For his latest video on child marriages in Rajsamand, Rajasthan, IndiaUnheard Community Correspondent Shambhulal Khatik has managed to capture clear and lucid footage of a child marriage in progress. A minor girl’s hand is being offered to a minor boy as relatives cheer them on and bless them. Later, a marriage procession walks down the streets of the town of Delwada. The matter-of-factness and even whimsy with which a prohibited custom is being conducted in broad daylight almost catches you on the wrong foot before the shock begins to register.
IndiaUnheard interviewed Shambhu on the making of his video and his thoughts on child marriage which is rife within his community.
How did he manage to capture such clear images of the marriage?
Says Shambhu, “I was a guest at the wedding. When I had my camera out and was shooting, the people would probably be thinking that I was just another guy taking a wedding video. Child marriage is a very common practice, not just in Dilwada town or Rajsamand district but in the whole of Rajasthan. (1) The Constitution may have prohibited the practice but it lives on in the state by posturing as a tradition.” (2)
But what does he think are the reasons that child marriages are so common in Rajasthan?
Says Shambhu, “The primary reason is economic. The practice is most common but not exclusively so, among Dalits, tribals and other marginalized communities.”
“I myself belong to the Khatik community. Traditionally we breed and sell livestock. I failed to complete my education because I was forced to work in a tea shop instead of attending school. My tragedy is a common one within my community. The system is oppressive and crushes the people at the lower rungs of society.”
“Rajasthan is a feudal state where all wealth is concentrated in the hands of the so-called ‘upper castes’. The marginalized live in poverty and have very few chances to climb the ladder.”
“Another facet of being a feudal state is that women are relegated to a secondary status. The dowry system is prevalent. The girl’s family has to bear the economic burden of wedding.”(3)
“Most poor families can never recover from economic backlash of putting together their daughter’s wedding. So if there is wedding in the family, the occasion is used to get all their daughters married off at once, however young they may be.”
Doesn’t anyone register a complaint to the police? Doesn’t anyone take action against this illegal practice?
Says Shambhu, “The police are least bothered. After all, they too belong to the community. Their own sisters and daughters must have been married as children. The law may have abolished even before the country’s Independence but on the ground, in my state it is a common and glaring reality.”
What does he think can be done to stop this practice from continuing?
“At least on paper, the State is trying to crack down. For example, a rule was passed the birthdates on the birth certificates of the bride and groom be printed on the wedding cards along with a message declaring child marriage as a crime. Under the rule, printing press owners could be fined or even imprisoned for breaking the rules. Also, there is the sahyog Yojna scheme under which a family is given Rs. 10,000/- towards the marriage of their girl child, once she has turned 18. “ (4)
“But awareness is nil. Literacy is poor. Women are far from empowered. Rules are openly flouted. And the practice of child marriage continues in broad daylight.” (5)
(3) As per the statistics provided by the National Commission of Women in 2004, 400 Women suffered rights violations every day in Rajasthan. As per the CBI, Rajasthan is among the top seven States where maximum number of rape cases are registered. Rajasthan accounts for 8 % of the total crimes against women that take place in the country. NCW statistics also claim that 70% of the child marriages happening in the country are reported from Rajasthan. According to a report by the National Crimes Research Bureau (NCRB), Rajasthan makes it to the third spot regarding incidents of atrocities against women and second for atrocities on women from scheduled castes and scheduled tribes
Why hasn't the Plantation Act been implemented that cares for the welfare of tea garden workers?