For young brides in Rajasthan, it’s a long and difficult road to cancellation | India News

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They must face vengeful spouses, greedy panchayats and provide the burden of proof. Now a new amendment can only make it harder
When Chhota Chaudhary was in class 9, she was woken up in the middle of the night and forced to participate in a ceremony. The groggy teen did as she was told, but it wasn’t until later that she realized that she and her cousins ​​were married that night.
Three years later, her husband’s harassment has become too much to bear. “He was illiterate and also used drugs. He kept forcing me to move to his place and I didn’t want to. I wanted to study more and he told me if he hadn’t studied why should I do it, ”says the 23-year-old who now lives independently in Jodhpur.
The coup de grace came when he dragged her down the road in the middle of the day, tearing her clothes as passers-by watched without interfering. That day, she decided, no matter what, to get out of this forced marriage.
It took her three years to get in and out of family court, but she eventually managed to get her child marriage annulled.
Child marriage can be a recognizable offense in India, but it is not inherently void, simply voidable. This means that either party to the marriage can choose to have it annulled (up to the age of 20 for girls, after which they would have to file for divorce). Cancellations may be the solution for those trapped in child marriages, but they are not easy. Whether it’s dealing with the panchayats of jati (caste) or proving that the secret ceremonies actually took place, the challenges are many.
Kriti Bharti, managing director of the Saarthi Foundation, succeeded in having 43 child marriages annulled in Rajasthan despite threats. It can be a complicated process, she admits. “You have to prove to the court that the marriage took place when the child was a minor. But these weddings take place at night, in secret. Phones are not even allowed, there are no invitation cards. So we have to use testimonials and other means to prove it, ”she said.
All of this may become even more complicated by a recent controversial amendment in Rajasthan that even requires child marriages to be registered. Currently, the bill has been suspended by the governor, but Bharti says if implemented it could be disastrous for cancellations, legitimizing the practice in the eyes of the layman.
“Say I am dragging a child to court to have their marriage annulled, I think I will now be asked to present their registration certificate. Even if the marriage was registered, why would parents who married their minor child give them the certificate when they know she is trying to get an annulment? ” she says.
“They are not going to say, ‘Ja Simran, jee le apni zindagi’. (Come on, make your own decisions.) It only happens in the movies.
The logic behind this amendment is that it protects the legal rights of children by making things official. Child rights activist Vijay Goyal, who is in favor of this amendment, said: “I think this amendment will provide protection for the child. Let’s say there is a girl who gets married and her partner dies. Her family might just deny her and she won’t have any legal rights to the property, etc. It can help him, ”he says.
Child rights activist Lata Singh calls the amendment unnecessary. “Why would people who know they are doing something wrong – these marriages take place in secret – go and have them registered, when there is a risk that they will be punished?” She adds that if the law was followed, the need for cancellations would decrease. “When the authorities come to find out about a child marriage, they will just stop it. What they should do is get an injunction and then file a complaint against the people involved. ”
Explaining the legal process, attorney Rajendra Soni, who handled Chaudhary’s ex gratia annulment, says the burden of proof is on the party seeking the annulment. And during the process, there can be a lot of pressure.
“Chaudhary’s ex-husband showed up everywhere, even in her exam room while she was taking her first year exam. He and his drunken friends showed up in court, threatening her. Another obstacle was the Jati Panchayat which demanded Rs 25 lakh from his family as a form of punishment for opposing child marriage which they see as part of their traditional culture.
In the case of Santa Devi, who sought Bharti’s help in securing an annulment after finding out that she had married when she was only 13 months old, the jati panchayat asked her family to pay. Rs 16 lakh, which made his father support him. back off out of sheer fear. “Hundreds of people from his village would come to court, they would publish information against me, cause the political leaders to threaten me, saying they would shut down my NGO. Her ex-husband even sent me rape threats, ”says Bharti.
After coming out of a traumatic situation, the 26-year-old Santa Claus started his life anew with a job at a major insurance company and has just married a man of his choice. She too is against this amendment. “I don’t know if I would have had the strength if I needed a marriage certificate that my parents wouldn’t provide.”


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