She was barely 10 when her parents sold her off, became a mother of three by the age of 14 and was abandoned by her husband soon after.
In between, she was forced into prostitution by her husband and saw the death of two of her children – one murdered by her own step-father. And if that pain was not enough, her mother tried to sell her off once more for Rs 50,000.
Having lived a lifetime in just 15 years, Sharda (name changed) is now looking forward to raising her only surviving child, her eldest son aged three, at a government shelter which is likely to become her home.
Police recently arrested Sharda’s mother and step-father on charges of killing her second child, just two years old, and are looking for her husband.
Sharda’s story may appear one off but child right activists say that hundreds of girls in the state’s rural interiors suffer the same fate, most of them taking similar tales of abuse to their graves.
Speaking to Hindustan Times at the Bhopal district hospital crisis centre, Sharda revealed her life of pain and trauma, displaying maturity far beyond her 15 years.
“The man Komal married me at a temple. For a few years he took good care of me. But gradually he became indifferent,” Sharda said. She hails from Kathonda village in Sagar district, around 125 km from Bhopal.
After her second child was born, Komal started putting pressure on her to get intimate with other men of the village. Though very young, Sharda said she refused to have physical relationship with them.
“But then I was forced to get physical with a man in our village (in Vidisha district). That man even paid money to my husband. But when he started forcing me to do it again, I put my foot down. From that day, he started torturing me and ultimately left me,” she added.
A pregnant Sharda and her two children returned home to a hostile reception from her mother, who had by then remarried and had three more daughters.
She delivered her third child but it died within a month.
“My mother asked me to go with another man, who was ready to pay Rs 50,000. But when I refused my step father became very angry and stopped giving food to me and my children,” Sharda added.
As the torture continued, including physical assault, Sharda ran away from her home with her son and landed at the hospital seeking medical attention for her child. She was forced to leave her second child who was later killed by her step-father.
The in-charge of the crisis centre Sarika Sinha said that they are planning to send Sharda to a shelter home in Hyderabad where she can be trained to become self-reliant.
Archana Sahay of the NGO Childline said incidents of sexual exploitation of minors are on the rise in the state, both in rural and urban areas.
But despite all her suffering, Sharda is still willing to forgive her husband and go back to him.
“Yes, if it means a better life for my son, who is his son as well.”
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