Priyank, a Delhi University student, blindly trusted his dad when he asked him to come back home urgently. Turns out, they wanted him to ‘see’ a girl for marriage. The moment Seema entered the room with cups of tea, Priyank felt something was not right.
I come from a wealthy family in Bihar and my parents sent me to Delhi for my post-graduate studies. I had been in Delhi for about a year when one day my father asked me to take a week’s leave from college and return home as soon as possible. No one dared to disobey my father’s orders in our family, so I booked the next ticket and was headed home.
I reached at seven in the morning and my dad and elder brother asked me to be ready by nine. I was told to dress smartly and that we had to go somewhere. But there was little else in terms of details. I tried to ask my brother but he too remained tight-lipped. And since I didn’t have much courage to question our father, I just did what I was told.
I had no idea where we were headed. My brother drove the car, Papa sat next to him and I was in the backseat. There was an eerie silence en route. After about an hour’s drive, our car stopped outside the house of a middle-class family.
As we entered the house, I noticed that the family was not surprised to see us, rather they seemed well prepared and quite excited. Everyone was going out of their way to welcome us. I found all the people from the family staring at me with speculating eyes. Did I look funny or odd? They all also constantly kept whispering into each other’s ears.
And then they got food – sweets, samosas and cold drinks. I was hungry after the long car journey and decided to let go of the apprehension and just eat. Soon the man, who looked like the head of the family, questioned me about my education and work. I answered all queries politely but looked at my brother and asked him – what was going on!
“We have come to see a girl for your marriage,” whispered my brother. I had a rush of feelings – anger, fear, frustration, surprise, shock and immediately looked at my dad, who was busy munching samosas and telling the family about his business.
“How could you take such a big decision without telling me?” I asked my father in an angry muffled voice. He gestured me to remain silent. There was an ocean of anger inside me. But I had no other choice but to keep mum.
As I was busy with my own thoughts and wondering how to get out of this situation, a very young and timid girl entered the room. She was accompanied by her mother. She was holding a tray full of tea cups and placed them silently on the centre table.
Something wasn’t quite right. However, my thoughts were disturbed by my father’s interrogation of her culinary skills and expertise in other household chores.
My father then asked her to walk around to ascertain if she had any kind of deformity. I wanted to die of embarrassment! The girl walked hesitatingly and then sat down. Papa then asked the girl’s father if they had taken care of our ‘demands’. He folded his hands in obligation and nodded.
Everything was becoming too unbearable for me. I could sense that the girl was very young and definitely not ready for marriage. I jumped into the conversation and asked her, “What’s your name?” The sudden burst of words from me surprised everyone. However, Papa took it positively and told me to ask anything I wanted to.
The girl’s mother then told me that her daughter’s name is Seema. I asked her what she did. The question surprised Seema’s dad. “She handles all the household work, what else will she do?”, he said. I then asked about her age. Everyone in the room fell quiet, including my talkative dad. They started looking at each other for answers. Her mother then answered, “Ladkiyon se unki umar nahi poochte beta (Girls should not be asked their age)” and everyone started laughing nervously!
I was almost sure that Seema was not yet of marriageable age but I wanted to hear it from her. So I told my father and brother that I wanted to talk to Seema in private. After a long pause, I was allowed to speak to Seema in the presence of her sister.
I did not want to scare her off. So I began the conversation by first telling her about myself. I then asked her to tell me her correct age. “I will turn 14 next month,” she said. I was shocked and asked if she understood what marriage was and if she was ready for it? To my surprise, she said yes and became emotional.
“Why do you not oppose it?” I asked. “What should I oppose? I have to get married at some point. It’s our destiny”, was her reply. Her mother entered the room at that moment and asked me if I ‘liked’ the girl!
When I came out of the room, everyone was looking at my face, expecting a ‘yes’ from me. I gathered courage and said, “Neither Seema nor I am ready for marriage. She is only 13 and marrying her is illegal! If you marry us, then all of you will be a part of this crime.”
Seema’s father was flabbergasted. He quizzed my dad and told him clearly that he ought to get us married if he wants huge dowry. At that point, my father pulled me by my hand and asked me to sit down. I refused to sit down and tried to explain one more time to Seema’s father that he too will end up in jail if he marries her off before she turns 18.
My brother and dad left the house angrily at this point. Seema’s dad too banged the door in my face after asking me to stop preaching the ‘bade sheher ki batein’ to them.
On the return journey, my dad did not utter a word. When I came back to the house, he asked me to go back to Seema’s house in the morning to seek forgiveness. No one was on my side. They all had only one thing on their minds – my marriage to Seema.
When things got out to control, I told them that I will report them to the police. At this point, my father slapped me hard. No one ate food that sleepless night. I packed my bags the next morning and left for Delhi. I knew if I had stayed there then I would be forced to be a part of this crime.
It’s been over a year now. I haven’t been back home since. I got busy with my studies and volunteer work. But I now live with an uncomfortable niggle that while I had the freedom to walk away from it all, Seema had no choice. She was most likely married by her father to the next highest bidder. Is marriage just that in our country – just another business?
*Names have been changed