Married off at the age of just four by her parents 19 years ago, Bhanwari Sihag, now a BA final year student, has been facing threats, including ostracisation of her family, from her in-laws for the last three years for refusing to live with her ‘illiterate’ husband.
For the last three years, her in-laws have been pressurizing Bhanwari to come and live with her husband, who is illiterate. “I don’t want to go there and live with my husband. I want to study more. My husband doesn’t even know how to count correctly and is illiterate. But his parents have been constantly pressurizing my family to send me to them. They had even threatened that they would forcibly make me come along with them,” said Bhanwari, who is the resident of Panchu village in Bikaner district.
Her family members allege that for the last three years, in spite of their refusal to send Bhanwari, her husband Madanlal’s family has been threatening them in various ways. “They have asked my family to pay Rs 15 lakh if I don’t go there to live with my husband. They have also said that if I don’t live with them or the payment is not made, my family will be ostracized. I never had any interactions with my husband in all these years since I got married at the age of four when I didn’t know even the meaning of the word marriage. So how is this fair that I have to live with him?” said Bhanwari.
She also said that her husband’s family, who resides at Bhadla village in Bikaner district, tried to convene a khap panchayat involving village headmen of 84 villages to decide on this matter.
“I met with the officials including the superintendent of police and asked them for help by submitting a memorandum because we felt threatened by the khap panchayat and what they will decide,” said Bhanwari.
However, the khap panchayat, which was supposed to hold a meeting on Sunday, didn’t meet.
“We have issued a warning to Bhanwari’s in-laws asking them not to convene a khap panchayat. They obeyed the order and the panchayat didn’t meet on Sunday,” said Rani Dan, station house officer of Panchu police station.
“Khap panchayats are not legal then how could they take the decision on whether Bhanwari should go to her in-laws or not?” said a family member of Bhanwari.
A khap is an organization which represents a clan or a group of related clans mainly among the Jats in some north Indian states including Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. A khap panchayat is an assembly of village council.