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.
Eedamma was married at 13 years old to a bonded labourer of a different caste. Since her marriage, she has been subjected to physical abuse daily and has food restricted. As a result, she ran away from her in-laws back home.
I got married when I was 13 years old to Venkatesh from the Lambada tribe. Venkatesh never went to school and worked as a bonded labourer in his village. His mother is an ayah (care giver) at the anganwadi centre. My sister-in law has completed Class X and stays at home with us. I have been treated badly since the day I got married. I can’t tell you how my mother-in-law and sister-in-law pulled my hair and beat me even after I yelled, screamed and cried. It had no effect on them. They became more violent if I raised my voice. I am a Chenchu and they are Lambadis and the entire neighbourhood comprises of Lambadis. I felt lonely. I did not know their language. Nobody came near me or spoke to me. My in-laws, even my father-in-law, told everyone that I was evil and showed how I could not even cook properly. They poured water in the dal I made and when my husband came home, it angered him so much that he would beat me. He would always come home fully drunk and spoke foul language. He was never nice to me. He was under his mother’s influence.
They never gave me food to eat. I starved most of the time and had to work without any help. My mother-in law took away whatever wages I earned. I had no money and never bought anything for myself. My husband never asked me if I needed anything. I had no courage to talk to him. I lived like this for a year and-a-half. I wanted to die. My parents were so poor that I did not want to complain to them. So I did not even see them. ‘I could not bear the torture any more. I thought to myself that I don’t want that husband anymore or that work and that family. I decided to go home which was at least 100 km away. I slipped out of the house early in the morning on pretext of going to work, walked 8 km to the nearest bus stand, afraid that I would be caught. I was relieved that nobody saw me. I took a bus to Mannawaripalli and begged for money to buy a ticket. I collected Rs.25 from some people and got down at Brahmanapalli. I walked 3 km in the Mannanur forest. I was not afraid or anxious. I had nothing in my mind at that time and reached Mannanurtown. I met a known auto driver from my village and said to him that I had no money and requested him to drop me off along the way. He looked at me with sympathy and dropped me at Ippaipalli. It was late in the evening by then. I had nothing to eat. But never mind. I am going home, I felt. There I took another auto, a friend of my father’s, who enquired about me. I did not tell him much. He dropped me off 5 km from my village Bapannapadu. I had to walk 5 km in the night, waiting to reach home and see my mother and father. When I reached home in the night, my mother was shocked to see me and the condition I was in. She is very understanding and has not asked me to go back.
In the meantime, her in-laws came along and called for a lambadi panchayat to take her back. Eedamma took courage and spoke about how badly she was treated and all her ordeals. She said that she lost her health became weak and was broken completely- physically and mentally. The Lambadi community panchayat decided it was her fault and that she should join her husband. But she has refused to go back and is staying with her parents now for 8 months. She goes for work with her mother on cotton farms, mirchi farms and has found her peace. But she looks emaciated, has her hair disheveled, looks sick and as if in a trance while she narrated her story.
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’