Anandi is one name most of the Indians are familiar with today. A 10-year old girl, who is married to a 12-year old boy, this fictional character has captured the attention of the entire nation with her charming smile and innocent questions. More importantly, she has, once again, raised the ever-debatable and one of the most sensitive issues prevalent in the country – the issue of Child Marriage.
Culturally, child marriage can be traced back to a Vedic decree that says girls must marry before attaining puberty; but the form we are aware of today is a blessing of the medieval age, especially after the Mogul invasions. In the medieval age, the atmosphere was turbulent; law and order was an unknown phenomenon, and all power lay in hands of someone who did not even know what power meant; and thus spawned many absurd rituals.
In the early 1800’s, birth of a female baby was looked down upon as an ill omen. “Bojh” was the word used for the girl child. The insecure parents never realized that by marrying her off at a tender age of 7-8 years, they didn’t relieve themselves of any burden; instead, they jeopardized an innocent life. Without education, there was very little choice left before the girl herself. A child, so young and naive, who had just about opened her eyes to the world, was handed over huge responsibilities; and before she could understand anything, her world completely changed. Little did she know that utensils would replace her dolls.
The little girl, who until yesterday was some-one’s darling daughter, carefree of her surroundings, was suddenly thrust into a world she was unaware of, from where she had to begin afresh with new responsibilities and duties. She had to take care of things and people unknown to her; and yes, please them too! Husband, in-laws, household chores and seclusion ruled her mind as well as her world. Barred from stepping out of the boundaries, prohibited from the freedom of expression, she used to become a mere puppet whose strings even her parents did not hold. When a young bride moved into her husband’s home, she was expected to assume full domestic duties, including the production of children (preferably sons) as soon as she was physically able.
A grim image, isn’t it? The fate of an Indian girl was sad, but true; but seeing the extent of modernization today, one would be happy to believe that the ritual has been evicted from the society. Unfortunately, it is not so. Even today, when we see women pilots, doctors, engineers all around us, there are communities where a girl child is still a bojh, and this burden is still thought to get reduced with the stamp of marriage. In one of the few states where until now the Chief Minister was a woman, Rajasthan, the custom is prevalent even in the modern times; and not just Rajasthan, but Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal are also witnesses to this obnoxious custom. Child Marriage is not an issue which was practiced only in the 1800’s and died thereafter; it’s a modern day social evil. It is a baneful practice which has limited the social space of, and has also contributed greatly to the deterioration of the status of women in India.
Child marriage is illegal in India, has been for a long time, but this has failed to curb the practice. It still continues unchecked like it was the sixteenth-century, but nobody cares, the papers prefer to talk about some Indian IT grad at Microsoft making $2 million. It’s true there are strong economic incentives for poor families to marry off their children, especially daughters, as early as possible, often in groups. Dowries, still a common practice in India, increase in size in proportion to age; there is also the cost of the wedding ceremony. But gambling an innocent girl’s life to prevent one’s own misery is no solution.
For girls, adolescent marriage is perhaps child labor in its worse form. It is a violation of human and child rights as defined in numerous conventions to which India is a signatory. When children are forced to marry, it has strong negative inter-generational effects, passing on poverty, malnutrition, and illiteracy. Even from an economic perspective, the loss in human capital is enormous. A host of development issues would be cured by ending the practice. First among the social evils spawned by child marriage, is the forced termination of female education. Education is what empowers a brain, it is a necessity in the modern world, and being deprived of it, the young guns of modern India cannot do anything, except sit at home and lament on their fate.
Needless to say, this social evil needs to be eradicated as soon as possible. These little girls are entering a dark future, and we as citizens are leading them into the gloom. We are the future of India, and so are they. Its upto us to take the issue into our hands and free our sisters of this bond that is thrust upon unwillingly. It’s high time we enjoy the plight of a Balika Vadhu only on our idiot boxes, and as a thing of past.