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From Child Bride to Firebrand Women’s Rights Activist

In Uttar Pradesh’s Kushinagar, this activist has single-handedly built a support and action network for women survivors of violence. Here’s her story.

Jannat Bano challenges every trope of a survivor of domestic violence that we are wont to hear. Survivors are spoken about and written about in hushed tones, when they are spoken or written about at all. But when Jannat Bano left her abusive husband’s home for good, she wasn’t going to do nothing about what the experience had taught her.

Married at 14 to a man who was at least 50 years old at that time and who eventually left her, Jannat remarried after completing her school education at 18. But this marriage too was a cruel one and in a couple of years, she separated from her second husband. But this time with a single-minded determination– she would dedicate her life to helping women become stronger.

“She is a huge source of support for those of us who have no support systems”, says a woman from Bano’s village in Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh. “She is a role model,” says another man familiar with her work.

When Community Correspondent Madhuri Chauhan set out to learn more about Jannat Bano, she learnt that growing up, Bano herself had no support at all. “Even today, her natal family does not support her work”, says Madhuri. Nobody came to Bano’s help when she was in those abusive marriages, she adds. Even her teacher, Vijayshankar, says that she has never had a guardian but has always had the spirit of a fighter.

Bano started working as a social activist since she was 25 years old. In 2006, she registered her own organisation, the ‘Mahila Seva Sansthan’. It’s a one-woman show but Bano has carved out support networks and alliances for herself. The authorities know her, the communities know her and they all look up to her as a resource person and someone who gets things done.

Bano’s reach in the community was also strengthened by her decision to contest the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly elections from her constituency. She contested as an independent candidate and although she did not win, it helped her build an identity in her area as someone who acts on her promises.

Bano also works as an anganwadi (child-care centre) worker, and the job is her primary source of income.

When asked why Madhuri, a gender rights activist in her own right, decided to tell her story, she says that it would help Bano reach out to a larger group of people and encourage people to join her and have the same ‘fighting spirit’ as her.

Video by Community Correspondent Madhuri Chauhan

Article by Alankrita Anand, a member of the VV editorial team

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