On World Children’s Day, Khyati Chauhan came to New York City to celebrate the rights of girls around the world and to share her work — fighting to be sure they have a fair chance to an education.
My cousin was in 11th grade when she moved from a typical Indian village to my place in New Delhi. We were polar opposites yet the closest. She was a shy introvert; I was talkative and vivacious. She blindly followed her father’s demands and I not so subtly rebelled against my father’s rules. Her quietness led her down a darker path of depression, maybe because she was not able to deal with the high city life. Added to that were the constant threats of her marriage, a choice that would be made for her and that she would have to obey.
Her struggles were a motion picture that I constantly watched. A movie that made me contemplate the situation of hundreds of girls in my village: their hopes, their education, and if they were mentally being forced to marry rather than study. Were they pushed away from the chance to learn? This thought provoked me to give a voice to the opinions and feelings of these girls and help them to see a future that involves an education rather than a marriage. Having spent my childhood in the same village with them, I am determined to see the first effects of my work there. Every time I visit, I see that even with the changing times, my village and other parts of my country are still frozen in a view of girls as a debt to be paid off. A vision that refuses to see girls’ potential.
My grandmother was married at 16 and then had my mother. My mother was forced to choose a cheaper education because her brother’s education was more important than hers. All these experiences of the people around me give me the fuel to carry on and work harder. This history pushes me to step out of stigma and try to influence other girls to do the same. I wish to see every father urge his daughter to go to school and get her independence before she chooses a life partner.
Education, I feel, is the most important element in our society — the same education for girls and boys. Learning is a beacon that imparts not only knowledge but also an important sense of individuality. These reasons guide my conviction to see every girl I meet, be it in my village or somewhere else, carry this beacon and gain the strength that comes from education.
Khyati Chauhan is a 17-year-old student of Ahlcon International School. Even though she lives in the city, her heart resides in her village, Baghpat, where she spent her childhood and visits regularly.