#Personal Stories

For Me, Being A Child Marriage Survivor Is A Source Of Strength

indian marriage wedding
Child Marriage Survivor: My name is Bhagyashree Saini and more than anything, my primary identity is that “I am a child marriage survivor”. I fought for 11 years to come out of this social evil and I am proud of it.

Remembering my Khetri days

I was born and brought up in Khetri Nagar, a small town in the Jhunjhunu district of Rajasthan, and I am highly thankful to my parents for raising me up. This is because the birth of a girl child in these parts of the country is considered, more of a curse or a bane. I studied till the fifth standard in an English medium school and then switched to a Hindi medium one. There, I skipped many classes in order to complete my school education as early as possible. Life for me was very normal at this stage. But it was just like a brief silence before the storm.

The storm arises – My Child marriage

The month of April 2006 brought a huge storm in my life, in the form of my child marriage. I will not say that it was forced upon me, but it was definitely against my will, as I was too young to understand and comprehend the consequences of this mere “one-day long event” and the way society would treat me – including my parents, relatives, neighbours, my so-called friends.

The roller coaster ride begins – The beginning of an 11 year-long journey

My inner voice raised a red flag and said “No Bhagyashree, you never intended to live like this. You wanted to pursue your dreams and maybe this will act as a roadblock for your bright future”. Though I was not aware of the legal validity of this event (the marriage), I went against the will of my family, left that place and went to Jaipur, without having any idea of what I will do next and how will I survive.

I tried my best to work on my dreams and ambitions. I joined NCC during my graduation, which for the first time in my life, made me realise the capability, energy and discipline inside me to pursue my dreams. With NCC, I gradually got promoted to the rank of “Senior under-Officer and won “Best Cadet award”, “Best shooter award”, and “Gold medal in anchoring”. This instilled the required passion inside me to pursue my dreams further. I pursued my graduate degree in science and then went on to complete my post-graduation in Public administration.

In Jaipur, I lived on my own and started my career by first working as a counsellor and then as a placement officer. The biggest irony with the social evil of being a child bride is that wherever and whenever you talk about being the survivor of a “child marriage” with anyone and the pain you are undergoing due to it, they will consider you as a “rebel girl, who is just running away from her reality because she wants to live an independent life”.

For some, it is an interesting story to discuss. Sadly, this is the way our society functions. Child marriage in many societies, including our Indian society, is such an accepted norm, though declared illegal by the government, that they easily equate it with a legal institution like marriage. Jaipur made me realise that in order to do something better with my life and pursue my dreams in a better manner, I need to be aware of the opportunities available. With this thought, I decided to prepare for civil services and for that I moved to Delhi.

My encounters with society as a Child Marriage Survivor

The preparations for civil services, since 2011, while staying in Delhi, made me realise that child marriage is an age-old social evil, and it is not only me, rather there are millions of girls out there, not only in India but even in developed societies like the USA, who have to undergo it.

Delhi opened my eyes to what a child marriage survivor had to face. I was being judged on the basis of my purity and chastity. This instilled so much fear in me that I started hiding this fact. Whenever, any friend of mine, came to know that I am a child marriage survivor, they suddenly used to stop talking to me, as if I had some contagious disease. The majority behaved with me as if I am an outcaste or a slur on the face of women in society. I became a victim of false promises, taunts, abuses, devaluation, emotional tortures, rejection and all the demeaning treatment you can think of.

I was told, “You should stop praying to God, as nothing good can happen to you, as you are a bad girl – That’s why bad things only happen to you like child marriage.” And “you should be grateful towards us as we are doing a huge charity for you by accepting your child marriage”.

I even heard things like, “Come on, your marriage was not a child marriage. It is a child marriage only if the girl has not attained puberty. You are just doing it to gain sympathy”.

I went into depression because of the feeling of worthlessness, severe financial constraints, zero support from my family, fear of being rejected, etc. But, life had got something else in store for me, something bigger, something better than I expected.

A proud survivor

It is rightly said that “God is always for those who have no one”. I was able to get rid of the tag of being a child bride in 2017. Though the inappropriate word “divorcee” got attached to my profile. This is the second biggest irony of my life, a loophole in our legal system, where a word used to describe the end of a legal institution of marriage is also simultaneously used for ending an illegal custom of child marriage.

However, I got myself certified by world-renowned universities like Harvard, Stanford and British Columbia on Women & Child rights issues. Presently, I am an author and a blogger on many national and international platforms like UNICEF, International Youth Journal, etc. I also run my own blog for generating awareness on Child marriage. Very recently, I have been conferred with the “Women achievers award” on International Women Day, 2020, by B.N.Patel Institute, Vadodara. Currently, I am serving as the President of Women and Child Wing for National Youth Council of India (NYCI), Rajasthan, and as National Women Secretary for Masoom Bachpan Foundation, along with my preparation for Civil services. And most importantly, today I proudly proclaim myself a child marriage survivor.

The lessons learned and my future ventures

Sometimes people accept me at others they reject me. Some think I am a rebel, and too ambitious but I am ok with it. Now, I am more clear about myself and I understand that it stems from their regressive thoughts. I chose to be ambitious, a woman of my own words and I know the price I have to pay for it. All I would like you to know is that “ It’s very hard for a girl to fight with her own family, society and regressive thoughts”. The biggest paradox I have seen in my journey is that the people who were more educated were the ones who contributed the most towards discriminating against a girl.

Every woman should know that nothing is bigger than her dreams and ambitions. Don’t let yourself remain trapped. For me, being a child marriage survivor is a source of strength, an answer to many of my unanswered questions, an introduction to my personality. Today nothing much has changed within me except the way I look at myself. I am still working to attain the best version of myself. Today, many people say that I am a role model for many, though I don’t like this hero status. At last, I want to say to this society “If you can’t treat us like heroes, then you don’t have any right to treat us like victims either”.

 Bhagyashree Saini is a child marriage survivor. The views expressed are the author’s own.