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.
After her father’s death, Sunnam Maheswari’s mother attempted to get her married, subjecting Maheswari to physical violence when she protested. Fearing for her life, Maheswari ran away from home, eventually coming to the attention of the police who with the help of Childline had Maheswari and her brother placed in a hostel away from their mother where they could continue their education.
My father was mentally imbalanced and absconding. After three months, he was found dead in 2012. I have a younger brother and he goes to school. I dropped out of school in Class XII to help my mother. My mother developed a relationship with a man who stayed in our house occasionally and also an illicit relationship with another man whom she visits in another room taken on rent. Thus, neither of the two men know about the other. I was shifted between the two locations whenever her partners visited. My mother found having me around very inconvenient. The man who visited the house also tried to misbehave with me. This made me wary and uncomfortable. I could not take this anymore and rejoined school and got admitted in Class IX.
My mother tried to convince me to get married saying that it was a solution to her responsibilities. Her partner also thought that I should be married. Thus, they arranged my marriage to a constable who showed interest in me. I was not for the wedding but my mother was insistent and even tortured me by branding me with a hot iron spatula. She tried to stop me from going to school. She was going to kill me and drove me out of the house. I ran out not knowing where to go.
I hid in the compound of a local library until late in the night and escaped to the house of my grandfather’s younger brother. But they were not willing to have me as they were afraid of my mother and also felt that giving me shelter would cause a social boycott. I asked them to let me stay with them just for that night, which they agreed. Early in the morning I went to the room of my mother’s other partner. It was locked. I went to my friend’s house. She had already left for work. I was helpless and sat under a lamp post crying. My friend’s brother noticed me and I confided to him about the torture and compulsion. He quickly gathered the neighbours and the local youth and they confronted my mother at her work site. My mother said that if I was not willing to agree to the marriage I could not stay in her house. She also said that she was going to get a litre of kerosene and burn me alive. I heard the entire conversation over the phone speaker and was fearful for my life.
The youth and neighbours took me to the police station and also called Childline. The mahila (woman) police called my mother to the police station. She refused to come as it was night by then. I did not want to have anything to do with her and slept in the woman constable’s house. She gave me courage and counselled me to be brave. Next morning, Childline staff arrived and a decision was taken to admit me in KGBV as they felt that was a safe place for me. My brother was also admitted to a social welfare hostel, away from my mother.
The mother also started to spread the news that I was taken away forcibly and hidden from her. She contacted all the local leaders and cried for help and spread lies about how I put her to shame by taking her to the police station. But I was not afraid anymore.
I was admitted in the KGBV hostel in Class VIII after I gave a statement that I wanted to study in KGBV of my free will. My mother came to the hostel to visit me and started to beat me. Thereafter she was not allowed to enter the KGBV. My mother no longer visits me.
The police also took the decision that the land that belonged to my father would be held and transferred to us children. My mother was denied rights to sell the land.
During vacations I go to the MVF Chandrayangutta Camp. Many a time MVF staff counseled me to get in touch with my mother. I am not ready for this as yet, since I would like to look after my younger brother. I am apprehensive about my future after Class X since there are not many hostel facilities for the intermediate level.
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’