The world in front of her eyes came crumbling down with the news of her wedding being fixed. She ran to her grandpa with millions of questions in her eyes and shouted at him. But, grandpa did not utter a word. His silence was enough to tell that her fate had been decided. There was no option other than to accept it. Being the eldest of five of her sisters, she knew this would happen soon. But this soon, she had no idea. She was only 14.
It felt as if society was waiting for her to hit puberty and marry her off. Is a child mentally and emotionally mature at the age of 14 years? Are they capable enough to understand ‘marriage’? Sakina* was not. How would she? It is not taught in schools. Not even in the families.
“…but what about my schooling?”, asks Sakina. “You can continue if your in-laws and your husband allow you.“, she is told.
It’s her life. The decision should be hers. Sadly, the scenarios are quite different in different parts of India, and the world. Living in cities comes with its set of privileges where most of us may have the freedom to take decisions for ourselves. While it can’t be generalized, some parts of rural India show the other side of the coin. Women in villages often do not have the right to decide for themselves and are sometimes, considered a burden by the family. The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act came in 2006, yet child marriages are rampant today.
Sakina had dreams and aspirations. She wanted to study and become a social worker but her life was crushed by the pressure of marriage. The concept of choice and freedom was not introduced to her.
Was getting married the end or beginning of Sakina’s suffering? It was not even two months into the marriage that she saw the barbaric side of her husband. His demands of dowry were never-ending. When she was not able to meet the demands, she was forced to leave the house. The physical abuse and the ominous threats of what could happen to her became an everyday routine.
“He kept telling me that I can’t take care of you anymore. I didn’t understand what was happening to me.”Sakina
“Do you think his behaviour was justified?” I asked.
“No, it wasn’t justified but maybe I did something wrong, that’s why he used to beat me.” she replied.
The doubt in her reply is loud enough to tell that even after years, she is not sure that it was never her fault. There is no justification for violence. The husband has no right to raise a hand irrespective of his supposed reasons. “Sometimes, I used to get angry too but never dared to do anything. There was immense fear that he might kill me in sleep. If I’d have stayed any longer in that house, I’m sure I wouldn’t be alive today.”
Sakina left her husband’s house after going through the torture for three months. She couldn’t handle it and decided to return to her parent’s home. But here too, life’s circumstances failed her. Her parents denied to accept her back.
“Gharwaale bolte hain ab tera sasural hi tera ghar hai. Sasural wale kehte hai ki hum tujhe nahi rakhenge, tu apne ghar ja. Main kahan jaun, kis ko puchun ki mera ghar kahan hai”
I was numb and had nothing appropriate to say. Our society says that “Shadi ke baad ladki ka ghar uska sasural hi hota hai”. But what if it has failed to create a safe space for her. What if it’s not home. Society doesn’t tell us where to go when there’s no humanity left there. Sakina’s wounds were still fresh. The trauma is still evidently there. She had no time to heal or figure out life.
Sakina needed to find a place to live. A few months ago, she was simply going to school, playing with friends, and not worrying about the next day. In just six months, her life had flipped. Here she was, trying to rise from the ashes. She gathered all her courage and filed a court case against her husband. Her family refused to pay a single penny for her further education. So, she worked in sugarcane fields on a meager pay of INR 50-100 per day to get back to her studies which she was forced to give up.
After years of hard work, her courage to start a new life paid off. Sakina has now completed graduation and is already enrolled in the MSW program at MANALOK’s social work college. “Ab meri padhai hi mera sab kuch hai”, she says. Education has changed her life. She feels empowered and encourages young girls to not give up on education. It has helped her in making decisions for herself, understanding her own worth, and gaining control of the circumstances around her. Because of this, combined with her perseverance, she has also secured a job in Manavlok.
Sakina is 25 now, independent and financially stable. She now understands what marriage means. With no help from her parents, sisters, brothers, or relatives, she became her own support system. It is said that time heals everything. But even an entire lifetime is not enough for her to heal from the trauma she has experienced as a teenager. Just like a picture on the wall, a lot has been fixed but she hasn’t healed yet.
“Earlier I never understood what was happening. Girls in our families are treated like puppets. No one ever asks our choices or takes permission. We have to obey the decisions they take for our lives as if we have no right on it. They just see us as a birth-giving machine. In those three months of marriage, I’ve seen everything. Despite the physical abuse and torture, I didn’t give up. Instead, I took baby steps and kept moving. Lekin zindgi abhi bhi dhoop chaanv jaisi hi hai.”, expressed Sakina.
“On one hand, I feel stable and don’t feel the need to take support from anyone. My thought process has changed. I now understand what decisions to take and I’m in a better position than ever before. But on the other side, people are not letting me live. They keep reminding me that I need a man. There is constant pressure to re-marry and I’m not in the state to give it a thought. I’m still scared and my past experience keeps haunting me.”
“How do you see yourself now?” I asked.
“I’m just happy to be alive; thankful for not losing hope even when my parents weren’t by my side. After experiencing domestic abuse, all a girl needs is some support from her family. I was not lucky enough to have that and I’m still fighting the court case all alone. It’s been 10 years since it’s going on. Now, whenever I go to the court, I support young girls who are fighting similar battles. Their liberation empowers me, and I’ll continue to do so as long as I can.”
As a young girl, I wanted to be a social worker. Now I have become one with the support of Manavlok. My challenges and my trauma have made me a stronger person. “Ab bas meri ek hi khwahish hai, main apna khud ka ek ghar chahti hun”, says Sakina.