Photo: Namrata Sinha/CECED/2016 Editor/Design: Rinku Bora/CECED/2016
The fabric of the Indian society is an amalgamation of traditional as well as modern ideas and practices. In the recent years, India has adapted itself to the changing times and made great progress in various areas while maintaining its rich tradition and culture. However, in trying to strike a balance between tradition and modernity, India has still not been able to rid itself of some of the conventional and orthodox practices which had been continuing over generations in the name of ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’. Child marriage is one of them.
As a researcher in the field of childhood and education, I have had the chance to travel across the country and interface with people belonging to several cultures holding a variety of perspectives. Interacting with them has been an emancipating experience that has given dimensionality to my way of thinking. I would like to share one such instance with you all.
A Village Where Child Marriage is a Trend
Recently, I was in a village called Fatehgarh in Ajmer District of Rajasthan. I was there as part of the longitudinal Indian Early Child Education Impact Study, conducted by Centre for Early Childhood Education and Development, Ambedkar University Delhi. One of the objectives of the field visit was to gain a deeper understanding of the context in which our sample children were living and studying.
I was interacting with a gentleman who belonged to the village and he was helping me to prepare a documented profile of the aforesaid village. He was very helpful and a friendly villager and shared a lot of important information related to his village. The village was well equipped with various facilities and resources such as banks, ATMs, chemist’s shops, clinics, community health centres (CHCs) etc.
He reported that most households in the village had water supply and electricity supply for more than 20 hours in a day. The village also had a number of Government Schools, Anganwadis, Private schools and Private Pre-schools. I was very impressed when I heard this from him and assumed that this was an indication of the progress and development in the village.He reported that most households in the village had water supply and electricity supply for more than 20 hours in a day. The village also had a number of Government Schools, Anganwadis, Private schools and Private Pre-schools. I was very impressed when I heard this from him and assumed that this was an indication of the progress and development in the village.
After this, I asked him if there were any incidences of bad practices such as child marriage in the village.
Too Young to Wed
Having grown up in a metropolitan city, I had never really been able to understand why a parent would marry their young child at such a tender age and take away their childhood from them. However, the response of this gentleman helped me understand the institution of child marriage from a completely different perspective. His reply ignited several questions in my mind.
He replied that child marriage still takes place in many villages, but people do not talk about it openly and their village was not an exception. He also added, he along with several other people in the village supported this idea and claimed that there was no harm in child marriage. He further explained that if there are two daughters belonging to the same age group in a family, the family searches for two grooms and marries both the girls together in the same Mandap. This way fewer resources are used.
The girls are sent to their in-laws’ place only after they turn 18 years in age in a ceremony popularly known as ‘gauna’. The girls can study and go to school till the time they stay at their parents’ place. The villagers support this practice and do not stop the girls from going to school as they do believe that education is equally important for girls.
This logical and rational argument presented by the gentleman left me dumbstruck. I thanked him and walked away wondering: Has the institution of marriage just become a responsibility and burden on parents? Does the innocence of childhood hold no meaning? Are women in this patriarchal society ever really allowed to make a choice for themselves? Or, do they just get socialised into a way of life that a figure of authority decides for them? Is education really emancipating the minds of the young children or is it just making them literate?
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely of the author. This is not necessarily CECED's point of view but only reported by CECED.