My domestic help Sangeetha seemed unusually excited. “Ladki dekhne ja rahi hoon, didi. Apne ladke ki liye.” (I am going to see a bride for my son). I looked up from the newspaper I was reading and asked her what her son’s age was. “Unees- bees saal ka ho gaya. (He is 19-20 years). Pichle mahine baawarchi ki naukri lag gayi. Ab shaadi karadenge, ladka settle ho jayaga” (Last month he got a job as a cook, We will get him married now, and he would settle down in life).
In an instant my tone changed from a curious one to one of concern. “Sangeetha, do you know it is against the law to get your son married before his marriageable age of 21? And the girl whom you have chosen should be above 18 to get married. What you are doing is child marriage, and it is illegal in our country.”
“Come on Didi, no one checks. And all these rules are only for you “Saaheb log” (boss/rich people).
I asked her, “Sangeetha tell me why do you want to get your son married so soon? He has just started earning, why not let him save up some money and then start his new life.” To this question of mine, Sangeetha gave me crisp confident answers. Answers which shook me up, Answers which brought out underlying issues- of poverty, of the existing caste system in the society, issues concerning virginity/chastity..
Here were her reasons
- My son is young, and getting him married would mean he would not be attracted/fall in love/ get involved with any other girl. Especially a girl from another caste. Falling in love is still considered a taboo in many sections of society.
- Another source of income: Another member in the family would mean another source of income. The daughter –in –law too would work as a domestic help, thus bringing in a few extra thousands every month to the family.
- The earlier the marriage, the easier to get a young bride. The similar logic of point one applies here. Younger the bride, more chaste she is. There would be lesser chances she would have got involved with someone.
Despite me discouraging her, Sangeetha seemed obstinate.
Very often we people living in urban spaces and big metros, fail to realize the widespread existence of child marriage that still exists in our society. The common thought is such practice exists only among the rural, illiterate and low income group.
However, today after I heard out Sangeetha, I personally felt, such a practice isn’t really restricted to a particular section of society. It is prevalent widespread in our country-across sections, across economic classes, across the literate and illiterate. It’s probably not just the law that would stop this. The awareness must be spread by each one of us to all around us.