“I’m going to say I never knew you.”
These words still ring loud in my ears. Each time I hear it in my head, my heart still drops to a deep place where questions and grief meet. These words were spoken in court, by a young girl who my husband, a few friends and I stood up for when she ran away from her family. They had forced her into child marriage. Well, how did it turn out this way you ask? To be honest, I still do not have the right answers. It’s been a few years since this happened and yet I still don’t have the answers to make sense of this situation.
I remember that evening a few years ago. Life was as normal as it could be. I was done with work and laid back on my couch to watch some television with my toddler. That’s when she landed on my doorstep – A bright 16 year old girl, carrying eyes that revealed veiled sadness – the kind that has been veiled over years of painful experiences. She said that her father had died a few years ago and her mother was no where to be found as she was engaged in prostitution for a living. She mentioned that she was raised in a children’s home for a few years and was sent away to her far relatives home a couple of months ago. She had a lot to unload and did so over the next couple of hours where we went from being strangers to friends. She finally said that she ran away from her aunt’s house whose son she was forced to marry without her consent and was now seeking shelter and hope for a promising future where she could study.
As an educated social worker, I knew better than to keep her in my own home. I made a couple of calls and finally my friend agreed to house her in her staff quarters for young women until we could take the next course of action. To cut a long story short, my husband and I, and a few close friends of ours stood by her as she filed an FIR against her husband and his family narrating the traumatic events that she experienced. I had to sign off as the social worker representing her. I did it boldly not doubting that this could only be good for her. But the events that followed caught us all by surprise. She went from being housed in a government shelter back to her family’s house just because of poorly run transitional homes, faulty and time consuming systems, social stigma and having to choose between the better of two evils. Gone were all my promises of helping her with her future as she chose to stay in those circumstances that victimized her in the first place. Could I compel her to choose what I thought was best for her? Could I force her to look beyond broken systems, crumbling social constructs and this mirage of hope in a place that looked like nothing better than a prison for girls with some sort of a facelift.
I wonder how many more young girls are left with such life altering choices to make – where they have to choose between a rock and a hard place.
After all that, she now has a child with the same man who was thrown in prison and penalized for his actions a couple of years ago. She tried her best to get me to take the case back. How could I? How could I suddenly turn a blind eye to what is just and true? She eventually turned hostile and told the court she didn’t know me. I ended up sticking to the truth and have no regrets. I pray for her often and pray that she has a good life somehow. If our paths ever cross again, I would probably be more cautious but would still find myself saying “Your life could have been so different, I wish we could all, together, rewrite that story. You, me, the laws of our land and the people entrusted with caring for the marginalised. “
Yes, All of us need to be in it together. We need to stand up for the voiceless. Make a change wherever we’re at in society and eventually become more justice conscious. If not, is justice in its truest form served at all?
By Srithi Abinitha
Srithi , an MSW graduate , has worked in the field of education and empowerment of marginalised sections of society.She writes as a guest blogger and also on her own personal social media pages on her journey with motherhood, social issues and more.