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.
Kundamanchi Ramulamma was 15 years old when she was married to a person from her caste. After the marriage, Kundamanchi Ramulamma was sexually abused by her father-in-law. He father went to the panchayat who eventually agreed to a divorce, however, a few month later, Kundamanchi Ramulamma was forced to marry again.
I studied only up to Class II in the local school and dropped out to go with my parents to beg. MVF volunteers motivated my parents and sent me to the bridge camp. I could study up to Class VII but continued to beg as my parents insisted that nobody in our community has ever studied this much. I was about 15 years old when I was married to a person from my caste and who was also into begging. My father-in-law was sexually abusing me. I told my husband but he would not believe me. We quarrelled a lot and I was very unhappy. I told my parents that I did not want to continue with the marriage as I had to face unbearable tensions. I could not tell them more than this. I showed them the bruises I had and this worried them. I suffered like this for 18 months. My father asked the ‘kulam panchayat’ to settle the issue. The elders heard our case after we spent a lot of money on liquor and payment. They agreed for a divorce. I was so relieved and came back to my parent’s house. After a couple of months, a common friend of the family asked my parents if I would marry a divorcee who already had two sons. They readily agreed to this match even without consulting me as they felt that I would be well settled. I had no say in the matter and got married to a 26-year-old man and joined his family. He took good care of me but the family was very poor. I also took good care of his children, as if they were my own. I had to work hard and also beg for a living.
After one year, I became pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy. Soon after, my mother-in-law insisted that I have a sterilisation done. I did not want the operation and resisted. She put a lot of pressure on me and began telling my husband that I was being partial to my son and not taking care of his children. My husband too became very suspicious. No matter what I did, they were not convinced that I looked after all children as my own. I shared these tensions with my mother.
The matter about the pressure for sterilisation was brought up before the kulam panchayat. There were discussions for two full days on this. I was very frightened about escalating the issue to this level. I wondered what the verdict would be. It was decided that nobody could force sterilisation and also that my mother-inlaw should take care of my husband’s children in her house while we move out to set up another house. My husband is unhappy about the decision. I overwork as a daily wage worker, take to begging and also carry petromax light on my head during wedding processions while carrying my son on my hip . I try my best to keep my husband satisfied, make both ends meet, buy clothes for my stepchildren and cook food during festivals. I keep hoping that my husband does not have any complaint against me. My health is deteriorating and I feel very weak. But life has to go on.
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’