Education empowers mother in India to start new life after escaping abusive marriage

Nilam was forced to quit school and marry an abusive, alcoholic husband at the age of 15. But thanks to World Vision, she can now support herself and her children as a trained beautician.

By Annila Harris, World Vision India
Published March 5, 2014 at 01:30pm PST

When Nilam was growing up in India, she dreamed of becoming a police officer, like her father.

Her dad, an educated man himself, knew the value of educating his daughter and sent her to private school.

But when her father had to move to another state for his job, he left Nilam and her siblings in the care of her mother.

“My mother used to always tell me, ‘What would girls do by getting educated?’” Nilam says. “She was not educated herself and did not realize the importance of studying.”

This mindset is not uncommon in India. According to UNICEF, while 81.4 percent of girls in India attend primary school, only 48.7 percent of them attend high school.

But Nilam had a different perspective. “Studies are very important because your mind becomes wise. No one can take advantage of your vulnerable situation.”

‘What’s the point of educating her?’

It wasn’t long until Nilam’s mother committed her 15-year-old daughter to marriage, promising that Nilam could stay home and go to school until she was 18.

But Nilam’s husband didn’t want her attending class, so her mother took Nilam out of school and sent her to her husband’s house.

“My husband used to say, ‘What’s the point of educating her? I am not educated, so why should she be?’” Nilam says. “My mother wanted to respect his wishes."

Nilam was soon confined to the house and expected to spend her time doing chores. But she tried taking joy in the little things, such as putting on her bangles each day — at least for a short while.

“It started with my earrings,” she says. “He said by selling (the earrings), he would get money to buy things for his house. But in reality, it was for buying alcohol.”

One day, while visiting with her mother, her mother tried to stop Nilam from giving her husband more jewelry. Nilam’s husband dragged Nilam out of her mother’s house, back to theirs, and slapped and punched her.

Stripped of freedom and dignity

As time went on, Nilam was blessed with four children, but her husband refused to work.

Stripped of her freedom, her jewelry, and now her dignity, she hit a new low point she never imagined. She began working at a construction site earning very little money. She struggled to keep her children from starving.

Nilam says with tears, “When I got back from work, [my husband] asked me for money to appease his thirst for alcohol. If I didn’t give it or used it to get food for the children, I was beaten.”

While she couldn’t always provide food, she hoped to give her children a better life, one that she had once dreamed of for herself, and put them in school.

“Even when I enrolled my children in school, he went and fought with the teachers and pulled them out of school,” Nilam says of her husband.

Fleeing from abuse leads to life on the streets

The abuse intensified as her children watched helplessly. If the children tried to help, they were beaten, too.

Mohit, Nilam’s 13-year-old, says, “I feared for my mother and our lives.”

Tragically, domestic abuse is pervasive across the country. According to India’s National Family Health Survey, one-third of Indian women have experienced physical violence.

“Domestic violence against women is a common problem found all across India, and it is more abusive when the husband is an alcoholic,” says Sarlin, a program development information coordinator for World Vision India.

The abuse escalated in 2007 when a spat over spending money to buy milk for the children ended in Nilam being rushed to the hospital, unconscious. When she was released, she went home. But not for long.

Soon after, Nilam no longer feared for just her life, but now for her children’s as well. Fleeing her home, she and the children were now on the streets.

Nilam managed to get a job as a maid, and the little she earned she invested in her children’s education and in a temporary shack to call home.

But her body was weak from years of abuse, and frequent fainting spells at work eventually cost her her job — and her only source of income.

“Life became hard,” Nilam says. “I had fallen from going to private school to becoming a casual laborer and a maid. I had lost my dignity, and no one respected me in the community.”

New profession provides means to survive and thrive

But things changed when Nilam crossed paths with a World Vision staff member. She was encouraged to join World Vision’s beautician training program.

Nilam picked up the skills easily, and her confidence grew. Word spread of her abilities, and people lined up to pay for her skills. She now has a sustainable source of income to support her children.

“Now, I walk with respect and my head held high. I am known as the beautician…Even my children have been blessed by World Vision. They are shown love.”

Her children attend World Vision programs where they can grow and learn. “With World Vision’s intervention, I can say for sure, the future of my children will be secure,” Nilam says. “We trust them.”

Her children see the difference World Vision has made too.

“I am proud that my mother is a beautician,” says Kajal, Nilam’s 12-year-old. “I love my mother because she can face any challenge and problem. My mom is not afraid of anything. She has always taken care of us despite her condition.”

Nilam is grateful to World Vision for helping her and now dreams of owning her own beauty salon one day. World Vision is helping link her with loans for small businesses.

“[The doctor who saved her life] gave me a life," Nilam says. "But World Vision gave me a means to survive.”

Learn more

Three ways you can help

  • Thank God for Nilam’s newfound opportunity and dignity. This International Women’s Day, March 8, pray for other women like her in places like India who face poverty, abuse, and lack of access to education. Pray that they, too, would find means by which to realize their God-given potential.
  • Help provide career training for women and girls. You’ll help supply job skills and business training so that women like Nilam can support their families through their work in a field such as tailoring, jewelry-making, baking, or dairy farming.
  • Sponsor a girl in India. By extending your love and support to a girl in need, you’ll help her stay in school, avoid early marriage, and realize a future of dignity and independence.


  • According to UNICEF, while 81.4 percent of girls in India attend primary school, only 48.7 percent of them attend high school.
  • Early marriage is one factor that prevents girls in India and around the world from receiving a quality education.
  • Domestic violence is more common among women who had been married as children, according to UNICEF. India has the highest levels of domestic violence among women married by 18, with a rate of 67 percent.
  • Education and career training can empower women and girls to sustain their own livelihood and break the cycle of poverty.

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