It was 42 degree Celsius. We were travelling to the Rajgarh district of Madhya Pradesh. It was Akshaya Tritiya, a day which is considered auspicious by the Hindus. People buy gold and property on this day. As we were driving, I did not see a lot of vehicles on the road. Later we came to know that the Hindu Sabhas had decided against conducting mass marriage ceremonies owing to the Lok Sabha elections. After reaching the destination, I thought of paying a visit to one of the nearby temples. I visited one in Kilchipur, which is located near the Rajasthan border. I met many young couples there, who had come to the temple in order to get married. I met Rampal, who was around 20 years old; his bride was even younger (19). After the prayers, many of these couples go to a photographer’s studio to get their photographs clicked. The local vendors inside the temple take pictures instantly, print it using an Epson printer and hand them over to the newlyweds. It came to me as a shocker that many of the brides didn’t even know the full names of their about-to-be husbands. They were meekly walking behind the grooms as the ‘saath phera’ ceremony was being held.
I then visited another temple in Rajgarh, where I met many adult couples; however, some were visibly underage. One such pair included a boy who was an adult; the girl was half of his height and visibly naive. They had been married already, and the girl had left her parents’ home. I didn’t know what to do, nevertheless, I did enquire with the temple priest, who said “When people come to us to fix marriage dates, we ask them to show their birth certificates, but when they are already married and come to us to seek our blessings, there is nothing much that we can do.” We met many children who were within the age group of 12- 15 years and were playing the drums at the temple. They gathered around the couples who were exiting the temple and started asking them for ‘gift money’. It is not only about child marriage, but child labour is also a pressing issue in this district. A vast majority of these cases go unreported. I spoke to Arun Satalkar, who works in the region as part of the district’s Child Rights Forum. He has been working with countless NGOs and is tirelessly making endeavours to spread awareness about the evils of child marriage. When I spoke to the district officials, they talked about the efforts being made by people to stop child marriages. Many of them were busy with the election duties; they said that child marriages do take place very quite frequently in the area; they, unfortunately, go unreported.