As the saying goes, if you’ve not seen the promos or heard about the new TV soap Pehredaar Piya Ki, you’ve been living under a rock. Just to recap, the 18-year-old female protagonist is shown married to a nine-year-old groom, who she is supposed to be guarding. Clearly, the makers haven’t heard of Raksha Bandhan, where the boy traditionally looks after the sister, but the sacred bond of the ‘rakhi’ thread works both ways. Or why not just appoint her as bodyguard to the prince and notch one up for female empowerment?
There is so much that is wrong with the visuals aired as precursors to the show, with a Karva Chauth scene involving the two and the little boy filling ‘sindoor’ in his older bride’s hair, prompting her to tear up. First of all, let’s turn the situation on its head. What if it was an adult man married to a pre-teen girl? Would the makers get away with soft visuals in that case?
Little boys also face the threat of abuse, though the numbers are far less than for girls. According to the census data, about 12 million children were married before they turned 10-years-old in India, with a majority 65 per cent female. The problem is worldwide, as a recent report revealed that over 200,000 children were married in US in the last 15 years, using loopholes in the law. Among the youngest was an 11-year-old American boy, who married a 27-year-old woman.
Two years ago, a 16-year-old boy, from Nalgonda in Andhra Pradesh, was reportedly kidnapped and forcibly married to a 26-year-old woman. He made his escape even as his case was taken up by child rights NGO Balula Hakkula Sangam. While K Prasad was lucky, there have been several reported cases, such as the tragic case of 11-year-old Usman, in Jaisalmer over a decade ago, who was forced to marry an older bride, pregnant at the time, because of the strict rules that dictated marriage within their caste. An immature Usmail, not able to grasp the complexities of the arrangement, in a fit of rage, killed the baby when it was born and was packed off to a juvenile home.
As actress Tejwaswi Prakash Wayangankar gives interviews, alongside child actor Afaan Khan, insisting there is no hint of romance to the pairing, the scenes suggest otherwise. And, in any case, a nine-year-old boy’s activities would include playing football or video games, definitely not dressing up for Karva Chauth.
However, we know where the special friendship is headed. As with all soaps on Indian television, eventually, every plot meanders into the realm of a ‘saas-bahu’ saga or a love triangle. Give the show a few months, when a time leap would be in order. With both protagonists of consenting age, a love triangle wouldn’t take long to pop up. Sigh! The more things change, the more they remain the same. But, let’s not confuse young minds who may give up playing with dolls and opt for some ‘sindoor’ instead, to the horror of their parents!
(The writer is an editorial consultant and co-founder of The Goodwill Project. She tweets @anuvee) Views expressed are personal.