The girl friend who is weary of marriage: Story of 16 year old Etee
Etee, 16, has a mini bookshelf full of story books in her room. She loves to read them whenever she can make time. Youngest of five sisters and one brother, Etee however, has always had little time to herself to do so. Her mother owned a tea-stall which is the only income source of the family; her father does not work and does not live with them, let alone provide for the family.
Etee’s mother has been suffering from a heart condition for the last 6 years, and kept busy tending to the tea stall all day; she cannot cook nor do much of the household chores. Since all her sisters were married, it was up to Etee to do the chores, cook and clean for the family, and when required, help out her mother at the tea-stall, leaving very little time to indulge herself into what she liked doing.
“I couldn’t even go to play; my friends went to play because they had someone in their family to look after it, I didn’t have anyone like that….Mother couldn’t do everything, so I did everything, and then if I had time I played, until eventually, I stopped playing.”
Although Etee wanted to become a doctor, she has long accepted the fact that her mother just cannot provide the expenses of her studies any further; after taking her JSC Exam (Junior School Certificate Exam taking place at the end of class 8), she has been at home awaiting the results, but unable to enrol into class 9. Nevertheless, Etee has firm aspirations to establish herself.
The time she gets now, she has invested into looking for cheaper education options at nearby high schools, and into practicing her craft as a beautician. Buying different cosmetics and putting make up on people was her hobby. She enjoys it a lot, and wants to turn it into an income opportunity soon one day. She is learning different techniques of applying henna, styling hair and putting on makeup from others. She has been on the lookout for good trainings that can enable her to work in beauty parlours, and dreams of opening her own beauty salon in the future.
“I have decided that if I can’t continue school, and stay here, I will start learning the craft at a beauty parlour, and afterwards, I want to open a beauty parlour of my own”
Etee has a boyfriend of three years, named Ali; he is two years older than her. He was very good looking, and she liked him when she first saw him. She collected his phone number from another boy and called him up one day; this is how their relationship began. They talked regularly over phone and met in front of shops or near the field in the slum.
She often buys him gifts like shit for his birthday or things he likes to eat; however, Ali never gifted her anything. Despite having a boyfriend, she also talks to two other guys on the phone- one is a young boy who likes her, and another is an older guy who owns a cosmetic shop in the slum-bazaar. Etee said:
“You know, a girl can destroy seven boys…like now I am talking to one boy and then later, I am talking to another boy over mobile phone…. I can handle 7 boys altogether this way...
I: Do you call this love?
Etee: No I don’t, it is called fun and use.”
Although Etee told her mother about the boys she talks with, she has kept her affair with Ali a secret from her family. As Ali is from a poor family, she fears her mother will not accept the relationship. There are times when she is confused if Ali truly loves her or if they will ever have a future together, but her feelings always get the best of her.
“He is the first person I ever wanted for myself….. I have told him everything about me; that I am willing to do everything for him….if I don’t get to marry him I will be sad, I told him that I won’t get married before him… I will see…”
However, Etee herself does not have any aspirations or positive attitudes towards marriage. She wants to be matured enough to understand what comes with the territory, and wants to be established herself before marriage. The examples of misfortunate girls surrounding her has made her weary.
She has observed her neighbours, her relatives and friends who has gotten married early; she said she realised that girls do not have any freedom of movement or free-will after marriage. Girls she knew, after marriage, had a hard time coping with the in-laws, they had to acquire permissions for everything they do, they are victims of early pregnancy which is deleterious to their health, and eventually forlorn, these girls become neglected by husbands and in-laws altogether.
“She (an early married friend) was a cheerful girl who liked putting on makeup; now she just has sufferings in her life; she stopped school and got pregnant with complications within four months of marriage; staying with her husband and in-laws is a struggle for her…. I have seen that, if early marriage happens, girls don’t get peace in their in-law’s homes, no one accepts them as they are, and they have to pay for their mistakes for the rest of their lives”
Happy to remain unmarried’: Story of Mukta, the 18 year old garments worker
Mukta’s family have been living in the Bhashantek slum for 23 years. Now 18, she was born in this slum. She has a younger sister and brother, who were also born here, like her. Her father was a rickshaw-puller and her mother is a housewife. Her father married another woman and left her mother and them when they were very young. Her mother tried to contact him over phone many times, and was verbally abused on all occasions; out of helplessness she had to divorce him. Soon after her father left them, her mother went and married a local Kabiraj without letting them know.
