It is estimated that almost 8 million people are living in conditions of modern slavery in India (GSI 2018). The skewed sex ratio in some regions of India has fuelled the trafficking and selling of women and young girls as brides within India. Women are reportedly sold off into marriage by their families, sometimes at a young age, and end up enduring severe abuse, rape and exploitation by their husbands. It is also reported that women and girls from impoverished backgrounds have been lured by promises of marriage by younger men from urban areas, then forced into sex work once married.
Shailaja was forced to marry her cousin despite her classmates alerting the authorities. Subjected to verbal and physical abuse and suffering from malnutrition, Shailaja has had three pregnancies in her short marriage, with her first ending in miscarriage, when Shailaja did give birth to a girl, her husband and his family were unhappy and abused her further, forcing her to abort her third pregnancy after discovering it too would be a girl.
I studied up to Class IX and my parents fixed my marriage with my cousin, without informing me. My mother was not for the marriage as the boy was illiterate but was forced to agree as the boy was the son of my father’s sister. He beat up my mother for this objection and silenced her. My classmates alerted the police about our engagement and I was not aware of it. The school authorities, police and officials called both families and stopped the marriage and it was postponed till I completed Class X. But we were married on the stealth. I was completely unaware of this also till the ceremony.
My older brother and his family lived separately and I and my husband also lived in a separate house. I had no help to set up my house, do the cooking, fetch water, sweep or even go for farm work to earn wages. I had never done so much work before. I also did not want to live alone with him. I felt uncomfortable when he came home in the evening and hesitated to go near him. I was scared of him as he was very aggressive and rude. Within two months, I conceived and was anxious about how I would manage my pregnancy. Due to over work, carrying heavy loads, lack of food and my husband’s abuses I had a miscarriage. My mother came home to help me at home and recuperate. Within two months I was pregnant again. This time mother took over my work and I successfully gave birth to a baby girl. The family including my mother-in-law was unhappy and hurled abuses at me. I was getting weak with work and taking care of my baby girl. Six months later, I was pregnant again. My husband and his mother insisted that I get my foetus scanned to find out if it was a girl or a boy. They found that it was a girl and forced me to have an abortion. I resisted but they would not listen and got the doctor to induce an abortion. Four months, later I got pregnant again. This is my fourth pregnancy, and it has weakened me. I am very anaemic, have no food as it costs money and so much work to do. My mother-in-law is abusing me in anticipation that I would give birth to another girl. My husband too drinks and beats me up. Any reason is a reason to beat me. What a family I have got into where all are alcoholics! They brew their own liquor. Bootleggers! When I tell my mother that I am being ill-treated, she said that since my father beat her, there is nothing wrong in my husband beating me, his wife.
Narrative provided by M Venkatarangaiya Foundation in their report ‘…and they never lived happily ever after. The battle for justice goes on: Voices of married girls in Telangana’