December 25, 2014 § Leave a comment
Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of “child marriage” issues, and incidentally I heard two people talking about this issue in India. The conversation was basically a two sided rant about the lack of initiative by the government. And this got me thinking, how easily we blame others for problems that are as much our burden as theirs. I agree the government has a responsibility towards the people, but is it fair to place blame on them like that? After all, they are only the government of India, not the ministry of magic! Sadly, we often tend to take up social causes and injustices without really understanding their depth. Let’s for instance, talk about child marriage in India.
When we think child marriage, a lot of us picture a poor little girl being forced into marriage by her evil relatives. What we don’t realize is that, more often than not, this is not what it is at all! Child marriages in India are found only in rural areas. And the people who do this are not evil monsters who hate girls. Honestly, sometimes they are simply trying to do the best for their girls. Shocking? I was shocked too when I first came upon this idea. But it is true.
Villages in rural India do not have proper schools. Most villages only have schools that administer middle school level education. For high schooling, students would have to travel many kilometers, to the one village (among maybe 10) that has a high school. This journey would be in a public bus through deserted rural Indian roads. Besides the inconvenience of the journey, it is extremely unsafe (especially for girls) to travel like this. So basically, most girls get only a middle school education (if they are lucky enough to get an education at all). Now tell me, how exactly are women supposed to empower themselves and earn a living in such conditions? Can a girl build a life for herself with a middle school level education? Of course not. This is one of the reasons child marriages still prevail; because of the lack of a better option. Moreover, in some of the more backward villages, this system of child marriage is ingrained into their very culture. Such a deep seated practice is not easily eradicated. Even the people against it, might not speak up because they’d be ostracized from the community. Additionally, such remote places are not at all safe for girls. Human trafficking, violence, abuse… these are very common occurrences. In the Indian culture, a married girl earns a sort of honor and respect. She is protected by her new family and in a way by her betrothal. In such situations, marriage actually provides the girl with a security she wouldn’t otherwise have had. So sometimes, child marriage can be an alliance that simply provides for the girl. It is not necessarily abusive or harmful.
I am not justifying this act. It is abominable and derogatory to women. In fact, there are many cases where a little girl (as young as 3) might be wed to a much much older man. She may be abused and harmed. This act is a violation of basic Human Rights, and of course it needs to eradicated. But, I think that before we take a stand, we should have all the facts. The government can raise awareness and impose punishments, but they cannot arrest and jail entire villages. The problem needs to be tackled at the root cause, which is lack of opportunities and education for girls in rural India. If they had another option, then a lot fewer of them would be subjected to such atrocities. The main hindrance is that it is very difficult to set up proper schools in such rural parts of the country. Even if the infrastructure was somehow made available, where would the teachers come from? Most people who are qualified to take such a post would not want to move to a backward rural village. The only alternative that i can think of is virtual schooling through computer networks, but that again would be a very expensive ordeal.
India is a democracy and the government is only the people’s representative, so these issues are as much our problem as it is the government’s. So instead of ranting about the government’s lack of initiative (which is unfair, because they have launched many programs to combat this issue), we all should take a stand and make a change, not just in India but the whole world. What irks me the most is the hypocrisy of the situation. So many people are qualified and able to make a change, yet they do nothing. Every time a story about child marriage or violation comes up, the entire country riles up and everyone is angry about it. The next two months will see a myriad of campaigns and demonstrations about it, until everyone just forgets about it. Unless we’re doing something to fix this, I don’t see why we can complain about it. We need to take action and take it soon. More attention needs to be payed by all of us. It is not possible for the government alone to fix this. We all need to pitch in and help in any way we can.