The UNICEF has expressed its distress that it will take at least half a century for child marriages to be abolished in the world. And what concerns us more is the revelation that one sixth of these marriages take place in India.
The health and psychological toll that such marriages take on the life of the girl bride in particular is not unknown even to the most illiterate section of society, thanks to the reach of Doordarshan (DD) which spreads this message through all its channels all over the country.
And yet even in the 21st century child marriages are so frequent in society because it has a very clear and conscious mandate from the elders in the family. The Khaps have their own logic for marrying the girls off the moment they are 16 and we would be giving them undue publicity by repeating what they say.
But for the sophisticated language we are no better than retrograde Khap Panchayats. Even in urban India and metro cities in the majority of arranged marriages the parents of the boy prefer to have girls who are young preferably those who are just out of college.
There are some very solid reasons for this. A person working for a matrimonial told me that parents from the middle-class have expressly told them that they would not like working girls because once they start working they start asking about the package of the prospective bride-groom. But they justify this by arguing that once a girl starts working she becomes very rigid in her opinions and will not be able to adjust in a new environment.
In other terms the prospective Saas (Mother- in- law) and Nanad (Sister- in- law) will not be able to dictate terms or dominate a working girl because she is independent both financially and in her thinking.
The traditional thinking in urban India still is that whatever the age of the boy the girl must be young- the younger she is the more malleable she remains to the tortures and tantrums she is going to be subjected to in her new home.
Unfortunately, in real life these theories are being debunked. A civil lawyer who deals in law cases told me that had the Indian laws not provided for one year of waiting for a divorce to fructify there would be instant divorces like instant coffee and instant noodles.
“I have been approached by newly-wed brides aged between 22 and 24 asking for divorce within three days of their marriage. We try to send them to councellors and drag the case for the minimum one year to save their marriages but the tolerance level has gone so down in youngsters that in most cases we have to give up,” he said ruefully.
In India (Saat Jamnon ka rishta) where divorces were once considered taboo and Indians settled abroad were coming back to India to get married, the last decade and a half has seen a major upheaval in the matrimonial scenario.
Most matrimonial websites now have separate columns for divorcees where the person looking for a life-partner is not ashamed of declaring his or her marital status. So while we are still trying to trap the girl – child into marriage she refuses to take the bait. That, I think, is the only bright side of this dismal story.
By: Amitabh Srivastava
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