that she spoke to me for more than an hour. We spoke about my life, before marriage and after marriage. I also heard about condoms for the first time from her. I felt so shy!

The didi from PRIA saw me looking and walked over to me, asking me to join the meeting. “Aaj ke liye baith ja” (Come and sit, only for today), she said. I really wanted to join but was unsure. I looked at my mother-in-law. Dashrath bhaiya, who lives in our village, immediately walked up to her and asked her to allow me to sit for the meeting. She hesitantly agreed. My heart skipped a beat! I quickly handed my son over to Nida, a neighbour, and sat next to Priyum.

Didi introduced herself and mentioned that there are many new faces in the group, including me, and it’s important that we introduce ourselves. She made all of us stand up and explained a game to us. We were asked to choose a partner, introduce ourselves and talk to learn things about each other. After that, we had to write our partner’s name on a piece of paper and make a drawing which we felt described our partner. Then we were going to show the picture to the entire group and speak a few words telling the others about our partner.

I felt shy, but was excited to begin. My partner’s name was Rekha. I had seen her in the village a few times. She stays in the lane in the area of the village where the Scheduled Castes live. I struggled to write Rekha’s name on the paper. I have only studied till class 3 and it’s been more than six years now since I left school. Didi came over and gently told me, “It’s fine if you can’t write her name.” I was relieved.

Each girl stood up and pasted their picture on the wall and spoke. When my turn came, I was hesitant to stand up. I had never spoken in front of my in laws; imagine talking in front of strangers! I was not sure if any sound would come out of my mouth. Suddenly Rekha pushed me a little and whispered, “Darr mat, aaja, main bhi khadi hothi hoon” (Don’t be afraid. Come on, I will stand with you). We stood up in front of the group. Rekha pasted her paper on the wall. She had drawn a share auto. She introduced me and said that since I am always eager to know what is outside our village, what the roads to Sonipat look like, a share auto perfectly represents me. One can sit in the auto and go everywhere! Everyone clapped. I pasted my picture. I had drawn chana (gram). I slowly introduced Rekha and said that she loves to eat chana. I have seen her walking on the road eating chana many times! Everyone burst out laughing. “Badhiya!” (Well done!) I heard someone saying. I felt so happy! I could speak in front of people! I think I even saw my mother-in-law blushing.

With the introduction game completed, we sat around in a circle. Didi spoke to us about our village and asked if we could name the sarpanch and panch members. Some girls mentioned the name Sandeep, while others said they didn’t know. I had seen Sandeep when he came to ask for our vote. Didi shared that Sandeep is not the sarpanch; his wife is! We all laughed, but I was not surprised. What’s new about this? How can a woman perform as a sarpanch? She will not know how to manage. She has a lot of house work to do. It’s always her husband, father, or brother-in-law who is the sarpanch, even if the woman is elected. This didi doesn’t know everything!

We continued to speak and share information about our village -- how big it was, the shops, farms, water pipes, and many other things. I had heard my mother-in-law say that the village is very big but I have never gone beyond a lane or two in front of our house. Didi asked if we could go for a walk around the village and see the entire village together. How exciting is that! I will get to see the village that I live in. We agreed that when we meet next week, we will all walk around the village. Before the meeting ended, didi asked if we wanted to play another game. Yes!! we shouted. We played the “taxi game”. Didi would shout, “Make a taxi for four!”, and we would make groups of four. The ones left out would then have to sit out the rest of the game.

I was so engrossed in the game when Nida, our neighbour, called out to me, “Bhabhi, aapke bete ko bhook lagi hai, chalo, ao” (Your son is hungry. Come, let’s go). What! Not now! How do I leave this game? I don’t want to go. “Kuch der bhooka rahega to marr nahin jayega, mujhe khelne do!” (Let him remain hungry a bit longer. I want to play!), I said instantly. All the girls were playing; I wanted to play with them too. I don’t get opportunities like this. Why can’t Nida manage the child for a few more minutes? Why should I stop? So I ignored her and continued playing. Within seconds, my mother-in-law came. She wasn’t happy. She looked at me angrily, and I got scared. I knew in that very moment I would have to leave immediately or I would be beaten up later. I ran out of the meeting, taking my son from Nida’s arms. I ran all the way home, tears running down my cheeks.

I want to play with this group of girls just like I used to play with my friends back in my parents’ village.  Javeda, Meena, Saba… how I miss them! The gali (lane) in front of our house was our playground… we used to play hide and seek.

I looked at my son. If only my mother were here to take care of the baby. But I hardly see her. I didn’t know what to do. I just stared at my son.

Why am I not allowed to play? So what if I am a mother? I am also a child… I am only 15…

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