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Everything Changed In A Day When They Said I Would Make A Beautiful Wife

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This post is a part of Kaksha Crisis, a campaign supported by Malala Fund to demand for dialogue around the provisions in the New Education Policy 2020. Click here to find out more.

Childhood And Schooling

Mamata Devi (name changed) was just 13 when she was married off in 2004. Born in the village of Dahu in rural Jharkhand, she went to the school in a nearby village till 5th grade. She had to walk to another village to study till 8th grade.

My father was a Mali (gardener) at an agricultural plantation in Muna Putra, and my mother was home taking care of my siblings and me. I attended a government school that was Hindi-medium, where around 300-400 students used to attend. I made a lot of friends at school and enjoyed walking to school with my friends. But after school, I always engaged myself in house chores – cleaning the house, washing utensils, making cow dung patties, cooking food and grazing the cows,” recalls Mamata.

The Marriage Day

The girls in her village were married at a very early age. But, Mamata never thought she would have the same fate. Her marriage was never discussed in the house until March of 2004. One day her parents suddenly told her that someone is coming home to see her.

Representational image

I was asked not to go to school that day. My parents got me ready and asked me to serve tea and snacks to the guests. The matchmaker asked the guests if they liked me. They indeed did, and they chose me for my physical appearance. They told me that I am beautiful and I would make a great wife for their son. And just like that, my marriage was fixed, and everything changed in a single day. It was too much for me to process, but all I could feel was anger because I knew in my heart that I might discontinue my studies,” she says.

Mamata attended child marriages before this because her cousin sisters were child brides too. But the thought that she will be one never crossed her innocent mind. When asked about her wedding, she said, “Few days before the wedding, I went shopping with my mother. We bought bangles, bindi, nail paints and my mother bought a saree for her and me. I was extremely scared at the wedding because I didn’t want to get married in the first place. No one asked me for my opinion. I did not know anything about my husband, and the thought of living in a different house was terrifying.

The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 came into force only on 1 November 2007 in India. There was no legal system in place that could have saved Mamata from being a child bride.

Life After Marriage

My husband was a good man, and he respected me. But he drank alcohol sometimes, and I always scolded him for that. Before marriage, my in-laws and the husband promised that I could continue my studies by going to school even after the wedding. But after the wedding, though I wanted to attend school, my husband didn’t let me. He wanted me to manage the house chores. After a while, I made peace with it, and I became a mother for two daughters.” says Mamata.

Mamata’s husband owned a Chinese food cart on the main road. Mamata was happy with the small family she created in Dahu. She spent her time doing house chores and taking care of her family.

A Change In Circumstances

But everything changed in 2009 when her husband left this world forever. “It was March, and my husband went to buy some food supplies from Ranchi. He generally reaches home by 2 or 3 pm. But that day, he was late, and I didn’t worry much. I thought he was stuck with some important task. But then I got a call from someone in the neighbouring village. They told me that my husband was sick and he wanted me to come there,” she says.

My mother and I were working in the fields, I was very little, and we saw Chachi running on the road. So we ran towards her, and she explained what happened. We immediately went to the neighbouring village, but it was too late; chacha was no more,” added Mamata’s niece, who was sitting beside Mamata during our conversation. To date, no one knows the cause for his death as the family couldn’t afford a post-mortem.

The Financial Burden

After his death, the financial burden became Mamata’s responsibility. She worked in a brick factory for a few months. The hours were long, and her body was always sore from carrying the bricks.

Later, she joined a factory that manufactures thread from cotton. “I still work in the thread factory. I also grow rice and vegetables in the small land we have after I return from the factory. Somedays I wonder if life would have been different if I continued my studies. When I was a kid, I wanted to become a police officer. Because people always told me that I had a good height. The Police work would not have been as hectic as my work right now. I am sending both of my girls to school, and I won’t let my daughters have the same fate as me,” she says.

Mamata says that even after 17 years, she still sees child marriages happening in the village. She doesn’t want her daughters to be child brides. She wants her girls to study well, travel in trains and planes and have their own houses.

The author is a Kaksha Correspondent as a part of writers’ training program under Kaksha Crisis.

Featured image courtesy of Flickr/Bazpaul
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