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Lavanya Bahuguna

Blogger-in-Chief

Lawyer & Top Model Nisha Yadav On Escaping Child Marriage And Fighting Patriarchy In Her Village

  • IWB Post
  •  October 19, 2019

It is not every day that Minister of Textiles Smriti Irani decides to feature and praise someone on her social media. In August 2019, Nisha Yadav, a lawyer-in-making and a part-time fashion model, was spotted in conversation with Irani at Lakme Fashion Week. This small tape shows the young girl in her twenties receiving a warm hug from the stellar politician.

Many of us would probably like to think that the mistreatment of underage girls living in rural areas is now a story of the days long gone in Modern India. However, Nisha’s story in Irani’s words made it crystal clear that such issues persist and are perhaps worse than we think.

Leaders become great not because of their power because of their ability to empower others. So, thank you so much @smritiiraniofficial ma’am for your encouragement. I lived this moment totally and learned how to stay calm, cooperative, polite and grounded. The way you communicated with me I felt like you are my old friend. Lot’s of respect 🙏 And a big thank you @gautamvazirani sir for making it real. And Thank you @iamneerajgaba sir for pitching me for @lakmefashionwk where I got this opportunity to meet all of them. Without you it won’t be possible to meet Gautam sir then Smriti ma’am. #gratitude #smritiirani #LakmeFashionWeek #intm4 #humanitarian #model

4,896 Likes, 108 Comments – Nisha Yadav (@nisha.yadav.official) on Instagram: “Leaders become great not because of their power because of their ability to empower others. So,…”

Nisha, who was born in a farmer-family with humble earnings, belongs to a small village located in the interiors of Rajasthan. With five more siblings to provide for, her father struggled day and night for years so his children could at least avail the basic amenities like nutritious food and education.

25-year-old Nisha spoke with IWB about the hyper-critical environment she grew up in and how it deepened her sense of self-love that led her to where she is at the moment.

Excerpts below:

Tell us about your life in Rajasthan.

The place I belong to is a very small village near Kotputli, Alwar. In this area, girls aren’t supposed to attend schools and wear anything other than the traditional attire of salwar-kameez-dupatta. The effect of patriarchy is so dreadful here that no woman had ever dared to oppose the decades-old orthodox system until now. Luckily, my family was unique as it allowed its kids to grow into whoever we wanted to be.

Nisha with her mother

Nisha with her mother

We’re five sisters and one brother and all of us were enrolled in the nearest school, which was six km away from our home. My father, a simple farmer, was a revolutionary in true sense for he never paid any heed to what his elders told him about not sending his girls to school. My mother, who has never received any sort of education herself, supported his advanced thinking and struggled alongside to keep things moving harmoniously. I believe my life was pretty sweet as I grew up.

How were your school years amidst all the prejudice?

Growing up, my sisters and I were aware of an excellent chance we had gotten in our life. Hence, we studied diligently without letting anything get in our way and were usually ranked among the topmost students of the city. Sadly, our life at school was never smooth. Our father cut our hair short to protect us from the naysayers, who were against our family’s progress. He thought it’d be safe for his girls to look like boys, who walked 15 km every day on unsafe routes to reach school and back home. Regardless of what we faced, like bullying at school or eve-teasing on the roads, we never spoke about it at home in a fear that our education might come to an end.

Today, you’re pursuing a law degree from Rajasthan University. How proud are you of yourself?

I’m proud of myself because I never thought of giving up on my dream. I have stuck to it like a flee holding a horse’s tail. By putting my utmost efforts into higher studies just how my family expected me to and simultaneously working hard towards my passion to become a model, I’m overwhelmed that I managed to pull all the collective dreams together.

Lakme Fashion Week. @lakmefashionwk . . Show Director_@iamneerajgaba 🥰 Photo_ @vogueindia

1,885 Likes, 22 Comments – Nisha Yadav (@nisha.yadav.official) on Instagram: “Lakme Fashion Week. @lakmefashionwk . . Show Director_@iamneerajgaba 🥰 Photo_ @vogueindia”

Let’s remember the days of you walking two very dissimilar career paths and setting your foot in the modelling industry for the first time.

Among all the siblings, I was probably the only one with no interest in an academic career. Books never interested me, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life after 12th grade. Somehow, I completed my bachelor’s education in Jaipur and came back home. Considering my eldest sister’s proposal, who is an IAS, my father asked me to prepare for the civil services exam, too. Even though I was well aware of my calibre, I agreed to spend a year at home immersing myself in books. Other than the syllabus, I was only allowed to read newspapers.