This really hurt Mukta and her siblings; they saw it as a betrayal of their trust. After the second marriage, her mother moved in with the man, and Mukta and her siblings moved in with their grandmother. Although Mukta could forgive her mother after a while, her younger sister still can’t and for this reason her younger sister had been living with her paternal aunt since the marriage.
The pain and trouble her mother went through while being with her father has made Mukta weary about the dangers of marriage and divorce. She says her mother has not been able to achieve happiness through marriage the second time as well:
“It doesn’t take long for men to show their true colors…..he (step father) and my mother fight often. He beats up my mother when they fight...”
Her family has taught her the value of struggling to stand on one’s feet, the value of money and hardship of bearing responsibilities. When she was 16, she acquired a false birth registration card which stated her age as 18, so she could take up a job in a garments factory. She had been working and earning since. She earns to provide for herself and her siblings. With her help, her youngest brother is studying in a residential Madrasa.
“My parents are not able to provide for us. So I have to provide for us as much as I can…”- Mukta, 18 yrs
She has left her studies to earn, but has gained respect in her family. Her parents listen to what she says, and her mother takes care of her. She doesn’t have any hobbies or whims to fulfill, she lives very simply; she saves from what she earns after paying for the family expenses. She has a savings account in the Islami bank, which she considers future security. She says, an older girl like her is not considered appropriate for marriage by the society. Girls above 16, who are not yet married, are often subjects of taunts and stigma in the community; however, she herself never had to face such problems, since her family and her uncles have been living here for a very long time.
Mukta gladly accepts the trade-off between not getting many prospects as she is older to have her own job and income. She is content with her current life. She says:
“I live a beautiful life now, I want to be like this. I work, eat, sleep, earn, and look after my siblings. I don’t have to do chores in my home. If I get married I will need to do all the household chores, and on top of that, I will be beaten by my husband…..Marriage means the end of a girl’s life; she can’t do anything without her husband’s permission anymore.…”
This cloud doesn’t have a silver lining’: Story of Putul, a 25 year old unmarried girl in the slum
Putul, age 25, is a cheerful bubbly girl who had come to Bhashantek slum from a village in Khulna when she was just 3 years old. Her family came to Dhaka in search of better job opportunities. She lives with her father who works as a mosaic-layer, mother who is a housewife, and three elder sisters and one younger brother. Her oldest sister was married off at 14 back at their village. After coming to the slum, her two sisters who had studied up to class 5 in Khulna, left school as their father was unable to bear the cost, and took up jobs as garments factory workers.
Putul herself has studied only up to class 5, both due to scarcity of money and her lack of good result. Although her sisters’ earnings comprised majority of the family income, but mostly the purpose of the income was to save money for themselves; more specifically, for their own marriage.
According to Putul, her father wasn’t the type who worked hard to secure his daughters’ futures by improving the economic condition of the family. He earned little, and often skipped work on account of his ill-health. Her sisters were encouraged to work to save up a good some of money for bearing expenses of their weddings and for the dowry which will be required at the time of their marriage.
She said grooms and their families always prefer a girl from a solvent family, as the dowry and chances of monetary help will be better, and the groom’s future will be secure. Whether it was a love-marriage or arranged, it was natural for the groom to demand high dowry or material gifts, like motorcycle, TV or similar in exchange for the girl’s hand:
“he [father] wasted money….. if our father did something for us, then my sisters would not have to work. They would have studied and gone to a better position. Then our situation [economic status] would have been better and he could have gotten us married to good prospects. The groom would have been drawn to our good situation, and my father would have found a groom who is also from a good situation [well to do background]”
As their father was unable to provide any, the sisters knew it was up to them to make monetary arrangements for the required dowry and their weddings.
Because her sisters contributed to family income, they were never pressured to get married when proposals came. If they didn’t like a proposal or when they said they didn’t think they are ready, it was considered by Putul’s parents. Also, to save up substantial money, they needed substantial time. This had a pitfall of its own. Usually in the community, when a girl is 13/14, it is considered the right time of marriage by parents, by relatives and by possible prospects, and the match-makers keep bringing in many proposals during the time.
