She is just 13 but carries the weight of grave issues on her slender shoulders. Issues, as serious as the plight of widows in a traditional, male-dominated society where they have no voice.

Jyoti Yadav, a class eighth student from Dabadwas, Rajasthan, learnt early in life that fighting for a just cause was not easy. But she plodded on nonetheless and today, is a source of inspiration to others in her village.

Her mission began even before she was born. That is when Jyoti’s father passed away and her 17-year old widowed mother faced stigma. Jyoti grew up in an extended household where her mother’s presence was frowned upon, where she was banished from marriages and other celebratory functions and where she wasn’t spoken to properly. All this left deep impact on the delicate sensibilities of this young child.

As she grew up and attended school, Jyoti started questioning the skewed mores and hypocrisy of her society. Speaking from Dabadwas, Jyoti in a childlike voice says with wisdom far beyond her years, “There is no honor for widows in our society. In my village, they are not allowed to come out of the house and mix with others, they are not allowed to wear nice clothes and their very presence is considered an ill-omen. I wanted to change all that.”

She saw the humiliation and disrespect heaped on her mother but was too young to know how to bring about a change. In 2010, Jyoti started campaigning for this cause. She went from house to house trying to convince people to change their attitude towards widows.

“Initially, nobody listened to me as I was so small. Often, I would be thrown out. But I didn’t lose courage and went right back. Eventually elders decided to give me a hearing but I had to face quite a bit of opposition, especially from the men. They couldn’t digest that a girl was breaking their customs and would beat up us. People are just like that only. If it helps improve society, I don’t mind.”

Her efforts finally paid off. Widows, like her mother, are now employed as anganwadi workers and are paid Rs. 3500 monthly.

Jyoti, incidentally studies in Satya Bharti Government Upper Primary School which is a part of the Bharti foundation, a philanthropic group set up in 2000 to provide quality education to underprivileged children.

In recognition of her efforts, Jyoti became a national honoree at the Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards 2012. She had also taken part in the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon and the funds she raised there had been used to promote literacy.

She is naturally an inspiration for her friends who say they want to work with her. Jyoti, meanwhile wants to continue the good work. Her next mission is more daunting- she wants to get widows remarried. But eventually, she wants to become a doctor.

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