Starting with Raja Rammohun Roy in the early 19th century, many social reformers have tried to end the practice of child marriage. But it continues in large swathes of rural India. A new TV show that revisits the issue has now received a welcome response from the audience.
Set in rural Rajasthan, the show Balika Vadhu is a story of child bride Anandi, who is married off to an equally young boy Jagdish. The girl is torn away from the joys of childhood and estranged from her parents, to be bound by her in-laws' customs.
The latest Television Rating Points (TRPs) of the show released by TAM reveal that it has notched up an average rating of 4.60 for channel Colors, quite a high TRP for the evening prime time slot from 8 to 8.30 p.m.
"Normally, in (other) serials, people are scheming and plotting against each other, but in Balika Vadhu everyone is correct in their own light. The characters are very well etched out and they have given a lot of attention to details," Aparna Srinivasan, an ardent fan of the show, told IANS.
Sukanya Dev, a Delhi-based advertising professional, said: "I hate all other fiction shows. Balika Vadhu is the only show I watch for the subject, the acting and the cinematography."
Charu Mehendiratta, 21, who works as an analyst with a human resource consultancy firm here, watches the show religiously.
"Urban India is unaware of these evils. It is ignorant. So I believe such a show can create awareness and do good to the society," Sukanya told IANS.
Ashvini Yardi, senior vice president and head of content at Colors, claimed: "People end up crying seeing Anandi suffer. Her character is so identifiable. Even though child marriage is something that urban India will not relate to, a lot of working women with a modern outlook watch it."
The show's popularity has led the channel to do two repeat telecasts a day - at 11 p.m. the same day and at 2 p.m. the next.
Yardi believes that the show has grown mainly on word-of-mouth publicity and will achieve even higher TRPs in times to come.
"It is time TV shows talked about important issues other than vamps and scheming women," she said.
Written and scripted by Purnendu Shekhar, Balika Vadhu has a message at the end of every episode to discourage the practice of child marriage across the country.
The show stars veteran actress Surekha Sikri and others like Anoop Soni, Smita Bansal and Bhairavi Raichura.
Comall S Wadhwa of Sphere Origins, the producer of the show, says people have given a fabulous response to the show and it has surpassed their expectations.
Wadhwa narrated an anecdote of 12 child marriages that took place while they were shooting in a village near Fort Khajerela in Jodhpur.
"It was during Akshaya Tritiya, a very auspicious day. Twelve child marriages were taking place there and the Thakur of the village was attending them. They didn't allow us to interfere or take any pictures," she said.
Wadhwa added: "Child marriage still takes place in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, but we have just put across the issue to the masses in a story format. After all we can only make people aware of the issue and not direct them."
Unlike most other TV shows, the protagonist of this show is a 10-year-old girl Avika Gor, who essays Anandi's role. The villain of the show, grandmother of Anandi's husband , played by Surekha, is also in contrast to the conventional vamps.
"I really like the show. It has so many twists and turns and Anandi's character laughs, cries and plays. When I was in sixth standard, I only knew that child marriage shouldn't happen and we should not leave our parents and go," said Avika, who is also from Rajasthan.