As the girl ages, there are less and less chance of acquiring a good proposal, and those that come, come with a higher dowry demand. Although their family tried a lot through relatives and match-makers, they could not find good prospects for her sisters. The match-maker kept bringing in proposals from older men, divorced men and bad-reputed families:
“The Ghotok [match-maker] would bring proposals of boys who are much older than my sister, or whose wife would not stay with them. This continued for a long time”
A long time had passed amidst all this. But her parents maintained that they will marry the older daughters and then the younger ones, as is meant to be traditionally, no matter how long it took.
Her second sister finally married at the age of 30, and it was to an older man who had seen her when he visited his friend living in the slum. The marriage proved to be a spectacle for the slum people.
A large number of spectators saw the wedding ceremony and expressed astonishment saying it was very surprising and new to them that a girl so old is getting married. Her third sister was already around 29, and she was also in dire need of a good prospect. She met an older man at the garments factory she worked in, who proposed to her for marriage. The man was married, but his wife had left him and their son. He also made a deal with Putul’s sister that she will pay him 1 lakh taka and buy things for the household, in exchange for the marriage:
“The deal was of 1 lakh taka with the groom himself, not his family, despite him being the one who proposed to my sister. He had made the deal that he would have to be given this much money to get married to her, as she was older (29 yrs)”Anchor
After agreeing to it, the marriage took place amidst the same shock and taunts for being an old bride, as the elder sister had gone through. Her third sister had a relationship and as soon as the second sister was married, her engagement took place.
It was finally Putul’s turn now, but she is already considered too old for marriage in the community; in fact her relatives say she may never be able to get married. Her family is looking for a suitable groom through a match-maker, but is not being able to find a good proposal for her. She never continued her education afterwards; she got herself into trainings for tailoring at UCEP, but never got around to use it for generating income either.
She says, because she is not well educated and does not have any money, good families will never approach her for marriage; they want girls who studied up to class 9-10 or who earn, or families which are solvent and give a good dowry. She says she has been really wanting to get married since she was an adolescent; it was like a hopeful dream to her; but now that all the golden years in her life for marriage has passed by, she has finally given up hope.
No school for early married girls’: Story of Sanjida
Sanjida, age 19, and her little brother were born and raised in the Bhashantek slum by their mother. Their father had left their mother and gotten married to another woman when they were but children, and he lives outside Dhaka since then. She had studied up to class 10, but didn’t take the final exam nor registered for the SSC (Secondary School Certificate Exam). Her neighbor’s son, Masud, used to like her since childhood, but she didn’t like him as he was not very tidy nor smart compared to other boys. At the age of 12, Sanjida fell in love with a boy who was a year older than her and was very smart to look at according to her; he wore fitting pants and colorful t-shirts and had a modern spiked hair-cut. However, this relationship didn’t last more than a year. They had a fight over another boy who liked her and she ended the relationship.
Masud had kept quiet and afar during the relationship, but when it ended, he tried getting through to her again. She still kept refusing. He got a golden chance when her grandmother [Nanu], whom she was very close to, died; she was 16 then. Although she still had feelings for her previous boyfriend, that boy never came to console her during this tough time. Masud became a constant source of consolation and support for her. This finally convinced her that Masud is a good guy and cares for her a lot. She had given him the condition that he will have to clean himself up, get a nice haircut, cut his nails and wear better clothes; upon compliance, she agreed to his proposal for a relationship.
They never really went out on a date; Masud would come to visit her from time to time, they would also meet up at school to talk and they kept in contact over phone as well. They planned to marry when she was older and had given the SSC exam. Her mother soon came to know about them, and when confronted, Sanjida told her the truth. Masud’s family had tried to approach her mother for her hand once before, and although her mother didn’t agree then as Sanjida was very young, she was okay with their relationship now that she is 16.
According to Sanjida, she and Masud never really did anything other than talk. She said her mother used to be at home whenever Masud used to come; that was the arrangement her mother agreed to when she knew of the relationship. Unfortunately, that was not how the neighbors perceived it. Soon, bad rumors spread about her and Masud, instigated by a local prostitute who had enmity with her mother.
It was said that she had had a physical relationship with her lover, Masud. Then the local elders and middle-aged women started to talk and the neighbors joined in. It became difficult for her and her mother to go out of their home. People, especially the local women would taunt and rebuke her mother using very bad language; even Sanjida was stigmatized and scolded by everyone around:
“the women who would come to talk to my mother, or gossip in the tea stall, or come to visit us, would say very bad things to her, rebuke her because of me; they spread rumors….told my mother that the fault was with her, she was the reason I turned out this way….it was difficult for us to move about…..”
