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.
Ponnala Navya was forced to marry her cousin at 14 years old. After the wedding, Navya was raped by her husband and due to the pressure to conceive, attempted suicide. Though Navya managed to obtain a divorce, her mother was forced to pay a fine and resents her daughter. Navya suffers from ill-health, malnutrition and has carried out further suicide attempts.
My father was an alcoholic and passed away leaving behind my mother and five daughters. Both my elder sisters were married and I was next. I was only 14 years old and studying in Class IX and resisted getting married. My mother beat me up and said that she would throw me out of the house if I did not want to get married. I had to agree and my aunt proposed that I marry my cousin who is the eldest of three brothers in their family.
After I got married I was sent to the in-law’s house. I and my husband were locked in a room and he forced himself on me. I ran to the door and sat scared in the corner of the room and cried all night. I was so afraid that I did not want to be alone with him. My mother’s house was in the same village and I would run there every other night. This went on for six months. Neighbours scolded me, pressuring me to get into the rhythm of married life. My in-laws were worried that I would never bear children. The pressure was so much that I attempted suicide. My friend rescued me but my mother was not willing to help me in any manner.
My in-laws asked the kulam panchayat to resolve the issue. They decided that my mother should pay Rs.10,000 as fine to get a divorce. Mother does not spare me for making it so difficult for her and keeps pushing me to work all the time. My sisters too scold me and ill-treat me, saying that I deserve no support or food. They call me names for bringing disrepute to the family and ask me to do all the work and earn wages to repay the debt incurred by mother to get me a divorce. My mother does not feed me and takes away all my earnings. There is no affection or sympathy from anyone in my family or among relatives and in the neighbourhood. I am all alone. I attempted another suicide by trying to set myself afire. Neighbors smelling the kerosene rescued me. I have irregular periods. I went to the nurse for help and she said that I was very anemic and needed treatment. But where is the money to buy medicines? The doctor called my mother and counseled her but she is still uncaring about my health and issues. I am totally depressed. I don’t want to live anymore. I am going out of my mind and feel so lonely.
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’