Meenaben Rathodia was 17 when she was married off to a divorcee in Dhansura taluka in Ahmedabad for Rs 36,000. After three years during which she was tortured nearly every day and lost a girl child during pregnancy,Meenaben managed to escape from her husbands house and reached her paternal home in Jamba on Vadodara outskirts on June 20.
My father works as an agricultural labourer and drinks a lot. One day,a distant relative approached him and offered Rs 12,000 to get me married to a divorcee nearly 20 years older than me,for which he got another Rs 24,000, said Meenaben,who lost here mother when she was a child.
My husband would drink and beat me up with stick. No one would come to rescue me. He would treat me like a slave and wont even allow me to go out or meet anyone, she added. Now,she says,she does not want to go back. Only after marriage did I learn he had offered Rs 36,000 to the agent for my marriage, she said.
Meenabens is not the only case. Fighting poverty and marginalisation,Rathodia caste in Central Gujarat,which comprises Vadodara,Kheda,Bharuch and the Panchmahals,is witnessing increasing number of cases of minor girls being sold off for marriage to older people in Himmatnagar,Godhra,Mahesana and Kutch for as low an amount as Rs 10,000 through agents.
There are even cases of girls being sold off on contractual basis,says Jagdish Rathod,himself a member of the Rathodia community.
Whats worse,after marriage,girls parents and relatives do not get to hear from them. Around two years ago,a minor was married off to a family in Himmatnagar. Her husband later married her off to a third party and her parents had no knowledge of her fate, Rathod said.
People from within the community say touts and agents come hunting for young girls for marriage mainly during the marriage season between April and June every year.
Seeta Rathodia (26),who currently lives with her family in Tarsali area of Vadodara,was married off nearly 10 years ago to a widower for Rs 10,000. Her husband would drink regularly and beat her up almost every day. I ran away from there two months ago when it became unbearable, she said.
Men in the family are too much into drinking to take care of family. They are generally swayed by money they are offered by agents for their daughters and readily agree to sell them off, Rathod said.
People from this community generally do not pursue education after primary level and work as agricultural labourers. They are a sub-division of Dubla tribe that includes other sub-divisions like Talavia and Talavaria.
But while Talavia and Talavaria are classified as scheduled tribes (STs) and get all the benefits,Rathodias fall into Other Backward Classes (OBCs),which do not get similar benefits, Chinnam Gandhi,leader of opposition in Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC),said.