Breaking the Chains: Akash Banjara’s Journey to Freedom and Empowerment

3 Minutes ReadFreedom comes to us wrapped in an open space. We smell it, look up in the sky and breathe. Perhaps the sky is synonymous with being free. We look at birds soaring and we want to emulate them. When excited, we tend to jump, in attempts to touch and claim as much of the sky as we can. Sky means something to all of us, but it truly only belongs to birds. Meet one such bird, Akash Banjara.

Akash Banjara Akash was not always free to start with. The society she was born in was ready to tie her down in her first attempt to break free. She had to fight for her wings to not be clipped. In the community of Banjaras, the nomads, children are married off even before reaching adolescence. Unshielded from this misfortune, Akash was also engaged at the age of 3. In the lockdown of 2020, she was being pushed to marry at the novice age of 12. But in the limited time she had spent at her school, she learnt that she also had a voice. She knew the legal wrongs of the step her family was about to take. All she wished to do was to continue studying. So she decided she would have to stop her family. “If not me, then who would come to my rescue?” Akash explains that she was not brushing marriage aside. Marriage, for her, still is an important institution that should be respected. However, such an institution is not meant for children. She wants to stand up on her feet and change the world, bit by bit. She spent days and nights trying to make her family understand her point without hostility. Finally, her family’s rudimentary thoughts bowed in front of the vigour of a 12 year old.

In her hovel, peep books from the back with a school bag- they take up most of the space but her mother is happy even so. “I will create all the space in the world if required for accommodating my daughter’s academic material.” A certain sense of pride, love and hope glint in Akash’s mother’s eyes- the look of a mother. “My daughter is brighter than the sun.” The mother shares how her daughter sparked a change for all the generations to come. Akash, with her other siblings, is a first generation learner who is looked up to by the entire community. Her efforts resulted in the elimination of child labour and child marriage from the Banjara community of Neemadi. Even though Akash Banjara was fighting her personal battle during the Covid lockdown, she did not abandon the society. With her heroic personality, she mobilised the children from the entire community. They made masks and distributed them in various institutions and households.

Akash Banjara's Journey to Freedom and Empowerment

Akash Banjara is the kind of child who wishes to take everyone along with her, leaving no one behind. She observed how the elderly women- who never got the opportunity to go to school- find themselves utterly dependent on someone else to help them with basics, like signatures. This also posed a threat because they are also very gullible. Taking cognizance of the situation, Akash Banjara started teaching the basic reading and writing to women. Many ladies today can write their own names and read basic hindi. Just a little touch of liberation makes them extremely happy and proud. Akash Banjara also talks to them about how she firmly believes that ladies ought to be independent. “This kind of talk is not always met with the most welcoming responses. But it does more good than bad.” Today studying in class 12th, Akash wishes to join the state service and fight against social evils. “Akash chhoo ke aaogi?” Akash translates to sky in Hindi. When we ask her if she would go and touch the sky, she smiles. “Didi, mai khud hi akash hoon.” - “Sister, I am Akash (sky) myself.”

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