Married at 18.
That is the story 47% of the women in our country are reduced to. 15% of them go ‘married at 15’ instead. The whole of their lives, spent to arrive at that number, and the rest, to live as it. Two days ago I got to know about a friend of mine due for marriage “the moment she turns 18”. This, of course, is very shocking to me, considering how we’re only 17. And it’s unfortunate that I stayed up the entire night yesterday, grateful for the privilege I have – not because I had to stay up or that I’m not grateful – but because this is not something that I, at 17, should have to be grateful for: a good life. We’re all born with that right.
18 as the legal age
First off, let me start by saying – there is no biological reason (like, women are more mature at 18 than men) –why 18 is the legal age. Biological differences consist of a different physique between the sexes and sexual characteristics. This matter has purely conservative reasons – it was a sort of bargain, considering the social conditions that existed at the time the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act was introduced (2006) to help ease the idea into a child-marriage obsessed India – which is still a reality to the 15% young girls, most mothers by my age, that you and I will soon forget about, just as we do with any number. And isn’t it an absurd thing to believe that a women suddenly matures the moment she’s 18? That my friend has to marry a man that’s 7 years older, and our constitution says this is okay? That 18 is considered this magical bar that gives you a sudden wholesome experience and development, more than the environment you are raised in allows?
Truth is, women are far from “mature” (the most important criteria for marriage, more so than choice) at 18 and neurosexism is much too often used as a tool to interpret cultural differences as biological ones.
Addressing the age gap
The 2006 law states that a girl in India can’t marry before the age of 18, and a boy before 21.
But, why this age gap? If you’re still adamant about women being more mature at 18, let me remind you that at 18, most teenagers finish school. You haven’t found your place in the world, are confused about your potential, and haven’t even begun to realize it at that age. And this three year gap accounts for extreme mental development and exposure. As a matter of fact, I myself have experienced extreme personal development going from just the 10th grade to the 11th, and found myself less gullible, more aware, and much more mature. And this journey in search of “maturity” is a life-long process. To put an age on it and claim that it accounts for any possible aspect of this process is ridiculous- which is what the law does by saying 18. Now, does 21 ensure maturity? No, it doesn’t. But at least you’ve accounted for some of this process. And have also developed some kind of independent thinking. This is what these women are missing out on. They are forced into marriage and told that they can study “if their husband allows it.” Getting tertiary education has obvious benefits- and at least allows women to– if not reach- realize some of this potential.
Psychology: the Oppressor’s Motives
My friend happened to just suddenly disappear during 11th. She gave her finals, barely passing, before disappearing again. With an irregular attendance for the first few months, to a complete absence for the next few, her parents wrote to the principal saying she was “medically unfit”. Only now do I realize that they were searching for a groom.
She’s from a Muslim family.
Before you dismiss everything I said because religion seems to justify any injustice except for other religious injustice, allow me to paraphrase myself: my friend is being denied proper education so she can be turned into a bride. It is very likely that she won’t pursue further studies, even with her husband’s “permission”, and our constitution allows this; it allows for the fact that while I’m completing my second year in grad school, she will likely be a mother. The most unfortunate part of this all?
She probably doesn’t mind. This is what I call the Oppressor’s Motives.
My friend, like others in the huge number she’s a part of, have been raised to normalize their fate. Her parents have brought her up to be the exception- which isn’t good in this case, because she’s the exception to progress. And so are the 40.5 crore number of women, who are born to walk this predetermined course of life. But their oppressors- family or society- claim it’s in their best interests. And I’ve met my friend’s parents- sophisticated and relatively progressive. Yet, they identify so strongly with conservative, clearly outdated values, that they see no wrong, despite their actions having such negative impacts that (I thought) their sensibility could detect.
Ensuring a better world for women
With their beliefs, they raise their children, and unintentionally brainwash them into mistaking oppression for good intentions – a way that makes them believe it isn’t oppression.
These children grow up to meet conflicting ways of life, and think there’s a chance their lives are unfair– but can’t pin down why, and so don’t have any case. They grow up never knowing how much of a disparity exists in their world and live in this endless cycle of a system that reinforces this “disguised as good intentions” oppression.
And though I know this, I feel utterly helpless because I’ll never know how to explain oppression to the oppressors. I can never be optimistic when it comes to India- optimism requires proof, and we have zero evidence.
But I am so, so hopeful; because, while optimism requires evidence, change requires faith. Not the godly kind, but that in people.There is always hope in numbers; and there is hope for these women, who aren’t just numbers. We need to remind ourselves that from time to time because, change is up to us, not our sleeping constitution. We have to wake this country up- this country that sets the legal drinking age at 21, but allows its women to be mothers at 18.