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Oblivious of even names of partners, newly married child couples seeks deity blessings

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Sravani Sarkar

RAJGARH/BHOPAL: It’s exhaustingly hot at the hill-top temple in Rajgarh on April-end afternoon of Akshay Tritiya Day.

Watching her steps from under a long veil of heavily embroidered red saree and a huge mangalsutra dangling from her neck, Meena (name changed) quietly follows groom with a shiny headgear and Rs 20 garland adorned bosom.

They bow before the Goddess, seek priest’s blessings and then come out in the open courtyard, naked feed blistering, to complete a round of ritualistic blessings-seeking from different forms of deities placed around.

Under guidance from an older relative, the young couple also pose for a photograph and when the veil goes up, a beautiful adolescent face emerges – not more than 14 years of age visually. A closer look at her groom and he could not be over 16.

When asked, the little groom shyly pronounces his name, but stutters when asked his bride’s. He looks at his relatives for help, but they too are a little confused. Finally a name emerges, but when one confirms it from the young bride, it is the wrong one.

Such dilemma is not uncommon for scores of underage brides and grooms who get married off before developing the courage of even finding out their life partners’ names every year in Rajgarh and other districts of the state.

At temples presided by Goddesses as deities, such underage couples turn up in large numbers to seek blessings after marriage around and on Akshay Tritiya day – considered one of the most auspicious dates for weddings.

At one such temple in Khilchipur, right on the border of Rajasthan, the families brought in such couples in large number this year too – the young brides and grooms clearly jaded by the long running rituals of their underage marriages. Hardly any of them smile, unless asked to by the professional photographers who set up shops around such temples.

At another more well known temple near Rajgarh town, a district administration warning against underage marriage is clearly displayed and in hushed tones, the priests tells about the fall in number of couples coming to seek blessings. Nevertheless, clearly underage couples could be seen visiting, though in fewer numbers compared to past years.

According to National Family Health Survey – 4 data, 39.5% boys and 30% girls get married before the legal age of 21 and 18 respectively in MP. For Rajgarh the data is staggering at 60.5% and 38.2%.

The state department of women and child department (DWCD) has focused squarely on the issue and could be said to be partially successful, but yet underage marriage continue to be a stark reality in many districts of Madhya Pradesh.

Anil Gulati, communication specialist of UNICEF, says “The need is to engage with adolescents, parents and communities and have a long term action plan, to say no to this child rights violation.”

(The faces of the underage couples have been hidden to protect their identity)

Sravani Sarkar

Editor-in-Chief Sravani Sarkar has been a journalist for 21 years. She started her career with Lokmat Times and had later joined Indian Express. She worked with Hindustan Times for 15 yrs. An award winning journalist, she is known for her work on malnutrition and women's issues in central India.