By Veda Nadendla:
She is 13 and her parents have decided that it is time for her to be married. Her intended is a man in his 40s, addicted to drugs and alcohol. What’s most comforting for her parents in this situation is the fact that the groom’s family has not demanded any money. It is clear – they are looking for a caretaker for the man, and she has no say in the matter.
The little girl in question is the daughter of a house maid who works at my friend Aman’s place in South Delhi. It was the 9th of December, 2014. He called me up and informed that the wedding was to take place in three days time; we had to stop it. We had three days to save her life from being ruined.
Before this phone call, Aman and his parents had repeatedly requested the maid to reconsider the engagement, but to no avail. They had spoken to the police in Vasant Vihar, only to be told that if the police were to intervene, the girl’s father and in-laws would have to be arrested, because of which her community would disown her and she would be forced to fend for herself. In such a dire situation, she would very likely end up in a red light area, as a victim of trafficking, said a senior police inspector. As the last resort, Aman’s parents offered the maid and her family an amount of Rs. 5000 to educate and raise the young girl till she turned 18, only to be rejected by the maid. She reasoned that her daughter had come of age and should be married before she became a liability. “How much can I protect her now? This is the best safety net for her”, she said.
The moment I received that call, I was so sure that we would be able to rescue the girl within hours; that it was all a matter of a few phone calls to the right people. Twenty four hours and nearly 150 phone calls and conversations later, I was losing all faith in the possibility of finding someone who would save the life of an innocent little girl.
I had hit a dead end, and was very close to giving up. But the turning point was when the Centre for Social Research came to our rescue, literally. A friend connected me with them on the evening of 10th December and within hours of my email and phone conversation, they had one of their most experienced case handlers dispatched to the local police station to find a pragmatic solution to the situation.
On the night of 11th December 2014, the police and the case handler together rescued the girl. They helped her parents and the community understand the detrimental effect their actions might have on their daughter. The girl was taken in for counselling along with her parents, while the community too underwent counselling over the following week. All was settled before the dawn of 2015; the girl was safe and sound with her family by her side.
Today, this little girl is in school and has endless possibilities awaiting her as she steps away from the grave peril of being a 13-year-old bride.
But does it end here?
There are a large number of girls out there with no voice of their own, and definitely no choice. Maybe they are in our own backyards and we don’t even know it. I wouldn’t have known about her was it not for Aman and his family. Her life was set for being a wife and caretaker, had it not been for the timely intervention from the Centre For Social Research – the people who tried to forge change, the people because of whom she has a chance at a new life. They chose to be the action for a change that I almost believed was impossible in our country.
In these three days, I almost lost faith in my whole life’s purpose and reality hit me like a tight slap in the face. It is not enough to be tweeting, talking, texting, discussing and blogging about the problems that our country faces; especially the growing violence against women and children. Reach out and raise a voice, push for solutions, look for support; don’t think that no one will help you, because as a country we are encountering a revolution of action against injustice unlike ever before. Be a part of the revolution and rise out of your ignorance and inhibitions. Just say something, ask for help and change will follow.
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