Kushboo’s Story, India: I want to study! I want to study!

Kushboo was born into a poor family in Lucknow, India. Her mother died when she was two. A few years after her father remarried, her stepmother died. The eldest daughter, Kushboo had to drop out of school in second grade to clean the house, cook, and look after her younger siblings.

In 2013 she had the opportunity to attend school at Prerna, which opened near her home. Prerna was started by Urvashi Sahni, the Founder and Director of Digital Study Hall, one of Mona’s partner projects. Sahni says, “Girls from poor and uneducated families, like Kushboo, have it the worst. Educating them is not a priority for their families. As a result, they are often restricted to laboring inside the house and married off as teenagers. That is why Prerna also fights early marriage by empowering girls to question patriarchy.”

At 14, Kushboo received a scholarship to participate in a drama workshop in London. However, her father and new stepmother had other plans for her. They felt it was time for her to leave school once again and get married. Wanting to continue her education, Kushboo asked Sahni to intervene. The following excerpts are from an interview with Public Radio International.

Sahni tried to persuade Kushboo’s father to let her stay in school. After all, his daughter was an ace student. “I said, she only wants to study, why won’t you let her?” He replied, “No, I’m just about done with this. You’ve sown the seeds of rebellion. And I don’t want her to study anymore.” 

Marriage at 14 would break a contract her father signed with the school to not marry her off until she finished high school. Not deterred, he ignored the contract, insisting that education made his daughter disrespectful and defiant.

Meanwhile, Kushboo stood at the back of the room, repeating: “I want to study, I want to study.” Recalls Sahni, “I thought, wow, isn’t she scared of him? Because I’m getting scared of this dad.” Her father said, ‘I have kerosene oil at home, and I’ve told her she should just burn herself.” Shocked, Sahni said, “Sir, that’s murder!” He said, “Come on! You pay 50,000 rupees and nobody cares.” (50,000 rupees, about $800, hushes up a girl’s death). With that, Kushboo’s father took his daughter home. The next day Sahni learned that he beat her badly with an iron rod that night.

“My whole body was black and blue,” Kushboo recalls. “I sometimes feel that if I hadn’t gained consciousness the next day, he might have burned me alive because he was convinced nobody could touch him.”

As soon as she heard the news, Sahni appeared at Kushboo’s house with the police, who informed her father he could go to jail if he beat his daughter again or married her off before she turned 18. He listened, livid with his daughter and Sahni. As soon as the police left, he threw Kushboo out of the house.

Kushboo went to live with her grandmother. She has since graduated high school with honors and is pursuing a college degree while working full time to support her grandmother and herself.

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