It is estimated that almost 8 million people are living in conditions of modern slavery in India (GSI 2018). The skewed sex ratio in some regions of India has fuelled the trafficking and selling of women and young girls as brides within India. Women are reportedly sold off into marriage by their families, sometimes at a young age, and end up enduring severe abuse, rape and exploitation by their husbands. It is also reported that women and girls from impoverished backgrounds have been lured by promises of marriage by younger men from urban areas, then forced into sex work once married.
Renuka was 12 years old when she was forced to marry. She is responsible for all the house work, as well as caring for her brother-in-law's three children and her own baby. After two years, Renuka became pregnant again and had medical complications. After delivering a girl, her husband’s family demanded Renuka and her family pay compensation for not delivering a boy. Now pregnant for the third time and at 16 years old, Renuka does not know where to go for help.
I got married when I was just 12-years-old even before I had my periods. My husband was 16. At my mother’s house, I never did much work as I was studying and went to school. There was certainly no wage work to be done. I would help my mother in washing utensils and sweeping the floor. After marriage I had to go to the field to work on farms. I had to learn this and my mother-in-law was impatient with me because I was so slow. I also had to cook for the entire house and as time passed, the burden increased and I was expected to do everything without rest.
I take care of the three sons of my husband’s brother who live with us, cook and take care of my own baby. After about two years, I was pregnant and very anaemic and the doctor scolded me and my husband for getting pregnant so early. She said that the foetus may not survive. I was sent home and delivered a baby girl in a private hospital. It was a caesarian and I was very weak. My mother is going through depression and has no energy to support me. So is my younger sister who is mentally unstable. My father pleaded with the neighbours to help me in the hospital when I was in labor. My father took a lot of trouble for me. He was also tired. My mother-in-law was angry that I delivered a baby girl. My husband too never came to see me. Why are my in-laws not coming to see my baby? I stayed with my parents for five months with my baby and became very anxious. Then we got a message that I could join my husband only on the condition that we paid a price for not delivering a baby boy. My father had already spent a lot for my delivery. He had drained all the money he had on my health. With difficulty and after a lot of bargaining with his son-in law, he gave away 36 guntas of land, which was his prized possession. But my husband demanded that he give 15 goats too. My father had to beg and borrow money and meet all the demands and finally sent me to my in-laws. My husband has stopped talking to me and I don’t know if he will ever talk to me. I have no rest and am scared of my husband and in-laws. They treat me very badly, scold me constantly and punish me for having a daughter and not a son. They make me do all the work, particularly because my husband’s brother’s three children are all boys.
I am five months pregnant again. But how can I go to my mothers’ house? My father is in grief as my mother passed away due to an electric shock. I will have to suffer. I have no proper food to eat. When I seek help from the anganwadi centre, they refuse to give me food because I am 16 years old. They say that I have to be 18 years old to get food and other facilities. They ask me to get my age changed to 18 years in the Aadhar Card. Where is the time to do that? In fact I have no time even to talk to the anganwadi workers about supplementary nutrition or any matter on maternal health care. My life is full of troubles. I have become weak and do not have food to eat. I am over worked. My only wish is that nobody should have a life like mine.
Narrative provided by M Venkatarangaiya Foundation in their report ‘…and they never lived happily ever after. The battle for justice goes on: Voices of married girls in Telangana’