Santadevi Meghwal had just turned 16 when she learned about her childhood marriage. When she was just 11 months old, Santadevi was married off to a man, Sanwalram, by her parents.
Though the marriage function was a small affair where the baby Santadevi and her newly husband sat side by side, they were to have a formal wedding once she reached an age of adolescence.
Santadevi informed Gulf News, “It is part of a tradition in our village that when an elderly relative dies, a child in the family has to get married within 13 days,” and Santadevi was the child next in line.
Upon finding out about her marital status, Santadevi protested vehemently, but her parents and in-laws refused to give in. Now she’s fighting for her rights to break free.
Santadevi interviews with reporters. IMAGE SOURCE: GULF NEWS
Reflecting back on the pain that her older sister, who also had a child marriage, went through, she didn’t want to have that same experience. “Her in-laws ill-treated and threw her out of the house within four years of marriage. I did not want to suffer the same fate.”
She knew her fate led to something dark when she refused to go with Sanwalram and his family on her 16th birthday. “Sanwalram showed his true colours. He began stalking me when I would go to college. He even threatened to take me away forcibly. The villagers would see him harassing me, but never intervened. Such experiences helped me in my decision to oppose such a marriage.”
Refusal of a girl in marriage is unheard of in traditional Indian families and needless to say, Santadevi’s parents were furious at her opposition. Santadevi managed to eventually get her parents to understand her point of view once she told them of all the harassment she had endured, but the village wasn’t so understanding. They even went as far as giving her parents a penalty of Rs1.6 million (Dh92,617), ordering them to either send her away to her in-laws or pay a fine. They had no choice but to leave the village.
Now, Santadevi is taking her unwanted husband to court. “Sanwalram and his parents feel slighted and might continue to bring hurdles. But then I am not bothered. Let them drag the case. I know the law is on my side and I will win the case,” she tells Gulf News.
“TOO YOUNG TO WED” IMAGE SOURCE: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
According to the 2001 census, about 1.5 million girls were married when they were under 15. What are your thoughts on this matter?