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Life choices of a girl (woman) in rural India

Asmita Behera

I am writing this solely for the girl I met during my data collection. It has been months and some faces keep coming back to me like they have become a part of me and hers is etched among them.

It was one of those cloudy afternoons in central India and I was roaming in the villages, interviewing women for my study. I had reached this house whose gate was made of wood and shrubs, which is very common here. I moved the wood and went inside the house. Someone from inside called, “kaun aye he?” (Who has come?)

I went in and saw a girl who was hardly about 18 years of age. She greeted me with a “Namaste, didi!” I asked her where her mother was and she burst out laughing. I could not understand why she was laughing. A small kid who was still wobbly on her knees came and slightly held the pyjama (pant) of the girl I was talking to. The girl told me that the kid is her daughter and they were living in her parents’ house now. Since my study involved interviewing married women who were living with their husbands since the last two years, I asked her if she was married and living with her husband. She started laughing and told me that her husband had left her when she was pregnant.

I just did not know how or what to respond to that.

She asked me to come inside the house. She started making tea, as is customary in all the houses here in central India. I started playing with the kid and she started telling me her story. She was married off to this guy when she was hardly fifteen (Yes, things like this still happen here and are very common. Also, I was twenty- six and unmarried when I was doing this study.) The guy was working as a MGNREGA worker or as a construction worker on a daily basis at that time. She started reminiscing her days as the wife of this guy. Apparently he was not sure what a married life even was and asked her to sleep outside the house many times. She was beaten up every day which is the normal routine among most families in her village. When she was pregnant with this child, her husband beat her up very badly and fled due to fear from society and police. She left the house the next day, filed a complaint in the police station and never went back. Her husband had still not come back. She was working as a maid in a school nearby and she actually said that her life has never been more peaceful. The constant nagging and the cruelty of her parents and her husband had finally stopped.

I was sipping the tea and I couldn’t help but wonder, ‘Here was a girl who was not even twenty and had witnessed most of the major milestones in her life. I don’t want to call her a woman because I was twenty- six when I was talking to her and she was not even an adult. I was a woman who apparently had the leisures of the other class, and I have done nothing different than being born to my family.’

Here was also a girl who did not make any choices on her own and was forced to not choose ever in her life. And sadly enough, I realized that I was doing a study on sexual and reproductive choices of women when, in fact, the word ‘choice’ itself never existed for this girl.