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.
Pilli Pavani was forced to marry a man against her will and despite his illicit relationship with another married woman. Within a year of marriage, she delivered a baby girl for which she did not receive any food or support. Subjected to physical abuse and with her husband resuming his relationship with the other woman, Pavani finally left her husband.
I got married when I was studying in Class VI. I have a sister and she is in school. The match was brought by my aunt and she said that he was an only son, well-off and would provide support to the family. I came to know that he had an affair with a married woman with two children. It was also rumoured that he killed the woman’s husband in collusion with her. The woman was then thrown out and she moved to a nearby village. I came to know that he continued to visit her in that village. I did not want this marriage and protested. I brought it before the ‘kulam panchayat’ to settle the issue once and for all. They said that all arrangements for the wedding had been made and were wary of the stigma that would be attached to me if it was called off. The kulam elders felt my younger sister would not get married if I called off the match.
At the panchayat, the man was asked to take a vow that he would have nothing to do with the other woman, drop his illicit relationship and marry me. I got married and went to my in-laws’ house. I was new to work because I went to school before marriage and did only light work at home. My mother-in-law was frustrated at my being so inefficient and scolded me often. My husband was also not kind and taunted me a lot. Within a year of marriage, I delivered a baby girl in my mother’s house. My husband resumed his illicit relationship on the sly. I was very unhappy and he never came to see me. It seems he was angry that I gave birth to a girl. After a lot of persuasion from my parents, his mother came home and took me back. She was even more violent after I returned. She never helped me with my daughter and would not give us enough food to eat. I had to work day in and out. My husband never held his child. When I asked him about his affair with the other woman, he would thrash me and I was asked to mind my own business. I felt sad and depressed I was carrying once again and sent home for delivery. I was very weak and in poor health. He told me that he wanted a boy the second time, but I delivered a baby girl and hence he never took me back. He told my parents he would take me and the children back, only if they presented gold to the baby.
I came to know that he has brought the other woman home. It seems my mother-in-law opposed it and asked her to leave. But my husband is adamant in maintaining the relationship. Again, I asked the ‘kulam panchayat’ to resolve the issue. The panchayat has not helped since my husband used the birth of two daughters as his excuse for rejection. I am so weak and have no will to live. I will not go back to him, ever.
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’