The Jodhpur girl who fought against odds to get her 19-year-old child marriage annulled says she did not even know that her wedding had been sealed in the crib, till friends told her over a casual banter about boys and marriage.
Santa of Rohichyakalan village, about 70 km from Jodhpur, was only 11 months old when her parents married her off to nine-year-old Sanvalram from a nearby village in 1996. Her father works as a mason.
Last Tuesday, a family court in Jodhpur annulled the marriage with mutual consent.
She was never told about the marriage, Santa says. Then, one windy afternoon in June 2011 when Santa, who had just turned 16 and was in Class XI, was at the Government Senior Secondary School in Dhundhara chatting with friends, they teased her saying her fate was settled.
“We were talking about marriage and the ideal husband when some of my friends said I shouldn’t have to think about all that since I was already married,” says Santa. She went straight back home, she adds, and confronted her mother about it, who confirmed this.
“I was very upset. I fought with my parents, but they said they could not do anything since the decision was taken by my grandparents,” she says.
When she was in Class XII, Santa first met Sanvalram at a wedding. She says she made it clear to him too that she did not believe in the “marriage” and would not honour it.
The 19-year-old claims Sanvalram’s behaviour also convinced her she couldn’t stay with him. According to her, the 28-year-old daily wage labourer would get drunk and follow her to and fro from school, telling her, “Where will you go? You will have to come to your husband.”
“Sanvalram would call me names and boast in public that I was his wife. I was very scared. But my friends protected me and wouldn’t let him near me. Once they almost beat him up,” she says.
In April this year, Santa left home and approached a social activist from Jodhpur for help. Santa says the village caste panchayat threatened her parents and also slapped a fine of Rs 16 lakh on them.
Her poor parents, siblings and relatives all asked Santa to accept the “marriage” and return home, she says.
Finally, the activist Santa had turned to helped her convince some panchayat members to end their opposition. Once the panchayat was divided on the matter, the others also agreed.
Sanvalram reportedly backtracked when told that if Santa opted for a divorce and sought maintenance, he would find it difficult to pay.
Rohichyakalan sarpanch Dayaram Patel still believes Santa is wrong. “Child marriage is unfortunate, but then different communities have different rituals and practices. Once it happened, she could have stayed in it. What good there is in breaking away?” Patel says.
Despite the marriage being annulled, Santa can’t still go back to her village and is staying with her grandmother in Jodhpur. “The atmosphere there is very unpleasant. Wahan log mere aur Mummy Papa ke baare me kuchch bhi bolte hain (People say anything they like about my parents and me),” she says.
Now in BA final year, Santa is studying political science, history and Hindi literature. She hopes to become a teacher. “I do want to get married again,” she says, “but it’s not on my mind at the moment.”