Dausa (Rajasthan): Prem Saini looks and behaves like any other teenager - she enjoys music and Bollywood films. But while most teen rebellion centres around skipping a curfew, or bunking a class, this 17-year-old has fought the battle of a lifetime.
A few days ago, her parents said that it was time for her to honour the marriage she was put through when she was 12 years old and move to the home of her husband, who works as a farmer in a village nearby.
When Prem's elder sister was married five years ago, her parents made her participate in a simple ceremony to a young boy. Since then, Prem has met him a few times at family functions, but she's clear that she is not yet anybody's wife. "Marrying a child when she has no idea of what marriage means is unfair and illegal. I want to study further, do a Law Course and become a lawyer, '' she says.
In this part of Dausa in Rajasthan, a two hour drive from Jaipur, child marriages are not uncommon. Prem's father, Nanag Ram Saini, works as a farmer. When Prem refused to follow her parents' instructions to move to her husband's home, they allegedly beat her up. She consulted lawyers who work with local NGOs and the police. The district administration has now directed her parents to let Prem complete her school and to keep her in their home. Prem says that though legally, she can be married at 18, her plans to become a lawyer will keep her busy for another six years. Later, she says, she will decide on who and when to marry.
''We have told her parents and her in-laws that she is still a minor and they should not try to get her married. We have also told them firmly that if they try to force anything on her it will be illegal," said Ramjeewan Gupta, a senior police officer in the area.
According to the National Family Health Survey, more than 40% of girls in India are married before they turn 18, which is illegal. In Rajasthan, the figure is much higher at nearly 53%.
Social activist Bajrang Singh has campaigned for years against child marriage. ''We've tried everything, from trying to educate people to threatening them. But nothing really works. These things are deep-rooted. But these girls opposing this evil tradition now represent a fresh ray of hope. Maybe their solo efforts will pave the way for a big social change," he said.
Story first published:
April 27, 2012 19:28 IST