Jaipur: Her struggle for survival began even before she was born.
When Kriti Bharti was in her mother's womb, her family members tried to force an abortion. Why? Because her father had walked out on them. Eventually, Bharti was born a premature baby - at seven months - and had to not only contend with complications from a tough delivery (she had head wounds) but also relatives who considered her a curse.
“This was my first struggle — to survive in this world. Born against the will of my relatives, I had to face torture and taunts in my childhood. When my mother went out to work, I was ill-treated and mentally tortured by my relatives, who said I had bad blood,” Kriti told IANS.
“Some relatives went to the extent of changing their paths to avoid seeing my face (thinking she brought ill-luck),” she recounted sadly.
Rajasthan-based Bharti has not let anything slow her down however; she has turned defender to those who are forced into child marriages. Because of her stance, she has faced many rape and death threats as well.
Fortunately, the activist has had support in the form of her mother, Indu, and her grandparents, Nemichand and Krishna Mahnot.
That said, it's not been an easy road. When she was 10 years old, Bharti was poisoned by her relatives; she survived, but barely. The poison paralysed her body, save her head and a hand.
“I could not sit, walk, stand or even change sides while sleeping. About 90 per cent of my body became insensitive. Despite being taken to several hospitals, nothing worked,” she said.
During this traumatic time, her mother took her to Reiki (a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing) teacher Brahmanand Saraswati’s ashram in Bhilwara where her state of being improved.
This was my first struggle — to survive in this world. Born against the will of my relatives, I had to face torture and taunts in my childhood. When my mother went out to work, I was ill-treated.”
- Kriti Bharti | Founder of the Saarthi Trust
For the second time in her life, she had to again learn to walk. At 11, she was able to crawl like a toddler. Then, she learnt how to sit and walk with some support. At the age of about 12, she could stand on her own feet and started taking her first steps.
Traumatised by these memories, Kriti changed her last name to Bharti, becoming the “daughter of Bharat (India)”. She learnt Reiki and Yoga.
After being counselled by her mother and her teacher, Brahmanand Saraswati, she resumed her education and appeared for her board exams through correspondence school after a gap of four years.She skipped six grades.
“With regular 15 to 16 hours study, I cleared my class X exams, followed by class XII and then did my graduation, post graduation and doctorate in psychology from Jai Narayan Vyas University in Jodhpur.”
After her doctorate, she set out on a mission to work for the welfare of stigmatised children and women, and now has a dream to make Rajasthan child marriage-free.She has become the guardian of many “balika vadhus” (child brides) in her quest.
In 2012, she started Saarthi, a trust in Jodhpur, and is now a rehabilitation psychologist and managing trustee of the organisation.
“With a firm pledge to eradicate child marriages in the country, I prevented dozens of child marriages. But such marriages continued and innocent children were forced to follow traditions, thus wasting their lives,” she said.
Faced with the challenge of finding a solution, Bharti turned her attention to legal remedies and discussed the situation with experts; the answer was annulment.
“Annulment of child marriage means the marriage which took place years ago is made legally null and void. After annulment, the boys and girls who tied the knot of child marriage years ago are freed from this bond,” she explained.
A victim of child marriage, Laxmi Sargara came to Bharti seeking help and her marriage was successfully annulled — a first in the country, setting a precedent for future cases. This also brought national and international fame to Bharti and her organisation.
Not only did she find a place in several record books for the first annulment of a child marriage in the country but also her campaign found a place in the syllabus of class XI and XII of Central Board of Secondary Education.
Rajasthan, especially Jodhpur, which tops the list in the country for the most number of child marriage annulments is seeing a change in such practices thanks to efforts such as those undertaken by Bharti.
Bharti’s efforts have helped annul 36 child marriages so far. She also has a record of preventing thousands of child marriages, finding a place in record books such as Limca Book of Records and World Records India, and Unique Book of World Records.
In 2016, her name was once again registered in World Record India, India Book of Records and Unique World Records for nullifying three child marriages in three days.
Besides working for the annulment of child marriages, she also works for the rehabilitation of child labourers, victims of child trafficking and child abuse. She also works for the rehabilitation of women. She has rehabilitated more than 6,000 children and more than 5,500 women.
“I face many brutal attacks and threats but I continue working for the protection of girls. Being a woman, I [have] received rape threats several times, but I [have] stood firm,” she said.
At the international level, Pixel Project ranked her seventh in the list of role models, and her organisation, Saarthi, was ranked 10th in the global list.
With grit and determination, she continues to pursue her life’s goals.