It is estimated that almost 8 million people are living in conditions of modern slavery in India (GSI 2018). Around 27% of girls are married before their 18th birthday. 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.
Shabnam was forced to marry at the age of 13. She tells of how her husband attempted to poison her and poisoned her son. Shabnam finally asked for a divorce and with the help of the Centre for Social Research is now free.
I was married at the age of 13. My husband was around 18-19. In our culture, we don’t have a choice. They kept me well for the first couple of months. I was happy. Then the torture started.
I was 14 when my first child was born. He was born with a heart condition. They kept him in the ICU for a month. Then we brought him home. He died in a few weeks. Later that year, I contracted TB. I was in a lot of pain and could not leave the house. So, he used to get me the medicines. One day he told me it’s very bitter. Will you be able to drink it? I said it’s bitter every day. He told me it’s a new medicine. It is different. It smells weird. He sounded so concerned that I believed him. I’ll drink it. Medicine is medicine. It’s better to live than die.
He made me a cup full of it and I drank it. It was termite poison. For one hour, I was in excruciating pain. I could not breathe. I did not know where to run. A few year later, my little son, the one younger to this one, he was poisoned to death. I finally asked for a divorce.
For a year I wandered around trying to find help. I wanted to file a case against my husband. A woman from the community gave me this centre’s address. I came here and started inquiring. I was told that they would help me for free.
I’m one of them now. Whenever they call me, I come to attend the meetings and I will continue to do so.
It feels good. Earlier I was scared of stepping outside the door. I’m not scared anymore. I can go anywhere on my own.
Narrative provided by the Centre for Social Research