The day kicked off with a plate of poha and mangoes and an assignment completed in so much haste that I forgot the main purpose of writing it. I hogged a lot thinking that there won’t be any food left in the world but the subtle truth was that I won’t get lunch today. To me field work meant no food, so I had to eat everything left in the world.
All we knew about today was field work. Little did we know that we have to form a notion about poor India. ‘Rural India’, the name itself forms and opinion on everyone’s mind, ranging from living conditions to food habits. The task was a little different, probably because we had to live without a phone and carry a little money. It seemed pretty simple to me because I knew where to keep extra money and I’ve been there and done that. But with all the values inculcated in me in the last few days of the induction training I wasn’t really zoning out. Like a small girl I gave all I had and like a boss I stepped out of my comfort zone.
All I had on my mind so far was the fact that early marriages are very high in rural India and so are the cases of dowry. So first of all it has to be borne in our minds that you cannot directly ask women their age and dowry remaining the most personal question ever.
I ended up in a small village called ‘Bedla’, some seven kilometres away from Vidya Bhawan. ‘Dapun’ a lady originally hailing from a small village called ‘Kund’ smiled at me and I just followed my intuitions. Dapun was dressed in an elegant yellow ‘lehenga’ a Rajasthani attire to be worn by women especially after marriage. She had two sons, both married. By degrees, a small group of men encircled us and listened to our conversations like primary school kids. I was so mesmerized by her smile and local jewellery that I ended up immersing in something else. Slowly I realised I have to go back to my main agenda. I popped up the question of marriage and her belief in that institution. A good fifty year old woman shared how grand her wedding was when she was married off at the age of twelve. My heart wept silently thinking that she had no teenage life or high school fun. To her, a grand wedding at the age of twelve was what she was looking forward to when her age was to play with paint and go running around the mulberry bushes. Her smiled kept me engrossed and she was telling how she got her sons married off at the age of twenty. Little clue did she have about how illegal that was. I quietly went back to writing the facts and figures.
Then I seeped into a narrow street where I was welcomed with strong smell of jalebis and a really dingy dark street. It kind of reminded me of David Copperfield when he used to walk through dark-dingy cells in search of food. For some reason I was carried away by an emotional wind. But soon I was back on track at Sushila’s place. She received no formal education but had a different approach towards marriage. Though she was married of at an age of thirteen against her will, she shared the sad plight of having four daughters in a family.
Later on, I encountered a group of women, five to be precise, who all belonged to the same family. I was baffled when they said they got married between the age group of ten to fifteen years. I cornered one of them when the rest got busy. Gradually I popped up the question of dowry demand. For her family, dowry was like an aim in life where the birth of a girl child meant that it was time to save money. The demand is crazy and she told me that her sister’s marriage was called off because her family couldn’t meet the demands.
After talking to a bunch of people and a police officer, it was evident that marriages at an early age were a common affair. However, it is to be noted that the panchayats and police has made an effort to stop it and most villagers are still aware. A lot of young girls are also receiving education. My entire belief was broken about new rural India. Child marriages are not at its peak like it was a couple of decades ago.
photo courtesy: mark-tuschman