Tribal Pathbreakers: Now A TED Speaker, Rupni Barla was Trafficked at Five
A resident of Delhi, adopted by Rashmi Tiwari, of Aahan Foundation, Rupni Barla is gearing up to represent India in marathon running. She has been a TED speaker at Allahabad MNIIT and aspires to be an IAS officer when she comes of age. But her life wasn’t always like this.
Originally from Chatakpur, 60kms away from Ranchi in Jharkhand, Rupni’s biological parents were daily wagers of the Munda tribe who worked at a brick-kiln. Rupni’s lost her father very early in life. Her parents had frequent fights because of which her father relocated to another village. While working in a brick-kiln, somebody poisoned him and killed him, Rupni told SheThePeople.TV.
“Main doosre bachon ko dekhti thi jaate huye school toh mera bhi mann karta tha lekin aadat si ho gyi thi eeta-bhata mein jaane ki aur kaam karne ki toh main zada sochti nahi thi is bare mein.”
She is the eldest among the three siblings. The family struggled to make ends meet so her mother forced Rupni to work at the kiln too.
“My mother used to send me to work when I was four, I don’t remember how much money I earned because my mother took away whatever I got,” informs Rupni adding that she used to take care of small babies while at the brick-kiln.
After 50 days of work at the brick-kiln, Rupni’s family came back to their house and her mother then started sending her to other’s houses to work in lieu of money. All this while, Rupni was never sent to a school, when asked if she ever desired to study, she said, “Main doosre bachon ko dekhti thi j,aate huye school toh mera bhi mann karta tha lekin aadat si ho gyi thi eeta-bhata mein jaane ki aur kaam karne ki toh main zada sochti nahi thi is bare mein. (I used to see other kids going to the school and that made me want to go there too, but then I had become habitual of working at the brick-kiln so I let that thought subside.)”
“And when I asked my mother to send me to a school too, she never agreed to it. She used to say that we don’t have enough money to send me to school.”
This was also the time that her mother had gotten addicted to alcohol, a form of country liquor called ‘Hariya’. And in 2011, when Rupni was 8-years-old, her mother left her too along with her two siblings to fend for themselves.
When asked how her mother died, she recollected, “She started drinking Hariya a lot which became the reason for her death.”
“She used to drink so much that she used to lose consciousness. She used to forget her own address and would often pass out. It made me feel horrible. And when I used to say anything against her drinking habit, she would get very angry,” Rupni informs that her mother drank in the company of others from the village.
She also revealed that her village is full of people who drank Hariya including women and children. Rupni says,
“People sell their children if you give them one bottle of Hariya or if you give them some money to buy Hariya.”
Rupni was disgusted with her mother and when she started opposing her ways, she put her up for adoption in another village in exchange of some kilograms of food grains. But Rupni did not like living with her new family so she came back to her family.
After both her parents died, Rupni and her siblings were sent to live at her aunt’s house who took care of them but did not like them. For her, the children were only added mouths to feed. Rupni stayed there for a year before Aahan Foundation spotted her and brought her to Delhi. “I was told that I was being taken to Ranchi and I thought it is fine because if I did not like it there I could go back to my village, but it turned out that I was brought to Delhi.”
“Coming here, I met Rashmi mom who has now adopted me. Initially, I was scared, but I was also told by my aunt that I am so young and no one would take me for work, so I decided to stay.”
“I never knew that in life one can also have the power to fulfil their dreams and desires. I always had so much fun running, since childhood, and after I came here, I got to know that it is a sport too.”
Rupni has been with her new family since 2013. She studies in CP Arya School, Ghaziabad in Class 7. She recollects that when her mother had put her up for adoption she had to go stay with a family in another village, the family had enrolled her in a school, where she completed class fifth.
“I never knew that in life one can also have the power to fulfil their dreams and desires. I always had so much fun in running, since childhood, and after I came here, I got to know that it is a sport too.”
“It has been some time that I have started practising seriously to become a marathon runner,” smiled Rupni.
About the TED Talk where she talked about perseverance, she said that she loved standing on that stage and talking. “I talked about how I was sent to work and trafficked when I was five, and how alcoholism killed my mother.”
She also told the crowd that she wants to become an IAS officer. When asked why she wants to become one, Rupni said, “Since I have been a part of and seen the people in my village, so if I become an IAS officer it would be easier for me to bring law and order in that state. And I have faith that I can become one.”
When she compares her life in Chatakpur to her life in Delhi, she feels lucky that she found the right people who saved her from the drudgery. She says, “I found a way of life which I had never experienced in Jharkhand.”
“Back in Jharkhand, parents send their daughters to work from a very young age. Boys only work in farming, while girls are sent to work in kilns and at others houses. They are also trafficked to various other cities only to never return. People there don’t hesitate selling their children and it is a reality.”
Now Rupni has adapted to her new life in the capital, where she lives with her adopted family.
We hope she has better things in store for her ahead.
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