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.
Pilli Lavanya recounts how, despite her resistance, she faced tremendous pressure to marry before she had completed her education. Soon after her marriage, Lavanya tells how she was expected to work from 6am both in the home and fields, as well as having her eating habits regulated. When Lavanya became pregnant, she did not receive adequate healthcare and faced hostility from her husband and his family after giving birth to a girl.
I resisted a marriage proposal in Class IX and protested by not eating. My eldest sister was widowed soon after marriage and was stigmatised, harassed and illtreated. My sister and I wanted an education and not be married early. My parents relented and encouraged us to study. They would not even let us do any work at home. Only occasionally, during the holidays, we would help with cooking, washing and cleaning in the house. But when I was completing Class X, there was so much pressure from my parents, sisters and relatives that I agreed to get married — but only if I was allowed to continue to study after marriage.
Until three months after the marriage, everything was all right at my in-laws’ place. Then I was asked to begin work at home from 6 am. I was given something to eat only at 11 am after the work was done. I was compelled to go to the fields and work as a labourer which I did not know how to do. When I returned home, I had to cook and was allowed to eat only after everyone else had eaten. My mother-in-law scolded me for not being efficient and my husband supported his mother. I was not allowed to continue my education, to meet anyone, visit parents or even get medical attention when I fell ill. After six-seven months of marriage, I conceived and suffered from bouts of morning sickness. I was not even aware of being pregnant. I was taken to a doctor only a long time after I became weak.
I was never taken for regular checkups throughout my pregnancy. My parents too were not allowed to take me home until the fifth month. At my mother’s house, I was rested and fed, so my health improved. But when I returned to the in-laws’, I was forced to continue the routine of domestic work and agricultural labour. I was also threatened to be cast away if I had a girl baby. I went to my mother for the baby’s delivery with the warning that I was not even to contact my husband or his mother, if it was not a boy. I delivered a girl through caesarean. My husband and his mother didn’t respond to the news of a girl being born. My husband came for a very brief visit on the third day. For five months, they refused to take me home. I was allowed to return after the husband was gifted a bike. It was such a burden on my family. They had to borrow to get me admitted in a private hospital and have a caesarean. When I went back with my husband, my in-laws and everybody was hostile. My husband took little interest in the child and showed no interest in me. He does not let me even talk to him, there is no going out, he gives me no money to buy something for the baby. The in-laws too do not show any interest in the baby. I am back to working at home and in the fields’.
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’