There is no more lovely, friendly & charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage - Martin Luther
How is a 6 yr old supposed to understand what Martin Luther said? For her the meaning of life would be running into her father's arms or being put to sleep by her mother. Toys & friends seem to be her companion for life. But what if one day while playing outdoors with her friends, her parents suddenly call her home and say that next week she would be married off? My guess is that child would be very happy at the prospect of receiving new clothes and eating lot of sweets. For her, marriage would only mean that.
After a very long time, last evening our domestic help, Laxmi had some time to sit and chat over a cup of tea. While we were at it, we started talking something about marriage and I was shocked to know that she was married at the age of 6!! She is 25 now, mother of 3 kids, her eldest son is 10 years old!! I couldn't help but keep staring at her. It is not that I am not aware of child marriages, but someone was sitting in front of me and telling me a real life story, so I was a little more than dazed. And no this is not a glamorous story like Balika Vadhu. I like the concept of that serial, but I feel the issue is being all decorated. I mean there are so many girls who are married off as kids, they don't become Sarpanchs and wear all expensive jewellery, would have been better if it had a realistic touch.
Coming back to Laxmi, it was actually her elder sister's marriage at the age of 15, but since her parents found a 'good boy' they decided to get their younger daughter also married. The groom was 16 yrs old then. After the marriage Laxmi stayed with her parents, and once she attained puberty at the age of 14 she was sent to her husband's house, she gave birth to her eldest son the next year. She is from a small village in Karnataka and this incident happened some 19yrs back, so maybe in 1993. 93 wasn't ancient age right ? we still had all the laws in place I suppose. While narrating her story Laxmi was cursing her parents for ruining her life and being insensitive and marrying her at 6. She says she had this small black mangalsutra around her neck from the age of 6 and that her friends would not allow her to play with them because she was married.
She has 3 kids, first two sons, and the youngest is a daughter who is 7. The kids stay with their grandparents in the village, but she plans to bring them back this year. She is very enthusiastic when it comes to educating her daughter. Her daughter goes to a primary local school, but will join a better school when she comes to Pune. I was very happy listening to all this, that Laxmi is not doing the same mistake what her parents did. She then said she would let her daughter go to school and then marry her. I asked her what age she plans to do so and she quickly replied, ' by 15 or 16'. I thought I had heard wrong, so I asked her again and she said the same thing. 'How can you do what your parents did Laxmi?' I asked her. She said ' No didi 15 is fine, girls should be married by then, 6 is too small no. My daughter is 7 and she does all the housework now itself. By 15 she will be mature enough to handle a family. And didi the real reason is the environment we live in. Girls are molested and raped everyday, so it is better I give my daughter off to someone else then I will be free of my responsibility!!'. I told her this was against law and she should not do this. She replied, 'nobody cares in our village. Girls are married off at 15 or 16. In villages all this is ok. Law is only in the books and big cities for people who can afford it. For poor people whether in village or cities law is created on the basis of circumstances and needs!!'
I was dumbfound. Had no clue what to tell her and discontinued the discussion. Then kept thinking about it. Years back something wrong was done to Laxmi. Though she agrees that her parents did not do the right thing, still she goes ahead and does the same with her daughter and clearly mentions her daughter as a 'responsibility' which she wants to give off to someone else. We have laws and rules & regulations in place, but still parents marry off their daughters at an early age. Marriage is important no doubt but shouldn't it also be a matter of choice? Marriage is no security that a girl will not be molested or raped. Recently there was also a statement made by the President of Chaubisi Khap (Rohtak): Randhir Singh that girls should be married off young to avoid getting raped!! I wonder what he thinks of young kids aged 2 & 3 or even less getting raped..should they be married too??
I might sound biased here when I talk only about girl child in a child marriage when the boy is also deprived of his childhood. But I just feel the issue is more serious with the girls. I was looking up for some appropriate image for this post, and I could not even bear to see the pictures of little precious ones getting married. It is so much easy to write an article or tweet about this problem, but in reality I did not even know what to tell Laxmi and how to convince her. How many more lives need to be ruined before we find an answer or implement the answers we already have???