Sneha Jha spent her early childhood in the Mahottari district of Nepal and grew up in Kathmandu. Her mother instilled in her unusual ideas: she didn’t have to marry young and her studies were important.
“I was only 15 when I appeared for my SLC (School Leaving Certificate) exams,” says Sneha, “and from around that time, people had started approaching my family with marriage proposals [for me]. But in my case it was different. In that regard, I consider myself a lucky person. My mother was against my marrying early.”
Today Sneha works for a nonprofit that uses entertainment to address the rights of women and girls and the radio drama she writes for aims to end early marriage in Nepal. Hilkor (“Ripples in the Water”) is the product of an international nonprofit, Population Media Center (PMC), that specializes in using entertainment for addressing social, health, and environmental issues. They train local teams of writers, producers, and actors to create long-running dramas for TV and radio, often running multiple years.
Hilkor is 104-episode radio serial drama airing from April 2016 to April 2017 and rebroadcasting from April 2017-April 2018 in the Maithili language in Nepal. Broadcasted on over 10 local radio stations including national broadcasters throughout Nepal, the drama focuses on major issues surrounding the rights of women and girls, especially early child marriage. Nepal has the third highest rate of early marriage in Asia. Former Nepali President Ram Baran Yadav, who was married at age 14, spoke at the drama launch about the importance of ending early marriage.
Sneha’s personal story is deeply connected to stories she writes in Hilkor. From age 15, she had people coming to her home with marriage proposals. Some even asked for no dowry, a benefit many parents would not have dismissed. In Sneha’s case, her parents even turned down the marriage proposals from very wealthy families. Her priority was her studies. Though many see her as a positive role model, Sneha believes the real credit for her decisions not to marry young go to her mother.
“In the story, we have a positive character who acts as a role model in our life,” says Sneha. “I have someone in own my life who is like a positive character for me. I do not consider myself a hero; for me, the hero is someone who is a positive character in my life, and it is my mom.”
The precarious and emotional situations Sneha found herself in as a young teen facing marriage proposals, with no control over the situations, inspire her fictional characters and storylines with authentic emotions, interactions, and character development.
“These characters share certain feelings and experiences with me as a student who was approached for marriage while still studying,” says Sneha. “In the story, I have captured all the emotions that I used to have as a teenager and also those of the boys who were my friends and who had feelings for me.”
In February 2017, Sneha’s life changed. She got married Her husband was a man of her choosing and she felt she was ready.
With pressure from society and his family, Purnendu Jha thought he’d be married at age 25, demonstrating that although marriage pressure falls disproportionately on young girls, boys are also exposed to societal expectations.
Purnendu first saw Sneha on television as a news reader and decided to message her on Facebook to see if she would want to meet. After a few requests, Sneha agreed to get coffee and the two started to frequently see each other and talk about their similar professional lives, as Purnendu was a film director, writer, and producer. Though Purnendu wanted to marry her early on, Sneha wasn’t ready.
“I had always wanted to get married at the age of 25,” says Purnendu. “There is no logic behind that, though. And when I crossed that age, I started kind of fidgeting, thinking whether I was getting late. I wanted to settle down by that age with my family life and my job.”
This might explain why Purnendu began proposing at every date. Sneha declined each request.
“It’s not that I did not want to get married with him, but that I was not mentally prepared for it,” says Sneha. “However, I had a feeling that whenever I would marry, I would marry him. And so now when I have finally made up my mind to wed, he is the man.”
Sneha was determined to establish her career prior to marriage. She feared marriage would derail her rising name and fame in the media sector and was still in the process of finishing her studies.
“I did not want conflict in our interests and priorities after my marriage,” says Sneha. “I shared this with [Purnendu]. Over time, with maturity gained, the dread lessened. Then my mentality changed. I told my mother, and then him, that I was now ready for marriage.”
One of Sneha’s largest concerns, and something that frequently comes through her writing in the Hilkor drama, was her emphatic belief in the importance of not being dependent on a man.
“From my childhood, I used to think that women should not be dependent on men,” says Sneha. “I still believe that women in any relationship should not be dependent on men and that is how they can maintain their individuality and self-respect.”
The unconventional duo remained in engaged for another year after Sneha agreed to marry him. The more than four years they have known each other has allowed them to really understand each other and attain a level of maturity that Sneha believes is essential for marriage.
“Yes, different people have different natures. He is probably the perfect person in certain regards to handle the type of a person that I am,” says Sneha. “This being said, no one is 100 percent perfect. So are we, both. To understand this, needs maturity. And now I realize he can handle so many things about me. He is by my side even when I have ups and downs in my career and comes up with suggestions. He handles well the type of mood I have. And I understand his.”
The two were married in February 2017. Sneha’s rewarding work and choice of Purnendu for her husband inspire her storytelling every day. “Through my writing I know I have to keep people from getting married early.”
About Population Media Center
Population Media Center is a nonprofit leader in entertainment-education, dedicated to women’s rights and empowerment, population stabilization, and the environment. For the past two decades, PMC’s entertainment programming has promoted social and cultural change and has helped 500 million people in more than 50 countries. www.populationmedia.org