'Now when I walk down the street people point me out to their daughters and say, "That's Tabbu. You should be like her",' said Tabbu Afroz, 18, when she received the Changemaker Inspiration Award in New York.
Three champions of social change, two of them teens, were honoured at the annual Breakthrough gala in New York.
The honorees were Tabbu Afroz, 18, from Jharkhand, leading a fight against underage marriages; Nick Jaeger, 16, who funds a women's group through a hedge fund he launched; and Ajaypal Singh Banga, chief executive officer, MasterCard.
"They were honoured for their commitment to dignity, equality, and justice within their families, communities, workplaces and beyond," said human rights activist Mallika Dutt, who started Breakthrough in 1999.
Looking at Nick and Tabbu, Dutt added, "Together we are building the Breakthrough generation -- the generation that will make violence against women and girls unacceptable, in this lifetime. The incredible people we honour tonight -- two teenagers and a CEO -- all embody the three pillars of that generation: Compassion, courage, and accountability."
Tabbu received the Changemaker Inspiration Award, for challenging early marriage in her family and in her community. She said her efforts had at least prevented three such marriages.
Tabbu's father, Mohammad Ramzan, received a standing ovation at the event for letting his other daughter Raunaq -- at Tabbu's insistence -- continue her college education and not getting her 'married off'.
"I used to be very shy and timid," Tabbu told Rediff.com, "but when Breakthrough came to our school, and presented a play and spoke about the problems women and young girls faced at the hands of cruel people, things began to change for me and many other young people and their families."
Tabbu, who is pursuing a bachelor's degree, and her father now advocate together against early marriage in their community. Tabbu's sister has completed her bachelor's degree and is dreaming of pursuing her PhD in computer science.
"We come from a very poor family and our community does not believe in allowing girls to go for higher education," said Ramzan, a bicycle mechanic. "Now that my daughters are studying, I feel really proud as I know that they are going to get good jobs and will have a better life. Thanks to Breakthrough and Tabbu."
Addressing the audience, Tabbu said, "Now when I walk down the street people point me out to their daughters and say, 'That's Tabbu. You should be like her'."
After pausing to recover from tears, she added, "I never believed I would come this far."
She invited her father, who like her had made his first-ever trip outside his hometown in Jharkhand, onstage. People in his township, Ramzan said, had known Tabbu as his daughter. Now, he said with his voice choking, he is known as Tabbu's father.
Image: Tabbu Afroz, left, who won the Changemaker Inspiration Award, with her father Mohammad Ramzan and Breakthrough founder Mallika Dutt.