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Ideas

India's Legal Age To Marry And Shackles Of The Patriarchy

As India debates raising the legal age of women to marry to match the age for men, one women writer asks what it means for her.

a woman in a red head scarf holds up her finger with ink on it

A woman in Kolkata shows the ink on her finger, proof of her vote last month in local elections.

Rahul Sadhukhan/Pacific Press via ZUMA
Anushka Verma

-Analysis-

NEW DELHI — Growing up in an urban and (mostly) open-minded family, I often had a hard time comprehending the complexities involving women being married off as soon as they turned 18.

My grandmother had been married at the age of 17. My mother, at 21.

As I tried to contemplate the predicament of the women of my family for generations before me, I could feel myself gradually descending into madness — and brimming with questions.


Would I be subjected to a similar fate?

Would my entire being culminate just into being someone’s wife?

Would everything that I ever stood for be abnegated, one phera at a time?

“Society has progressed. Our times are much different than the past,” my family consoled me. And I chose to believe them.

Pushed into marriage

Growing up, I found refuge in a soul I believed to be an almost occult replica of mine. Our domestic worker’s daughter and I were similar in one too many ways. Both of us yearned for a future of uncertainty, of not conforming to societal expectations.

As we turned 18, we both impatiently awaited what life had in store for us. But while I prepared myself for a college degree, Maya was in for a fight against her own family.

She didn’t want to be pushed into a marriage, not this soon.

She’s legal now. We’ll finally be able to get her off our backs

But despite her relentless struggle, her parents arranged for her marriage within a week of her 18th birthday.

Why did they want to get their daughter married off this early, my mother asked. All Maya’s parents could say was, “She’s legal now. We’ll finally be able to get her off our backs.”

On the day of her wedding, I saw her tall, scrawny self, embellished with ornaments older than she was.

Her head was weighed down by the burden of a life she never wanted.

I thought of the early December morning when she had randomly quoted her favorite Amrita Pritam poem. “Jahan bhi azaad rooh ki jhalak pare, samajh lena wahi mera ghar hai.” (Wherever you find a glimpse of a free spirit, know that it’s my home, the poem had said.)

Deep-rooted misogyny

It is unlike me to scrounge through every section of the newspaper or the internet, hoping to find a single piece of news that would reinforce my hope for a better world for all.

But I didn’t have to try that day.

The news spoke of raising the minimum age of marriage for women in India from 18 to 21, making it equivalent to that of men.

Deep-rooted misogyny in Indian society had led to the utterly absurd perception that women mature faster than men and should therefore have a lower age of marriage.

I felt content and even ecstatic at the idea of more women being able to pursue their education further. I thought of early pregnancies, risks associated with a young mother’s health, an infant mortality rate…and I reasoned that these would all, surely, be solved.

My naivety vanished soon and the inevitable reality of the world we live in humbled me.

Not more than a day had passed, yet there were already instances of child marriages coming to light. Many thinkers cited critical reasons, debating the viability of what turned out to be a highly contentious decision. Then it hit me. It was not this easy; it never is.

photo of a woman in a traditional red wedding robe

At a mass wedding in Mumbai

Xinhua via ZUMA

A more equitable future

Today, as I sit in solitary in this scantily lit room with my silhouette sharply cast against the sour-cream wall, I feel my words etching into oblivion.

I can’t help but think about the numerous trailblazing personalities who paved the way in the hope for a better and more equitable future for women by breaking even the most baffling of shackles of patriarchy. But the most intricate shackles are the mindsets of people. The same mindset that deems women as “liabilities” will always find a reason to justify denying them the right to live a life the way they want to, be they 18 or 21.

I choose to believe, again

I have been euphoric at the question of raising the marriageable age of women, but my heart aches knowing she still wouldn’t be able to escape the restraints society had crafted for her long before she was born.

Has society really progressed? Are times at all different?

And because I am aware of how far from the truth the answer I wish to hear is, I choose to believe, again.

A gender rights advocate, Anushka Verma is a first-year student at Miranda House pursuing English Honors. She is also an avid writer, debater, public speaker and International relations enthusiast. You can find her on Instagram @verma_anushka70

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