The practice of child marriage started 4000 years ago in India. Many things changed through the course of time like discrimination based on one’s caste, women emancipation, economic and social growth of our country, etc., etc. But there are things that even 4000 years of time hasn’t been able to eradicate. Sadly, child marriage is one of the social vices that till date exist in our country.
Recently a programme called ‘Balika Vadhu’ went on air on channel Colors, dealing with the above mentioned issue. During its promotional campaign and trailers I thought it would be yet another serial telling us what we already know. That child marriage is immoral, inappropriate and most importantly, it can be devastating for the lives of children. Nothing that we’re not aware of!
But what I didn’t expect was getting to know about the countless matters and intricacies that were attached to this one practice. Set in a small village of Rajasthan, the story revolves around the life of a child bride, Anandi, before and after getting married. She is married into a wealthy family where the tradition of bringing young brides from extremely poor families is followed.
Balika Vadhu was not aimed to eradicate the very practice by condemning and criticizing it, instead the intent was for the people to see the consequences of it. In Rajasthan, where child marriage still occurs, the audience gets to see the results in a very justified and clear manner. Be it a little girl being expected to get all worldly and mature at a pre-teen age , the way she copes up with pressures of living in a different house with people she doesn’t even know.
Their huge expectations of managing the entire household-cooking, cleaning, taking care of everyone in the family and behaving according to them are supposed to be met. We see how women are still being treated as objects that have to abandon their lives, family and friends (without having any say) to fulfill the responsibilities they have been passed on. That being of a passive, tolerant and a perfect housewife. Anandi, although being excellent in studies and having a great interest in it, cannot go to school. Since, after married she has the sole responsibility of taking care of her household. Whereas Jagadish, her husband, is the apple of everyone’s eyes, gets to play, go to school, do what so ever he wants to since he’s a guy.
Through Phooli’s character, a child widow and Anandi’s best friend, we get to see the life of a widow. At an age of about 8 or 10, she cannot get dressed in colorful clothes, apply makeup, wear bangles and hair clips and ribbons which she absolutely adores. She has to follow a particular dress code of dull, plain clothes. She is made to follow a strict code of conduct set up by the society. She is abstained by all the worldly pleasures, cannot remarry or go to school and has to live with her parents till the time death rescues her. When she doesn’t know what married life is all about, she is forced to lead the life of a widow.
The consequence of consummating a girl at an early age resulting in her death has been shown through the story of Basant’s (Anandi’s uncle) ex-wife. The dominance of the males and the rich has been clearly reflected by Basant’s remarriage (even though he is a widower and about 50 years old) to a girl his daughter’s age and a virgin by his demand. Being a male, and a powerful and a rich one, he gets to ‘choose’.
Balika Vadhu does not put everything regarding child marriage simply in black and white. If on one hand there are elements of a rigid and unchanging society (in the form of Anandi’s daadi-sa (mother-in-law) and Basant uncle), there are also characters like Anandi’s father and mother in-law, who understand the problems created by child marriage. They want things to change but are not courageous enough to go against the society. The very interesting and strong woman who dares to go against the norms and do what’s best for her is played by Gahna, Basant’s wife. After coming to know about the incident of early consummation of her husband’s ex-wife, she adamantly refuses to sleep with him even after he and her mother-in-law threatens to throw her out of the hose and kill her. The life of the poor families having daughters has been referred to as a crime in the society.
The parents of these girls want their daughters to get married in a wealthy family so that they can lead a comfortable life. They succumb to any kind of pressure or demand laid down before them by the rich. However the affluent families do not refrain themselves from repeatedly telling them about the noble deed they have done by marrying their sons to the poor and the needy. They have endowed the girls with all the luxuries of the world, hence, their ‘kindness and gratitude’ must never be forgiven. Isn’t it a shame that instead of making life good for their own daughters they sell them off without considering the aftereffects on the social, psychological and physical state of the girl.
Last but certainly not the least, the characters of Anandi, Jagadish, Phooli bring to life the changes and the responsibilities that children are gifted with their marriage. The way they have been shown to adapt themselves and adjust in the society is touching. These innocent, tender souls without any knowledge about the way things work in a patriarchal, oppressive and unchanging society are made to grow up at an incredibly young age.
Balika Vadhu makes you think and gives you plenty and plenty of reasons to bring about a much needed change in the Indian society.