I am standing here today after a gap of 11 years but it feels as if time has stopped for me right now. Memories of childhood and these past 11 years are unfolding in front of me. This time lag has made me grow as an individual who knows what is right and can live life independently. I am confident enough that I can make another’s life better too. I was forced to run away from this place, my birth place and my village. I considered my life a curse then but now I know the fact that my life has improved and I am thankful to God for the same.
I was just 13 years old then and had been to a yearly fair at the outskirts of village. I was ecstatic and was riding every possible swing visible. My friend had accompanied me to the fair. Suddenly, a man approached us and took out vermilion and filled in my center parting of my hairs (filling central parting of bride’s hairs with vermilion is one of the rituals of Hinduism at the time of marriage done by groom). I was extremely shocked. I felt insulted. Someone told me that it was a popular tradition of our village. Any male who liked a girl could approach her and just by filling with vermilion could marry her. A girl was his wife with no right to object or question any authority. Her consent was not necessary.
The man who had filled my vermilion was four times my age and already had three wives. I was asked by my family to agree to this marriage as it was best suited for the welfare of the family. The old man and my so called husband belonged to a well-to-do family so I was supposed to abide my village’s tradition. My life was being sacrificed for an antediluvian belief. I was in tears. I tried every possible way to get out of this but then due to immense pressure I had to knuckle down and succumb to destiny’s wish. I decided to leave home next morning and accepted to be old man’s wife.
In my dream that night, someone told me to runaway, don’t follow such customs. I did the same. I ran away from home in pursuit of a better life. I reached a thick forest. I knew running away from my problems was a cowardly step but it suited the best at that instance. I spent 8 days there. It was a difficult phase. I decided to quit my life but couldn’t do as God didn’t want my end. Outside that forest on the other side, I saw a new place and tried to approach people there. I was fortunate enough that I could meet a woman's cell there. They had a camp there. They heard my story and approached to police immediately. I got justice as the old man got arrested initially but I was not accepted by my family and villagers. He got released too as he was influential. I was again supported by woman cell and I was sent to a child care centre.
In time, I received proper education and vocational training. I also learned martial arts. I am working as a teacher-cum-social-worker now and doing my bit to make this world a better place. I am currently helping a large number of under privileged girls. This is my story. Now, I am standing here in my own village where my family is still not ready to accept me. The old man hasn’t learnt from his mistakes and is fifth time married yet alive. I moved on but my village couldn’t. I had tears in my eyes when I was asked to leave the village and even now I have put the reasons behind both incidents are entirely opposite.
- A fictionalized account Written by Dr. Aakshi Kalra