Unable to bear it anymore, the families arranged for their marriage. After the marriage, Sanjida wanted to pick-up her studies where she left it; she had missed her test exam and SSC registration due to the wedding proceedings. However, the Headmaster of her school wouldn’t let her register. She and her father-in-law pleaded a lot with him, but the Headmaster declined, he said that no girl who married before 18 will be allowed to be a student at the school as per school board decision, because it would tarnish the reputation of the school.
Sanjida went to the local Ward Commissioner who was the head of the school board, but the result was the same. They not only scolded her but threw her out of their room with a ‘Transfer Certificate’. The Headmaster asked her father-in-law about Masud, and when he came to know that he was below 18, he strictly told Masud not to ever show his face at the school. They (Headmaster and Ward Commissioner) said the young couple should continue married life and not their studies; their example will have a bad influence on others if they were allowed to come to school.
“They [Headmaster, Ward commissioner] said, you have gotten married, now go and do ‘sangsar’, you don’t need to study…..we don’t keep girls like you here at our school, it will tarnish our reputation…….”
This was the end of both her and her husband’s education.
As a husband Masud loved Sanjida very much and wanted to take care of her. Unfortunately, he didn’t work before and now, didn’t have any income; moreover, discontinuing education before completion of high school significantly decreased both their chances of getting a good job that pays enough to sustain a family. Masud’s father and elder brother earned and the money was given to her mother-in-law to maintain the household. Masud tried taking up different jobs here and there since their marriage, but the small income would have to be given to his mother, not wife.
This is why he never really had any say in the family decisions nor could ever support Sanjida in fulfilling her personal needs, or in buying things for her own household or her life choices. They even have to ask for money to buy contraceptive pills from the mother-in-law, if Sanjida cannot manage to save up from the little pocket money spared for her from time to time. The parents-in-law’s perspectives and decisions continuously overruled Sanjida and Masud’s own aspirations.
Before marriage, Sanjida was an active member of BRAC Kishori Club, Plan International volunteer and regularly took part in the NGO activities, whether awareness activities, drama-songs, or rallies. She wanted to be active and take part in the life-skill and vocational trainings offered by NGOs in the slum to improve her condition.
Unfortunately, her parents-in-law don’t like her spending time outside of home. She couldn’t re-join the Club and is not able to participate in the program activities as they don’t permit; she was severely rebuked for attending a Shokhi meeting in the neighborhood once. She now spends her days doing all the household chores, washing and cooking for the whole family by herself, as she was told to do in the first week of marriage. She doesn’t want children and is on the pill, but her parents-in-law regularly indicate through verbal remarks that they want a grandson soon.
She was free to do as she pleased at her mother’s; she helped out her mother, did shopping, bought herself dresses, went out with friends; none of which is possible now. The in-laws don’t even let her mother take her to her own home although they are neighbors. They would verbally abuse and refuse her mother whenever she came to see her or tried taking her home. On one occasion, her mother kept insisting and her in-laws tore her mother’s orna and shoved her out of the house. Sanjida now pays brief visits to her mother, without telling anyone, when she is able to go out of her house; her mother doesn’t come to take her anymore.
The girl was crying helplessly when she was telling her life story. She was a vocal girl, had a lot of hopes for herself, but now she feels empty. She and her husband are waiting with agony for the day when at least one of them will get a good job, and then they can move to their own house and actually start living their own lives.
“I was free to do as I wish before, now I can’t do anything……we are waiting, when the day will come…we’ll have money of our own….we want to get out of this suffocating environment……..”
She has put down her name for the Shokhi vocational training program secretly, hiding from her in-laws, and is waiting for the call to join. She wants to find a job or opportunity for income for herself, so that she can help her husband move out with her and have enough money to sustain a household- only their household
Aruna is the daughter of a local influential leader who was emotionally blackmailed into marriage when she was just 15. She was living with her parents and two brothers in the slum, and was a student of class 8. On her way to and from school, she was noticed by a young man living near the slum, a CNG driver called Ujjal, aged 21; he wanted to establish a romantic relationship with her. He started sending proposals to Aruna through local store keepers, other young men-women and his friends.
They would approach Aruna with stories of how good a boy he is and how much he loved her. She wasn’t interested in such relationships and continued to refuse for one year, after which she finally buckled. The whole span of their one-year affair, Ujjal was nothing but respectful and shy; they only met briefly and infrequently on her way to school, and talked over phone when she would get the chance to borrow her mother’s mobile; it continued in secret, without her parent’s knowledge.
