Despite a post sometime back about all that I watch on TV, I actually watch very little of TV in a day. And there’s just one Hindi soap I follow. It’s a serial on child marriage and its repercussions, called “Balika Vadhu”. And I’m totally loving the realistic portrayal of what happens to couples who’re exposed to the modern world as it is, and have to deal with regressive traditions like child marriage. If you follow the show – a lot of people do – you can totally skip the next paragraph. Otherwise, you might want to know what I’m talking about.
In brief, the story is currently revolving around this couple who got married as kids, grew up as friends and fell in love with each other as adolescents. But when the boy moves out of his village into the city to study Medicine, the ties of childhood begin to snap. He falls in love with a girl in the city, lies to her about his marital status, initially because he’s embarrassed to own up he’s had a child marriage, and later because he doesn’t want to lose her. He falls out of love with his wife, who is still besotted by him. Now, the boy’s family has cut off all ties with him after learning that he’s virtually living in with another girl in the city, who he wants to marry. His wife, predictably, is distraught.
But this isn’t about my favourite serial. It’s about the issues it brings up. At the very apparent level, it’s about child marriage and the debilitating effect it has on the lives of the people involved. The boy has fallen in love with another girl and thinks he’s done no wrong because he realises that child marriage is an outdated concept. The girl, on the other hand, is forced to respect the tradition because she has no option.
At another level, it’s about rural migration to urban India. The village boy who tries to fit into the city life, changes his name even, because he doesn’t want to sound like a rustic. He lies about his marital status because he knows his friends from the city will not understand how he’s actually survived a child marriage. But this isn’t the story of just this boy. It’s how many stories in India go. And just as the boy in the serial has fallen in love with a city girl, promised her marriage, and hidden his true identity from her, millions of Indian men end up doing that. This is not an opinion; it’s a fact that women’s organisations in cities will verify. Because often these men marry their love interest in the city, maintain two parallel families and wives – one in the city and the other in the village, and by the time one woman gets to know about the other, she’s reached a point of no return in the relationship.
Since bigamy is not recognised by the Indian Marriage Law, the second wife, usually the one who would appear to be smarter, more suave because she’s from the city, is at the receiving end of an unfair deal. At the end of the day, she has no legal standing, and if her husband chooses to abandon her, her marriage is only as good as a live-in relationship. Thankfully, the Supreme Court has begun to see that this is an injustice that no woman deserves. Also, the Domestic Violence Act accords live-in relationships legal status because the lawmakers understood that second wives couldn’t be left to deal with their problems without the backing of law. What happens to children produced as a result of such marriages? Why should they be treated as illegitimate?
Imagine, to love and trust someone with your life, only to realise one day that you’re just ‘the other woman’. A lot of such women would continue to play the farce of the relationship, because exiting it would be more painful. But those who take a stand must also suffer the ignominy of accepting that they’re not really the woman to the man they live with, that they thought they were. And to the world, they also become the husband-stealer, the wicked woman who ensnares others husbands. But she isn’t always that, is she?
It all started because a man decided to migrate. I’m not saying there aren’t men in urban India who don’t fool women thus. But this is about the problems of migration that migrants even within the country bring with them.
And the question is – can this man be blamed? What of his right to happiness with another woman? What of practices and social pressures that make it impossible for you to cut yourself off from past relationships? Do you think this man is only a villain or a victim as well?