The bride and groom were bored; with the thousands of rituals involved in a marriage, with the heat and overdressing, with hunger and most of all with their questionable role in it all. They had no idea how they were supposed to conduct themselves and didn’t know if blushing would be appropriate or not. All they did, like they were told to, was look down and bear the whole agony silently.
After all, who would they complain to? Their own parents were marrying them off even before they had reached their teens, and the whole world was participating in the celebration. No one even had a fleeting thought of trying to stop them from doing this injustice with their kids at such a tender age. The kids could do nothing but agree, out of fear, blackmail or love.
This is not some particular wedding I’m referring to. I’ve always pictured this is what might be happening with those poor kids on their wedding day. Isn’t it?
Child marriages are still rampant in the place where I come from, but I can’t thank God enough for sending me to a family where such foolish customs are scoffed at. It is said that your wisdom lies in differentiating between good and bad and accepting only what your heart feels right. Giving in to the pressures of society or following certain custom or tradition blindly isn’t just wrong, it is downright criminal.
I was probably 6 or 7 yrs old when we’d gone to our hometown in Rajasthan for my brother’s Jadula (Mundan) ceremony. It is a ritual which till date continues in every household in our community. The whole thing held no significance whatsoever for me at that time. All I did was enjoying. It was a whole lot of fun seeing the desert there, riding on camels and elephants (who cared about a tan then!), seeing people dressed in traditional clothes and women keeping a mile long ghunghat which covered their whole face.
Anyway, when we were travelling to and from somewhere we witnessed, for the first time ever, a young couple who’d just been married. Young here means really young. The groom was around 10 years old and the bride was around the same age. They were dressed in wedding finery and were being taken to the temples nearby for God’s blessings for a good marriage (and I’m sure lots of sons too). I was mildly amused looking at them.
My father disapproved but didn’t say a word since the wedding had already taken place. However, he advised the groom’s father to make sure the girl gets proper education and care. My mother tells me his eyes were moist and he was a tad more kind and loving to me that day and kept mumbling under his breath, ‘Why do these people do this?’. He took a picture of them to show us later. We have that picture till date.
This was my first brush with a Child Marriage or Baal Vivah. Whenever I see that picture I can’t help imagining how that girl must be now, since she was just a little elder to me that time. How must’ve she adjusted with her husband’s family? Did she have a khadoos mother-in-law? Did she have to cook at such a young age? Who told her about menses and sex? Was she given proper education about it? How many kids and possibly other women (her husband’s other wives/girlfriends/keeps etc) might she be having? The questions are endless.
Whatever intentions there might be which made people create such a tradition in the first place; it is nothing less than a slap on the face of humanity today. Violence, early maternity deaths, nutrition problems in mother and child are just some of the major consequences of child marriage. The mental and emotional effects it has on the mind and psychology of the girl cannot be easily gauged.
Here are a few things I’d like to tell all those people who still support it and can’t see what inhuman thing they’re doing with their daughters by throwing them in this fire.
- Educate your girl. Educating a mother is like educating the whole family. A mother is a child’s first teacher. She can teach him what no teacher can.
- Give her opportunities. Let her show you that she’s no less than the sons you’re so proud of, may be better. Give her the chance to prove it.
- Treat her as equal. Why should a girl’s education be stopped for lack of funds? She can learn and earn just as well.
- Give her respect. Show her that you have regard for her knowledge and understanding. There’s no bigger motivation than this.
- Stand for her. Nothing is more important for a woman than to know that she has someone to rely on. She needs her family the most. Be there for her.
While my experience was in the state of Rajasthan, Bihar isn’t far behind. Even now, 68.9 percent of the marriages in Bihar involve girls below the age of 18. (Source: UNICEF)
The legal recourse available in this regard is:
- The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929
- The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006
- Apni Beti, Apna Dhan (ABAD), which translates to “Our Daughter, Our Wealth,” is one of India’s first conditional cash transfer programmes dedicated to delaying young marriages across the nation.
Even after being addressed by the government, this evil is far from being contained. The reason behind this is simple. It is more of a ‘you cover me and I cover you’ kind of a thing where most of the cases go unreported. Also, the poor economic conditions and crimes against women in states like Bihar force parents into this practice to get rid of the responsibility of their girl early.
Here are few suggestions that I’ d like to give:
- To take help of locals and try to reach the villages and towns where such things happen. First and foremost, to make parents realise that a girl is not a bigger responsibility than a boy. They must be treated equally.
- To collect ladies and give them knowledge through lectures and slides. Having gone through this, mothers should be advised not to force their daughters into it and be strong to stand against their families and society for it. Knowledge about hygiene, health and nutrition must be given to girls and women.
- Road plays and skits to make the point simply but effectively. To use live examples and include the whole audience in it.
- Highlight the punishment they’ll be liable to. Law can be used both to scare and protect and they should know it. Any case where the offenders got punished must be emphasised.
- Help of experts from the vicinity. Help of local police officers, doctors etc can be taken so the point is better emphasised and conveyed. These are people that are in constant touch with them and can work more effectively than strangers from outside.
Let us all begin our contribution and do our bit by making a promise to ourselves and our society.
I promise to do my best to help get rid of this evil that is plaguing our society for so long.
I promise to expose and report anyone doing this as far as I can.
I promise to make our society a place where our young girls can worry about what dress to wear or what chocolate to eat, anything but marriage.
I promise to help make this place safe and happy for every child.
This is my entry for Indiblogger’s Ring the Bell for Indichange contest. Write the change!