Through most of the day, Usmail carries sandstone slabs at a quarry in the Thar desert ( Rajasthan, India). It’s a back-breaking work under the unforgiving sun and anybody would be happy to return home when the day’s work is finished. Not Usmail, because once at home he has to go through another ordeal : his wife. She is 40, he is just 16 !
6 years ago, Usmail was a bright boy, one of the few who could read in his village. One day, his father told him he would have to marry Hakima, his dead cousin fiancee. At the moment, the significance of the words escaped him but few days later, Usmail and Hakima were married. In an attempt to retain the purity of their lineage, muslims of the Meher community who are living in the desert prefer to marry their daughters within the caste. ( This is in contradiction with the Koranic message of universality and brotherhood !) While men are allowed to marry outside the caste, women are not. In this society where all marriages are arranged, it is then difficult for them and their family to find eligible grooms. That’s why when no suitable man is available, parents settle for anyone,… and young boys are married to women sometimes almost 3 times their age.
Now, other castes are following in the footsteps of the Meher. In another village, 9 year old Imam had to step in to fulfil his family’s contractual agreement when his brother, who was engaged to a 20 year-old woman died in an accident. Marium, 25, and her sister married their cousins Jakharia and his elder brother Baria, 11, after all attempts led by their grandmother to find grooms failed.
Barely 7 months after Usmail’s marriage, his wife delivered a baby girl. Usmail was 11. Two years later, he killed the girl, by hitting her with a stone. He was arrested, sent to a juvenile home. Because of his age, he was acquitted. “It was not my child”, he says without remorse.
More tragedies are happening. Although these mismatched marriages violate the Child Marriage Act, the police prefer not to burden themselves with such cases. They say they are not here to break the traditions. On the contrary, they are acting against people who try to stop this practice !