Recently, Nirantar traveled across 7 states to carry out a landscape analysis on early and child marriage in India. We wanted to interact with young girls and boys, their parents, administration, police, women’s collectives, different organizations to understand how they engage with the problem of child marriage.
What was most exciting for me was the chance to speak to young girls from different parts of the country about their dreams and aspirations. We met girls who giggled when we asked them about getting married, girls who had been married early but whose gauna (a ceremony that often takes place months or even years after marriage wherein the bride finally leaves to go stay with her husband and his family) had not yet taken place; as well as young married girls.
We met Sujata* a young volunteer for an organization that works on stopping child marriages. She said she desired two things – the first, to be free; the second, to go to her in-laws home because she would have the opportunity to study. She said that her being able to study, would mean she would be able to express herself better, she would find the voice to speak, and put her ideas forward.
Sabina*, a young girl from Rajasthan was living in a hostel near her village, pursuing her dream to become a teacher. She was happy but shared how she had to be a ‘good girl’ so that this opportunity wasn’t taken away from her.
What hit me hardest was how girls struggled and hesitated when they were asked about their own lives, their own dreams, their aspirations. Many were unable to think about their own lives, many refused to answer the question only because they knew their lives would lead down one road.
The dreams we allow girls to see are only those of marriage, children and service to her husband and his family. We don’t allow them to think or dream about education or work. The opportunities we provide to them also become limited because our dreams for them are limited.
*Names have been changed to protect identity