In A Country Trying To Get Rid Of Girls, This Woman Adopted 45
"I want to become a doctor."
"No I can't see blood, so I want to become maybe a teacher or someone who can work with children through her life."
"I want to become like Ma (mother), Sonia Jolly."
I ask this third girl, why? Pat comes the reply, "Because every girl like me needs a loving mother like her, like Sonia Ma. Don't you think?"
So here, I bring you Sonia Jolly, the loving, doting and of course now-blushing mother of 45 adopted daughters!
Yes, you read that right. What began as her urge to have a girl child in 2014, later became a mission of Sonia's life which she fondly named ‘Upkaar Hum Hain’.
"I named it so because I strongly believe that my girls obliged me by allowing me to be their mother,” tells a beaming Sonia. "I was the only girl child my family had in the last five generations. So mollycoddling and pampering was a part of my everyday life. As a young woman, female foeticide, abandoning girl child, etc were thus a spine-chilling shock to me. So, while in college I had made up my mind that someday I have to #takecharge and bring about a change. UPKAAR is just a small step in this direction," adds the 51-year-old Sonia.
As we talk, I can see Sonia fondly keeping an eye on her girls' antics. "Mahima, pardon me, but I am a full-time mother!" A full-time mother at this age! What would have made this mother of two grown-up sons and a grandmother to a naughty five-year-old boy, take up such a big responsibility at this age?
"It is all in the mind. I have always believed in the fact that if you really desire something, you do everything in your power to get it and that is an ultimate commitment that we can make to ourselves. Age is no bar for a life's mission,”
Sonia insists while she tells a helper to exchange a set of pink clothes for a little girl for some other colour.
I interrupt,"But Sonia the world buys pink for girls, so she bought it too. Keep it!" She responds with a laughter, "That's what we have to change, the mentality. Girls are meant to be a rainbow. They bring colours to life, so why confine them to one colour?"
As she helps another daughter with Mathematics, the little one chuckles, "Ya Allah, thanks, Ma. This was the toughest Maths problem I have faced.” Sonia laughs and looks at me. I have a smile on my face.
But she could perhaps read my eyes,
"Mahima, for a mother, religion has no value. And 5 out of my 45 daughters are Allah's blessings. They live like sisters, since it is my responsibility to teach them humanity as their religion, irrespective of the faith they follow."
I tell her I am married to a man of a different faith. But still, my next question arises from the fact that UPKAAR runs from Satna in Madhya Pradesh, India which is ruled by the same party which, at the Centre, has become infamously famous for communally polarising the society. So will or does she get help from the government for her mission?
"BETI BACHAO, BETI PADHAO has to be taken as a challenge by the society because no government policy reaches out to benefit each deserving person. And I take pride in the fact that 38 volunteers have joined us in last fours years to be the part of this change. More than the government, it is my responsibility,” details Sonia, who’s now busy tying the shoelaces of a little one, who is constantly bombarding her with stories from her school today. And her ‘Ma’ is busy handling her as well as my queries.
Sonia suddenly asks me, "Aren't we 1.25 billion? Aren't a few, say one-third of us, financially capable enough to do this? We are, all you need is an intention."
Almost half of her daughters want to become the next Sonia Jolly, but what are her aspirations for them?
"Yes, each of my daughters has promised me to adopt one girl child. But my mission right now is to provide them quality education, help them to understand the fight for their rights, ensure they get respect from the society and turn them into confident individuals who are capable of standing up, for not only themselves but also their families and communities. The rest, my daughters will handle,” beams a proud Sonia. And her eldest daughters, who by now are standing around her, reflect her love with a thumbs-up.
But what if her daughters are not treated as equals? Gender bias is the bitter truth. "Cribbing won't work. My daughters will be capable enough to command, not demand." Each word of Sonia’s oozes with confidence that reflects on the faces of the girls as well.
What seems like a cake walk for Sonia, wasn't easy, "I began with little finances, initially adopting one girl only. But soon it hit me that I am capable of more, even if it means cutting down on my own luxuries. I had to address an issue and without taking charge, this wasn't possible. It was tough, but later when volunteers started helping me, I began adopting more girls. We have seen really tough times, I don’t want to look back at them,” Sonia tells from behind her momentarily moist eyes.
The Sun is about to set. I can see the exhaustion, yet a smile on her face. So how does this mother of 45 daughters unwind?
"Where is the time to unwind? When not here at UPKAAR, I devote myself to the other roles in the family. And the most enjoyable time is the one spent with my little grandson!" chuckles Sonia Jolly.
Such energy at this age!
She laughs,"Striking a balance between life and work isn't easy, especially if it isn't your passion and without a supportive family. But then, a woman is designed to multitask without even realizing that they are performing ten different things at the same time.”
But Sonia, what about those women who have no support from their family?
"Mahima, it is about educating such women mentally - it is about reaching out to them in person to help them come out of their shells. Each woman is capable enough to do that, just that we fear our society. It's a collaborative effort. Being a SHERO is of no use if you can't help another woman be one,” Sonia exclaims in a very assertive voice.
A shrill voice from her tiny set of girls who want to pull Sonia away for the "Ring-A-Ring-A-Roses" brings a breather to the intense chat. Sonia cajoles them to wait a little.
So where does Sonia see UPKAAR and the girls in ten years from now?
"I live for the moment, for my girls. Honestly speaking, I don't have any name and fame targets for my NGO. But yes, as I said, this journey has just begun and I will keep you updated,” Sonia smiles.
Little ones won't leave the mother with me any longer, so Sonia takes leave with this message,
"Always remember: Life is all about being able to stand up and speak up/act for yourself and also for others - even if that scares you, tries to hold you back or even if you have to stand alone."
As the melody of the children singing with their mother fills the air, I can see a mother enjoy unconditional love and her few teenage daughters trying to act like her, correcting their younger sisters' moves.
My heart fills with joy. And if you felt the same, do share Sonia's inspiring life-story and try to bring joy to a life. Because as Sonia Jolly believes, the change begins from one person and who knows that one person might be you.
V*****Highly inspiring, great job,Stay blessed
M*****Really amazing and interesting
A*****How amazing !!
T*****Doing great job mam... 👏👏👏👏
S*****You are really a strong lady
D*****Woww aunty so proud of you....
A*****Mam I also wanted to do something like u in future..
K*****Such a beautiful thought.
N*****Laudable ... more power to you !
A*****It's really inspiring
A*****That's inspiring.. A big salute to you..
N*****Hats off to you