But a child

In my day to day life I meet and chat with a number of different people.  Some of them are ex-pats like our family, but mostly I meet Indians from all walks of life.  Many of them are what our family like to refer to as our helpers, the domestic staff that work in almost all of the villas in our community. The lils and I have gotten to know a few of them, because they work on our street;  we are always bumping into them as we walk and ride around the community; they are playing with their charges in the park as we are there; or all three.  As I chat with these men and women, I often get to hear a little bit of their life stories.  This is Anu’s*

Anu works on our street.  She is friendly and polite and has taken an obvious shine to the lils.  She loves to play with them, and will make the time to do so whenever she can.  Over the months that we have known each other, I have learned bits and pieces about her life. It was only today that I pieced them all together.

A mother and a grandmother, Anu is only thirty-four years old. Her husband doesn’t live with her, though, as he has another wife and family.  He hasn’t divorced her, he just moved on when he wasn’t happy with her.  He is still around in her life, and she still considers herself married, yet she is raising their two children and helping to raise her grandchild alone.  She pays all the bills, and gets very little, if anything from him. She was TWELVE when she married him, and gave birth to their first child days after her thirteenth birthday. I fail to wrap my head around this, knowing that she was married and a mom when she should have been playing with her friends. I can’t see how she willingly (in law or in life) made these choices.  I doubt she was given any say in the matter at all.

This shocked, saddened and sickened me, despite the fact that Anu claims to be happy. Her reasons are that he never speaks poorly of her and has never beaten her.  It doesn’t change the fact that she was forced into a marriage with a much older man, and had given birth to a child when she was still a child herself.  Yes, India does have a history of child marriage, but it has been against the law since 1978, the very year that Anu was born.

Still, these marriages happen, clearly they happen.  Just this spring there was massive media coverage of an eighteen year old girl who had her marriage annulled.  It was the first of the kind in the country, and there was widespread speculation on the backlash that she and her family might face for having taken such a drastic step.  She learned of the marriage when her in-laws arrived to “claim” her, as she had been married to the boy when she was one and he was three.  These are just two of the many stories that I have seen and heard while we have been here.  These marriages keep happening.

To her credit, Anu is doing a fabulous job of taking care of herself and her family.  She speaks excellent English, in addition to Hindi and several local languages.  She can also read most of these languages, including English.  Her life has not been easy, yet she has worked hard to further herself, and certainly has. In doing so, she has raised two fabulous children, one who is married and a mom herself, and another who is studying engineering at college. Her kind heart shows through every time I see her, in her every interaction with those around her.

Despite Anu`s assurances that she is happy and the fact that I can see she does have happiness in her life, I also know that she has a fairly lonely life and wonder about what could have been.  As I watched her playing with the lils after our talk, I could not help but think that a part of the reason why she plays so well with them is that she never got to play the way any child should.  Thrust into the roles of wife and mother, her time for games and tomfoolery certainly ended far too early.

*I have changed Anu’s name 

Category: India, life | 4 comments

  • Kristin says:

    It’s shocking to me that she’s younger than I am and that this still happens to women and girls.
    To her credit she’s obviously worked very hard to provide a better life for her children and grandchildren. And she’s chosen happiness. Which is a good lesson for all of us.

  • smothermother says:

    beautiful post.

  • Sasha says:

    I’ve been thinking about this for hours, and I still don’t know what to say. There are so many things you hear in the news about how women are treated around the world, so much of it makes me frustrated, angry, or just helpless. And I worry, sometimes, that I’m judging other cultures by the standards of my own. And even then, it’s all hypothetical until you hear a story like this, of a single individual, and what she has been through, what she is living now. You’ve told her story beautifully. Thank you.

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