How old is too young to marry in Mewat?
With less than a month left for the state to vote in the Lok Sabha polls, election fever is on the rise. To gauge the mood of voters across Mewat, I visited villages across Nuh, Punhana, and Ferozepur Jhirka assembly constituencies last week. Throughout the journey, I made a conscious effort to talk to women and young girls — voices that are often drowned in the political cacophony that ensues during election time.
These interactions with women voters gave me insights into their lives, and helped me develop a better understanding of the expectations that women across Mewat have from the elections. One such amusing yet fruitful exchange took place in Umri village of Ferozepur Jhirka, where I stopped to chat with women and girls who were busy slogging it out on the fields during harvest time, while the men sat at a nearby tea stall, discussing all things political.
As I made my way through the golden wheat fields, the girls temporarily kept aside their sickles, and threw a volley of questions at me. I shared details like my name, organisation’s name, and the purpose of my visit, as the girls listened with rapt attention. I was, however, caught off guard by a question that one of the girls asked me. “Teri shaadi pad gayi hai? (Are you married?)” asked 15-year-old Anisa in the local dialect. Stupefied by the question, I scrambled for an answer. I told her that I wasn’t, and it was too early for me to get married. Visibly unimpressed by my answer, she asked me my age. My answer surprised her and she let out an incredulous gasp. An unmarried woman in her 20s was an aberration for Anisa. By this time, Anisa’s mother and a few others had surrounded us.
I was informed that while Anisa and other girls of her age went to school, many had to drop out after class 10 and sit at home or get married. The lack of senior secondary schools and dearth of safe jobs in the close vicinity dissuaded parents from educating the girls any further. Anisa’s mother said, “Most schools are either till class 8 or class 10. We cannot take the risk of sending our girls to far-off villages. I want Anisa to complete her education and even get a job, but the circumstances don’t permit it. Anyway, girls have to get married at some point.” The dearth of senior secondary schools is a concern shared by parents across the Mewat region.
Anisa, like many other girls, is mentally prepared for the possibility of getting married early. However, she also hopes to complete her education and get a job. “I need to complete school first. I will also look for a job, but the rest depends on what my father says,” she added.
(Sadia Akhtar is a reporter with the Gurugram bureau who covers education, heritage, and AAP)