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.
Roja was forced to marry at the age of 15. She has no food and goes around the neighbourhood begging for rice, oil and some food. Neighbours felt sorry for her in the beginning and tried to give her some supplies but now they avoid her. She is going through immense anxiety and depression. Roja curses her parents for not listening to her and getting her married at such a young age. The community is working on her husband to abandon her and remarry since she miscarried four times. She feels that no other girl should face problems as she did.
I was determined to study and do well. My parents sent me to the residential school at Nakrekal. When I was in Class IX and 14 years old, I was asked to come home for my engagement ceremony. I refused to go home and said quite strongly that I would like to study along with my friends and pleaded with them not to get me married. I thought they had relented, but when I visited home for vacations, I was told that they had already given a dowry of Rs.1 lakh and said that it was impossible to break their commitment to get me married. The pressure from the boy’s side was growing and they asked for a decision of the kulam panchayat. I was allowed to complete Class X and postpone the marriage by one year. They argued that the boy was 28 years old and is self-made, has no parents. I was told that he is nice and had worked to get three of his elder sisters married; single-handedly performed all household chores, wage work and took care of his younger sister who is a heart patient. He is in dire need of help and needed someone to look after him, cook and take care of his house. I insisted on completing at least Class X which they allowed. Soon after that I was married to him.
My husband is an auto driver. He works one day and rests for four days following that. Drinking has affected his health. Since my husband is irregular at work and unwell, I had to work overtime to earn wages, run the house and look after his younger sister who has a heart problem and is just three months younger than me. I also have to serve my sister-in-law who ran away from her husband and is staying with us with her two children. She was kidnapped by her own husband who was a sadist and demanded a ransom. He also forced her into to prostitution. He was caught and beaten up. Another sister-in-law also came back with her two children since her husband was a drunkard and torturing her. She has gone back after her husband was counselled. I had the responsibility of looking after all of them.
I was new to agricultural work but was compelled to learn to pluck cotton, do cross-pollination and sow paddy. Within two months of marriage, I got pregnant and had a miscarriage in the fourth month of pregnancy. I felt very weak. When I consulted the doctor she said that my blood level is very low and asked me to have a good diet and bed rest. She scolded me for becoming pregnant at such a young age and said I should take care of my health. But where is the time to rest? I had to do all the work, else the family would starve. In a matter of two years, I had four miscarriages. There was no medical help in any of the pregnancies. Each miscarriage took place in the first trimester and I was at home each time, without anyone’s help or knowledge. I had severe bleeding after each miscarriage. I went to my mother’s home for rest. But I had to return because my husband’s family was so dependent on my earnings.
I was over-worked, in ill health and totally devastated. There was nobody to take care of me in my husband’s house. I returned to my parents’ house and do not want to go back. My parents feel I should go back at the earliest as my husband is a good person and does not ill-treat me. They say he is my aunt’s son and we should not let him down and that my husband is sad as I am not going back to him. They sometimes tell me that he is my only future as nobody will marry me especially after four miscarriages. They keep pressuring me to go everyday, using all kinds of arguments. I don’t want to go. I question them ‘I am your only daughter, have I become a burden to you?’ I have had enough of frequent miscarriages and the heavy workload. There is not even enough food to eat. I am tired and not willing to go back.
I am frightened, scared and shivering. I want to die. It is just a waste to live.
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’