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.
Padmamma’s marriage was fixed for her when she was 16 years old. Throughout the marriage Padmamma was subjected to attempts of coercion, hostility, lack of medical care and physical abuse by her husband and his family.
I have two elder sisters and one brother who didn’t go to school and one younger sister who has completed Class X. I studied up to class XI and my marriage was fixed when I was 16 years old. As we had no money for the dowry, my wedding was delayed by nine months to raise the money. Another condition was that all dowry demands had to be met before the marriage. The boy’s family began to put pressure to give them the dowry quickly. My father took credit with heavy interest. In the meantime, I also learnt tailoring.
My husband has studied up to Class X and we spoke to each other after the engagement. He has one married older brother and they live together with their parents in a house with two rooms, which is 50 km from my parents’ house. Immediately after marriage, I became pregnant. My mother-in-law wanted me to abort saying that I was educated and did not work. They complained that I had not learnt to do household work and my husband supported his mother. I did not like the idea of abortion and could no longer accept their taunts about me being educated and being lazy. I told my father about this and he warned them against such a move and said he could take care of the baby. To prove that I could work, I worked hard till the end of my term but never received a good word, not even from my husband. He treated me well only in the first two months of marriage after which he turned violent and sided with his mother.
I went to my mother’s for my delivery and had a normal delivery. The in-laws were happy that I delivered a baby boy and my husband took me home after three months. I soon got pregnant again and delivered a second boy. On the advice of the nurse, I was sterilised. After my second delivery, I strongly protested against the workload and my mother-in-law’s behaviour with me. As I was weak and had two children,she asked us to set up a separate establishment.
Now we live separately. My workload has increased with taking care of two sons. I work as a coolie and my husband takes away all my earnings. He gives me nothing but at least he is all right with the children. I have a sewing machine and take some orders. This gives me some extra amount that I can spend on the children and on myself.
My health is still very bad. My husband has not shown any concern about my ill health. I consulted a local doctor, but it has not helped. Everyday my husband gets drunk and beats me up. I have aches and pains. Everybody in the neighbourhood knows how badly I am being treated. His friends also try to restrain him, but there is no effect. He just will not listen to anybody.
I lost an important source of support with the recent death of my father. He gave me a lot of courage to brave my troubles. I feel vulnerable and depressed. I know that I have to fight it out and set things right, for the sake of my sons. I am determined to ensure that they study well.
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’