“Girls are a burden to their families because of the dowry.” Puspa, one of the women I interviewed yesterday in Delwara, Rajasthan, pronounced these words in great sorrow. Five years ago she had her three daughters, aged 17, 14 and 6 years, married in ‘one go’ to a family with three sons. The reason for doing this was saving in costs. One of the sons was found to have a disease that was concealed. When this came out, the marriages of all three were ended. Her daughters are now barely marriageable. Puspa even asked me if I knew candidates. On my suggestion not to marry again at all, I got a rueful look of Puspa. In rural India, an unmarried woman is an outcast.
Straw that breaks the camel
We are in Delwara, a village near Udaipur, Rajasthan, to collect stories for a video. Every story moved me to tears. Three out of four women we interviewed were betrothed between age 6 and 10. All four of them had their first child between age 16 and 19. One marriage was very unhappy: the man was a drunk and he abused his wife. The other three marriages are fair to good. But also these families have their setbacks, mostly financial. And when there is already little, any setback has huge consequences. It means that educations cannot be completed, because the children are required to participate in the household income (there’s no social safety net) and that there is little or no care.
Courageous and positive
Sheela, a widow, says: “I was not happy with my husband, but my kids are great. My husband was always drunk and my eldest daughter would look after her younger siblings so I could work and earn money.” She says she has to make a difficult choise now: Or a dowry for her two daughters or a study for her youngest daughter. There’s no money for all. She sees one solution: take a loan for the study of the youngest daughter who wants to become a teacher. How brave and positive: I admire these women who give their daughters a better life by working so hard. Their income makes a huge difference.
Maria van der Heijden
Picture: Sheela and her daughter Shaliniv