We all had our laugh watching the Netflix show, Indian Matchmaking this year. For the most part, people found it ridiculous, other times, it seemed like someone holding a mirror to India's arranged marriage traditions. Whatever it may be, we more or less accepted why people would want to get arranged married as ultimately people in the show had consented to have their marriage arranged and were somewhat active participants in it. However, there's a sinister side to arranged marriages as well where the bride and groom do not give their enthusiastic consent to get married and those are called forced arranged marriages.
Unfortunately, India is notorious for forced marriages, especially forcing girls into early marriage. It is home to one-third of the world’s child brides and of 223 million child brides in the country, 102 million were married before turning 15 according to a Unicef report. Forced marriages are highly prevalent in Northern India with Uttar Pradesh having 36 million child brides.
Have a look at the story of Mahira, a victim of forced marriage in Haryana. In an interview with Quartz, Mahira recounts her tragic story of being trafficked across the country for a forced marriage. At the young age of 14, Mahira was trafficked out of Assam and forced to marry a man in Haryana who was three times older than her.
She was completely oblivious to it as her family member took her to Delhi under the false pretense of touring the city when she was actually being sold off to a "broker". Mahira was forced to join other girls who were being sold off as brides to old men. She was purchased for Rs 8,000 by a 45-year-old Sikh man and had no choice but to get married to him. Sadly, this is merely one case out of a thousand.
What is shocking is that people who coerce girls into marriage do not see it as an issue. When a child protection officer with the government of Haryana was out in an area near Rohtak, trying to convince a group of people why child marriage was harmful, what she heard in response was bewildering. The group said, “If a daughter has a chance to get married and settle down in life, let her do so. Why do you want to uproot it?"
This line shows the beliefs and thinking that form the foundation of child marriage in India and that people view it as a solution rather than a problem. This is why we need to persuade people to understand that this is actually a problem.
What is the difference between an arranged marriage and a forced marriage?
Arranged marriage is a tradition where families look for prospective partners for their children based on several conditions. Although some people view this practice as outdated, it's a preferred option for many. An arranged marriage can turn into a forced marriage if one of the partners changes their mind but the marriage does ahead anyway. So, when one or both spouses don't consent to marriage, it is a forced marriage.
For instance, children and at-risk adults (those with developmental disabilities) cannot consent to the marriage. Even adults can be forced into marriage through guilt, threats, blackmail, harassment, financial pressure, emotional pressure, physical violence, psychological duress, or they might even be tricked into getting married. All of these are very elaborate methods of making someone get married, why would family members resort to such apathetic ways to have their kin married?
Why do Indian parents force marriages?
Women are largely forced to marry first due to the belief that marriage is their ultimate purpose in life. Patriarchal norms look at girls as an economic burden that is to be pawned off to another household, hence, girls are married off so young. Some girls are even promised in marriage before they are born to "secure" their future and once they reach puberty, they are sent off to their marital home to begin their married life.
Poverty also plays a huge role in persuading people to marry off their daughters to reduce their perceived economic burden. Similarly, economically-challenged households prefer to have their daughters married early as less dowry is expected for younger brides. Many families consider girls to be paraya dhan (someone else’s wealth) and gift their daughter to another household at the age of puberty when they are deemed most "productive". They are seen to be at the ripe age of carrying children and conducting housework.
Sometimes, girls are married off due to fear of violence against women in public places as a single woman. However, this doesn't protect them from the sexual and physical violence within their marital home. Lastly, there is low awareness of the law and provisions for girls who are under duress to get married.
What to do if your parents are forcing you to marry someone else?
If you are in a situation where your parents are forcing you to marry someone else, there are laws that can protect you from it. For instance - the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 (PCMA); the Guardians and Wards Act, 1890 (G&WA); the Majority Act, 1875; the Family Courts Act, 1984 (FCA); and the recent Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (PWDVA). If you know someone under duress, you can use the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act to prevent their child marriages or forced marriages as this law treats forced marriage as a form of domestic violence.
In addition, Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ensures that both men and women have the same right to enter into marriage, the right to freely choose a spouse and to enter into marriage with their free and full consent. Article 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 states the same that no marriage shall be possible without the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
The Hindu Law and the Right to Consensual Marriage in India both, state that a nonconsensual marriage is voidable. In fact, the Delhi High Court has said the right to choose one’s life partner is a fundamental right. “The right to choose your life partner, or whom you associate with, is a fundamental right. It is an integral part of the right to life.”
Forced marriage helplines in India
You can also contact helplines for legal assistance in escaping a forced marriage. Here are some ways you can procure immediate legal help in India:
1. Contact the Women Cell of your local police department and lodge a written complaint against your own parents for forcing you into a marriage for which you did not give your free consent without undue influence or force.
2. File a complaint about domestic violence under the PWDV Act against family members that are trying to use physical violence to force you into marriage. Then the Magistrate can pass an ad-interim order restraining the respondents from forced marriage.
3. Contact the National Commission for Women and lodge a complaint with them. They have information on their website regarding how complaints are dealt with in detail and operate nation-wide.
4. Contact Love Commandos, a group that protects and helps young Indian couples to get married and to escape from forced marriage.
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Love Commandos Phone Helplines: 09313784375, 09313550006
What is the Indian government doing about forced marriages?
This year, the Central Government had set up a task force “to examine matters pertaining to the age of motherhood, imperatives of lowering maternal mortality rate, improvement of nutritional levels and other related matters”. The task force was created to suggest and implement measures to promote higher education among women and educating them on legal provisions in case of forced marriages. They also considered raising the age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years - what it is for men. This is a positive development in India's fight against forced marriages. We already have enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that young girls have been forced to drop out of school, help their mothers with domestic chores, and in many cases, forced to shun any plans to pursue higher education and employment opportunities. Now, we need to direct our energy and resources on the solutions. Earlier the battle was to end child marriages now it is to stop forced marriages so that girls can live their lives on their own terms - pursue higher educations and jobs, meet their personal goals, and fulfill their desires.