Meanwhile, I started missing the life that I thoroughly enjoyed in Jaipur during college years. After all, this was the first time I got a chance to explore and polish myself. In Jaipur, I learned how to dress like a teen girl and ditch all the boy’s clothes that I wore until class 12. Actually, my father used to shop in bulk for all the people in the house once a year on Diwali. Except for my mother, the rest of us would get clothes from the men’s section. It was only in the city that I learned how women dressed up and took care of their skin and hair. I was all of 17 when I secretly plotted to become a model.

What happened after that? 

While at home, I spotted an ad in the newspaper about Miss Rajasthan pageant. I desperately wanted to go for the auditions and so, planned a clean escape for myself. By chance, a national-level entrance exam was happening on the same day that made it possible for me to get the permission to go to Jaipur. I got ready for the beauty competition by layering those ‘stylish’ clothes under a simple pair of jeans and a full-sleeved shirt. Upon arriving at Jaipur, I signed up for the contest and the next thing I saw was my name among the top 12 finalists. This gave me confidence for the following year when I appeared in Miss Delhi pageant 2018 and was declared its first runner up.

Did you ever think of giving up on your education?

Even though I didn’t really enjoy it, I always acknowledged its value in a girl’s life. In my case, education not only helped polish my character but also served as a means to gain the confidence required to live in a modern set-up. How else do you think a girl coming from a backward section of our society could represent herself on a national stage?

How did participating in ‘India’s Next Top Model’ change your life?

I participated in this reality show with a lot of doubts in mind. I was prepared to feel intimidated by the presence of fellow models, who were coming from well-established backgrounds. My nightmare turned into a reality after some of the girls criticized my rural upbringing during the show. Later, they couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I was selected as the first runner up of ‘India’s Next Top Model.’ Nonetheless, what kept me going was the reality show’s jury, especially Malaika Arora mam, who predicted that I’d soon be walking the international runway.

So, did you?

Ha-ha! Well, at the moment, all I can say is that by the end of this year, I’m excited to sign up something big.

How’s the modelling industry treating you?

Your eyes are a reflection of your spirit. @bloni.atelier

1,302 Likes, 10 Comments – Nisha Yadav (@nisha.yadav.official) on Instagram: “Your eyes are a reflection of your spirit. @bloni.atelier”

While several applaud my enthusiasm in the industry, there are a few who never miss a chance to discourage me on behalf of my looks and family history. I have been told that my skin is too dark for the Indian audience and that I look like a man. In the past, agencies had even rejected me on the grounds of my age. “We don’t hire anybody above the age of 22,” they said. Initially, as a struggling model, I only wanted the brands to notice me and for that, I did many shows for free. But today is certainly different. I am grateful to those who guided me when the time was right and helped me grab good opportunities that otherwise were out of my reach.

Talk about your meeting with Smriti Irani.

That is hands down, the best experience of my life so far. It was during Lakme Fashion Week, right after my walk for a renowned fashion designer, when I was taken to a room full of media personnel. I heard a voice calling my name and I’m not even lying, my heart skipped a beat when I saw Smriti mam standing there.

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After pinching myself, I quickly hopped on to the stage to give Smriti mam a tight hug. She told me she’s proud of me and that I’m an example for thousands of girls who are imprisoned behind the walls of patriarchy and sexism in India. I’ll always remember her words that will continue to cheer me to walk on the path of self-realisation and victory.

Smriti Irani also mentioned an incident from your childhood that disclosed your fight against child marriage. Would you like to talk about it?

Back in school, my elder sister and I were forcefully engaged and given the ultimatum to prepare ourselves for marriage once the school gets over. When we revolted, our father threw us out of the home on the suggestion of some village seniors. I think the pressure and insult that he was constantly receiving over the years drove him to take this evil step.

Fortunately, things took a U-turn after my sister’s fiancé behaved poorly with us. My father cancelled our weddings and decided to bring us back home. He apologized and asked us to get back to our education. We, on the other hand, didn’t disappoint him either. Today, one of my sisters is an IAS, another one is a sub-inspector, and I am a practising lawyer in Delhi High Court.

Nisha with her sisters

Nisha with her sisters

We’re so proud of you, Nisha. Has anything changed in your village in all these years?

A lot has changed since then. My family has finally proved that girls are no less than boys. Today, when I visit my village, concerned elders come to me to discuss their kids’ career and take my suggestion based on my experience and exposure. As far as the younger generation is concerned, some of these kids follow me on social media and often report my growth to others.

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However, in my small family, nothing has changed. My parents still lead a very simple lifestyle. When we were kids, my father used to cycle for 18 km from work every day to reach home on time. After that, he would sit with us to play cards. My mother, exhausted from the household chores, made it a ritual to oil our hair before we went to bed. These rituals are still intact, making our bond with one another and inner spirit as individuals stronger than ever.

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Nisha is a sheer example of how persistence can dismantle the barriers and that nothing can stop you from walking the biggest runways of your life, provided you’re confident of yourself. We congratulate and wish her all the best for the future!

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