UNODC is cosponsor of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS - UNAIDS
The Story of Husn-e-aara
If the CHARCA programme is operational at all in Kishanganj, it is solely because of the perseverance and commitment of its little army of peer educators. The plethora of discouraging factors, in this district of Bihar, include the low literacy level, the community's conservative attitude to women, its reluctance to discuss anything related to sex and sexuality, widespread prevalence of early marriage and overall lack of development. The absence of metalled roads makes the peer educators' task arduous physically too.
The peer educators in Kishanganj consist of an equal number of men and women. The women have to surmount particularly formidable challenges, both from society and their own families, in order to work in their chosen line. It is thus highly commendable that this small group of people, all under the age of 25, have determined to fight against such adversities to realize their ideals. This fight entails, first and foremost, a process of personal transformation, as the story of Husn-e-aara will elucidate. It is upon this personal evolution that the social changes they are introducing are based and thus, this personal evolution is just as important as the social changes themselves.
Husn-e-aara, the Youngest vioce of change
I try to tell women that early marriage increases the risk of contracting HIV
Eighteen-year-old Husn-e-aara, who has been with the project for five months now, is the youngest peer educator in Kishanganj. Her personality has changed considerably within this short span of time. Of course, personality development is among the characteristics of the stage of life she is in. But there is plenty of evidence that much of the change has been spurred on by CHARCA's capacitybuilding programme, as well as her recent experiences in life and work.
Husn-e-aara recounts that due to the closed-mindedness of her community, she felt compelled to lie to her mother, when she began training for CHARCA, telling her that it was ZSS (Zila Saksharta Samiti) training she was going for. When she finally admitted the truth, her mother asked her to immediately discontinue with the training. She recounts, "When my mother got to know that I had been undergoing training on HIV/AIDS, she was shocked and asked me why I needed training in this subject. I told her, it is important to be aware of these things, but she said there was no need for me to know about it and I should stop going."
Husn-e-aara's neighbors too, went out of their way to discourage her. In their eyes, there were two very valid deterrents - first, that she is a Muslim and second, that she is a girl. However with her persistent efforts, she eventually managed to convince her mother to allow her to train and work as a peer educator. She also became a member (one of only two women members) of the CHARCA street theatre group, 'Pehel Nukkad Natak'. Yet more problems were in store for her, this time from the community members, with whom she had to interact, as part of her work. She remembers how somebody once reprimanded her mother for allowing her daughter to 'sing and dance in front of everybody at the mela to make money'.
It is not that Husn-e-aara has managed to ward off all opposition with a magic wand. She continues to incur the displeasure of many of her relatives, some of whom do not even speak to her. Besides, the reactionary outlook of the larger community will not change overnight. What has changed is her ability to cope with such hurdles. She has found the confidence and courage to 'take the brickbats in her stride and continue working'. Husn-e-aara attributes her growing sense of empowerment to the training she received from CHARCA.
Peer Educator, Husn-e-Aara, during an outreach programme in Halem Chowk
Peer educator Durga with a group of women in Halem Chowk
Recalling the days when she used to feel hesitant about striking up a conversation even with girls, she says that the shy girl of those days has now become somebody who is a person in her own right. This can be gauged very concretely by the fact that she talks to young men about issues related to sex and sexuality during the Melas.
Though so many frown upon Husn-e-aara, for the work she has chosen to do, there are a few who have started thinking differently after coming into contact with her. Some have got influenced by her group's plays, which emphasize the gender aspect of HIV/AIDS. And what has made her really happy are the times, however rare, when her efforts to discourage child marriage have yielded results. One example is from the village of Chakla Phulwari, where she worked with her first few groups of women. In the context of HIV, child marriage is the biggest bane there, with most girls being married off by the age of 13-14. Though Husn-e-aara had a bad time convincing the women to join the five-day training sessions, her efforts to convey the link between HIV/AIDS and early marriage paid off within just two days, when some women declared that they would not get their daughters married so young.
Husn-e-aara narrates another example: ''The Anganwadi has a Sachiv (Head), who told me that she had got her elder daughter married very young. She was about to do the same with her second daughter, but now she has changed her mind. I felt very happy that at least one person had changed.''
This young girl's horizons have broadened in many ways and nobody could have envisaged what she is planning for the future. "My brothers study in a private institution,'' she says, ''and since my father is a garage mechanic, he can't afford to educate all of us. But I want to pursue higher education, which I plan to finance with my earnings from CHARCA."
Husn-e-aara knows that all her trials are not over. But now she also knows that she has the self-assurance to surmount obstacles.
I know my trials are not over, but i have the self-assurance to surmount obstacles