By Shambhavi Saxena:
The same year in which the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (2006) surfaced, 14-year-old Roshan Bairwa outright refused to be given as a child bride. “If I married, the doors would close” she said, pointing to a full halt in her education, deterioration of health and lack of any opportunity to realize her full potential as an individual and a human being. “I want to study, which wouldn’t happen if I married young”, she added.
In his address at the Girls Not Brides global initiative launch, Archbishop Desmond Tutu described child marriage as a “practice that robs millions of girls of their childhood, their rights and their dignity” – a statement particularly true of Rajasthan, with child marriage rates exceeding 50%.
Even though the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 came as early as it did, the practice continues well into the 21st century, and conflicting laws at the state and central level aren’t doing anything to make things better. Section 8(1) of the Rajasthan Compulsory Registration of Marriages Bill 2009, appears to recognize child marriage as legal by urging all persons below 21 years of age to register their marriage and is in contradiction of the Centre’s Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. S. S. Kothari suggested it would be “an excellent way to detect child marriages,” but there seems to be no deeper involvement on the state’s part as to why child marriages takes place at all.
The prevalence of this evil in India of 2015 is a reflection of the deep misogyny harboured by our culture and religious practices. In order to control women’s sexuality, production and reproduction, the strategy to claim women’s bodies at very young ages was evolved. Caste endogamy (maintaining the ‘purity’ of one’s line) too is maintained through this practice, as explained by Babasaheb Ambedkar in various anti-caste writings. The BIMARU states (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) in addition to being economically poor and backward, are also the states with the highest rates of child marriages. This suggests a correlation between this social ill and poverty – where brides aren’t allowed to prosper into healthy, economically productive, self-actualized beings.
In Rajsamand district of the state, Class 8 students Shivlal and Ratni were engaged to be married, IANS reported earlier this month. The pair has to endure taunts from fellow classmates and have regrettably resigned themselves to the fates chosen for them by their families. Fortunately, not all young women given as brides have taken this old, not to mention outlawed tradition, sitting down.
Jodhpur’s Laxmi Sargara, bound as an infant to 3-year-old Rakesh, learnt of her marriage in 2012. She immediately took the help of NGO worker Kirti Bharti (Sarthi Trust) to annul it in the month that followed. Her grit and determination, despite various social pressures, has led her story to become part of Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) curriculum on human rights and gender studies.
Though married at 17, Nirma Chaudhary of Sikar district too has an encouraging story. Having received the support she needed from her family to complete her education, she has been able to secure a job as one of Rajasthan’s first female fire-fighters. Today she is challenging the traditionally held beliefs about women’s work and capability, and refusing to be one among the numberless young brides confined to the domestic sphere.
Social workers and former child brides alike are now working towards discouraging the practice in their communities. They are advocating for complete education and work opportunities as necessities for women, as they are for men. We hope to see a day where Rajasthan, which ranks second in the world for this social evil, will stop foisting the burdens of motherhood on its young women, and come around to the idea that marriage is not and should not be the sole purpose of a life that is born female.