This year, Sunita Murmu was one among the 26 children who were honored by our President with the National Bravery Award for exemplary acts of courage. 16-year-old wage labourer Sunita took a tormenting experience of victimization and became a maverick for justice. She demonstrated more audacity, courage, and tenacity of spirit than all of the adults in her village combined.
Sunita was just another tribal girl from Birbhum, one of West Bengal’s most backward districts, with little education. She had no idea of her rights and spent her days working as a daily wage laborer to support her parents. Her life, however, turned into a nightmare the day her love affair with a non tribal boy from the nearby village was discovered by the local tribal panchayat. The self-proclaimed panchayat decided her to be stripped publicly walk her around the village, while being jeered at and sexually harassed by random villagers. These mad men even took photographs and videos of her in that situation, which were later, made into MMS and sent to everyone in the village to ensure that no other village girl would dare to repeat what Sunita did. The authorities at the nearby Mohammadbazaar police station did not bother to come to her rescue. The incident lasted for about two hours– she was made to walk for around eight kilometers after which she was literally dumped. Sunita was devastated. But instead of giving up to the social evil forces, she decided to fight against all crimes against women in the name of old traditional values.
When the police came knocking at her door to conduct an inquiry two months later, she was dissuaded by her family to cooperate with the investigation. But Sunita decided to fight all the way. Just two days after filing the complaint, the six main accused were arrested. Fearing a backlash from the community, Sunita was sent to a government welfare home. Soon the district administration decided to propose her name for the National Bravery awards. It is unfortunate, that as of date, Sunita has not been able to go back home. Many of her family members still refuse to talk to her. The culprits are out on bail. Although, parents of the area tell their daughters to learn from Sunita, who could win accolades for defying the wrong in the society. Even though her own village is shying away from taking back its courageous daughter, her story brings smiles of pride and confidence to the faces of many girls in the region.
It is high time women get their place in the world. Recently India has witnessed endless chronology of incidents where women and girls are flogged, raped, mutilated, assaulted and killed in the name of honour, caste, dogmas and superstitions. But once in a while, a girl like Sunita stands up and speaks out, and for a brief moment, gives us ray of hope. A hope for a better tomorrow- where the mind is without fear, and the head is held high.