SHOMA A.CHATTERJI | 20 AUGUST, 2017
Pehredaar Piya Ki shows the story of an 18-year-old woman and a 9-year-old kid married to each other. The kid is shown applying sindoor (vermillion) in the woman's maang, basically the Hindu symbol legitimising the relationship between a husband and wife. The bride also holds a gun and is shown to be the protector of the little boy, her husband.
The story tries to put out that evil forces are after the boy and the woman is shielding the child from danger. The child seems blissfully unaware of the situation. It is shocking that a satellite entertainment channel with an international footprint can espouse child marriage so blatantly clothed in lavish glamour and chutzpah to attract the eyeballs of the television audience.
One is not certain about whether this practice is still in existence or not but the very reconstruction of an entire serial based on child marriage involving a little boy is extremely shocking to say the least.
This custom as a regular practice came to light in an enlightening article by Rohit Parihar titled -Burdened by custom - Some Muslims in Rajasthan insist on marrying daughters within the caste, even if the groom is just 10 years old in India Today (October 7 2002). But neither did the readers or any NGO pick up the story and work towards its elimination nor did the governments at the village, district or regional level do anything about it.
Saankal (Shackle), a feature film in Hindi directed by Dedpiya Joshi brings across the terrible truth of a concocted custom among some Muslim communities with Mehar blood in Rajasthan. During the Partition, for those families who did not go across to Pakistan, the gender divide got tilted in favour of females. As a consequence, several girls remained single till a relatively older age.
To get rid of the stigma that attaches to families where girls are unmarried, these communities devised a new custom of marrying off the girls to very young boys within the community so that there was no community cross over. This meant that a girl of 26 was married off against her will to a boy of eleven. That is just half the story.
After the marriage, this young bride was subjected to repeated rape by the men in her husband’s family including the boy’s father, uncles and so on with the support of the other women in the same family. Saankal narrates the story of one girl who grows to love her boy husband as he grows up but who cannot rescue her from her torture. She commits suicide. The story sounds very powerful but the film is that much weak in terms of performance, presentation, music, acting and technique. The only good thing about the film is its subject matter and the picturesque backdrop of Rajasthan.
Saankal which means “shackle” brings across the terrible truth of a concocted custom among some Muslim communities with Mehar blood located in Rajasthan for dozens of years. This custom was triggered by unmarried girls remaining spinsters who had to be married off but there were no bridegrooms they could be married off to. Muslims of the Meher caste in Rajasthan's Jaisalmer and Barmer districts prefer to marry their daughters within the caste. Men are allowed to marry outside the caste, making it more difficult to find eligible grooms for eligible girls.
The director says, “After 1947, during the Partition of India into India and Pakistan, some Indian villages became a part of Western Pakistan. Marriages were arranged between families on either side for some time. But after a few years, government interventions built impossible-to-cross blocks and families on both sides lost complete control over connections with their relatives across the border.
Consequently, the number of marriageable males went down and more and more growing girls did not get married for want of eligible young men. The option left for these unmarried girls, considered to be a social stigma for the families they belonged to, was either to remain spinsters or to marry very old men who died soon after. By the time village council realized the disaster it was too late.
Instead of uprooting the cause they passed another law in panic which they felt would be a solution to the problem – they decided to get these girls married off to small boys in matching families. This worsened the position of both bride and groom make instead of resolving the problem.”
Rohit Parihar adds, “There are sinister undercurrents of this human tragedy. Often the marriage of an older woman to a young boy is a front that facilitates her exploitation. Barely seven months after Usmail's marriage, his wife Hakima delivered a baby girl. Usmail was 11 at the time and it was clear that he had not consummated the marriage. Such was his innocence that he could not even understand why people taunted him for not being the father of his wife's child.”
The state administration is afraid of losing out on vote banks by trying to curb this custom that is a violation of human rights not only of young women but also of the boy child who is married off to a older women without understanding the implications and responsibilities the marriage brings. These marriages are in blatant violation of the Child Marriage Restraint Act but the police choose to turn a blind eye to these marriage.
Pehredar Piya Ki does not involve a Muslim girl and a very small Muslim boy. The couple, Hindu, seems to be based somewhere in Rajasthan and though the promos are crying out loud that the serial does not promote child marriage, the very fact that a nine-year-old boy applies vermillion to a much older girl is proof enough that it does back child marriage. There was one real case of an eleven-year-old boy who killed his bride of 25, seven months into the marriage when he found out that she was pregnant. He killed her with a stone and was kept in a home for juvenile delinquents as he was too young to understand the impact of his action. But he said that he knew that the child was not his. This true story became the base for a crime serial on a satellite channel.
The story of Pehredar Piya Ki is about Diya, 18, marries Ratan, 9, to protect him from his evil family. Despite being engaged to a man she loves, Diya 'sacrifices' her relationship in order to protect Ratan, to fulfill the dying wishes of his father. Why should Diya take upon herself the onus of “protecting” this boy? Why do they need to marry in order for Diya to “protect” Ratan? There are also suggestions of jokes being exchanged by the elder females on their suhaag raat.
Do such serials and films promote patriarchy? Yes, of course they do. They are regressive, reactionary and socially destructive. The very perpetuation of such stories may quite easily trigger a resurrection of such evil practices that are a gross violation of human rights of both boys and girls who are forcibly made to marry without knowing the consequences of the practice.
This is a unique story that reverses the belief – albeit – in a small way – that child marriages involve only little girls married to much older men. The makers of such films and serials pretend that they are trying+ to spread the message of the injustice of such marriages but in actuality, because they are very badly made, scripted mounted and glamorized with a lot of colour and music and chutzpah, they are likely to carry just the opposite message.