Damini [Hindi for "lightning"] is the namesake for our project and our beloved student. She died of severe sepsis in Varanasi in 2013 at the age of 16. Damini's life illustrates in many ways the tasks that arise on site, the problems and controversies that children and teachers are confronted with on a daily basis - and for which there is seldom a pre-formulated or simple solution. For which one all too often fails.


Damini came to our school as a girl at the age of 8 years. She was one of around 13 children in a family of migrants from the neighboring state of Bihar. In this rural and bitterly poor region, her family lived in a village as members of the indigenous tribe Darikar and, thus, belonged to the lowest social class. The father worked as a day laborer in the fields, where he was paid in grain.
They moved to Varanasi in hopes of better living conditions. They lived off the road under a tarpaulin in a small slum with other families also from the region. The father worked as a rickshaw driver, the mother went begging. She often took the children with her, especially when they were sick. Ragged, starving children make more money than adults. At our school, Damini got regular meals and time to study and play. Since her parents were heavily addicted to alcohol and often very violent, she was admitted to the our boarding home. There, she grew into a kind, artsy girl. Unlike her parents, she could read and write and increasingly thought about her future life.
According to the traditional ideas of the family, however, this path was clearly mapped out: marriage as early as possible. Afterwards, a life as a mother and house worker. Since the marriage partner is usually determined by the parents and marriage outside of one's own tribe is seemingly impossible, this path would further cement the previous poverty, the lack of education and the suffering associated with it. Damini rebelled against this, wanting to continue going to school and leading a self-determined life that would not have easily been reconciled with these traditions.
She was plagued by great doubts about how her family's expectations and her own could both be satisfied in the future. Although these contradictions manifested itself again and again in the form of violent arguments about a planned marriage and possible husbands, it was also difficult for her to oppose the authority of her parents and thus the family.


Ballon für Damini bei der Weihnachtsfeier im Heim 2013
Ballon für Damini bei der Weihnachtsfeier im Heim 2013


After her father had already promised her to several man as a future bride, he tried to lure her away from he boarding home. In return for the promise of giving away his daughter, he had received money. Now, the "grooms" wanted to get the girl - but Damini refused. Eventually, Damini's father kidnapped her from the hostel in May 2013 and hid her in her home village.


Attempts to free them from there also failed due to the lack of clout of the authorities in the rural areas and their willingness to deal with these "animals", as we were told by the police. In the end, after weeks, she managed to escape back to our boarding school in Varanasi on her own. What we didn't know: While in the village, her mother and her aunt had given her liquor and made her drunk. Afterwards, they took Damini to one "fiancé". She was given to him for one night so that he could "try" her out. She was raped and placed in front of the hut door the morning after. Full of shame, she didn't dare to talk about it until shortly before her death.


A few weeks later, she fell ill with an infectious disease that has not yet been clarified, which led to her death within three weeks, maybe also due to inadequate medical treatment.


After ten years, we still miss her. Her laughter, her sparkling joy when she danced, her eagerness in class, her zest for life. We want her to be remembered forever, and we want to spend the rest of our lives fighting for her sisters and brothers - kids that don't get to have a childhood, an education, a real chance of succeeding in life.