“We never went out on a date……he never looked at my face when he was talking to me, and I liked it very much; I thought he was a very modest person.” – Aruna, 15 yrs.
Unfortunately, their affair became known to the people and soon rumours started to spread, reaching her parents’ ears. They opposed the relationship strongly, she was scolded and beaten, her elder brother cried and pleaded with her to stop. Finally, her love for her family compelled her to draw an end to the relationship over a phone conversation with Ujjal. But Ujjal wouldn’t go away so easily.
On the evening before her last exam of final term in class 8, Aruna was contacted by Ujjal who asked her to meet him outside her house in the narrow alleyway. When she came there, Ujjal and 5-6 young men who were his friends, kidnapped her and forcefully took her to a nearby barren area outside the slum. There they tried to blackmail her, they said Ujjal had poison with him, and he would commit suicide if she didn’t agree to marry him then and there; they said her family would be blamed for Ujjal’s death and she would be responsible for the whole fiasco. After an hour of constant pressuring and blackmailing by the lot, she gave in:
“My heart stopped hearing that my parents would be taken to jail because of me….if I didn’t agree, he would commit suicide, and I thought yes, they are right, it will indeed be my fault for which my parents will have to pay….I couldn’t think clearly anymore”.
Although Aruna begged Ujjal that night to leave her for the time being so she could at least complete her final exams, he didn’t listen. He at first took her to his maternal uncle’s home for the night; next morning took her to his sister’s in-laws and then to another uncle’s home. She would beg the relatives (Ujjal’s) to let her talk to her parents, but they didn’t help her as they were scared of Ujjal. In the meantime, Ujjal was trying to arrange for their marriage, but Aruna wanted to go home. He managed to convince her with blackmail once again.
“He said, you have already stayed 3-4 nights outside of home with me. Although nothing happened, the people (slum people) will never believe that. They will say you have had physical relationship with me, and will shame you and your parents if you go back unmarried; will you prefer that?”- Aruna, 15 yrs
However, when the relatives refused to arrange their marriage as she was underage, Ujjal took her to a Qazi Office. The Qazi said he couldn’t go through with it at the office as she was below 18 and didn’t have a birth registration card, but if she was taken to his (Qazi’s) home, he could take care of the problem in exchange for money. Ujjal complied, and Aruna had to get married against her will.
After marriage, Aruna’s eyes were opened to Ujjal’s true colours. He was not a shy, modest guy at all; he had studied up to class 3 and was an addict who spent his income and parent’s money on drugs. His friends were also addicts who were ill-reputed as local hooligans. Before marriage she was promised that she will be helped to continue her studies, but afterwards, her husband never bore any of her expenses, whether for food-clothes or education. She had to do all the household chores, and was never spared any time to study. She said:
“Whenever I sat to study, my mother-in-law called me for work; sometimes it was just to hand her the glass of water which was exactly beside her….I soon realized they (in-laws) do not want me to continue my studies”.
Upon getting the chance, Aruna finally informed her parents of her condition and asked for help. Her parents came and took her home. Unfortunately, her husband followed suit, and has been living off her family since. He is happy to waste all the money he gets in drugs and not take any responsibility to provide for her.
While living with him, she had conceived once, and her mother arranged for MR (Menstrual Regulation) outside the slum; she continued to bleed heavily for 7 days afterwards, which the doctor said, was a complication of the MR, due to her young age.
At present, Aruna is continuing her education with the help of her parents and her own income. She is 19, and is studying in Honours 1st year in Accounting in a private college. She is working as a teacher in BRAC pre-primary school and also gives tuitions to students. In her spare time she does beading and glitter work in Benarasi/Katan sarees. She earns more than 3000 taka per month now. She got herself enrolled in the Shokhi program and has been associated with it for the last two years. She is currently a Shokhi Change-maker, and also works for the BRAC ADP (Adolescent Development Program) Kishori Club two days a week.
She has received trainings on women’s health and rights and on nursing from Shokhi. She passes very busy days studying and conducting program activities which raise awareness on child marriage and violence against women. She has successfully stopped a few child marriage incidences in the locality as well. She is now thinking about leaving her husband if he doesn’t change. She is confident, working towards independence and now lives with a purpose in life.
Early marriage and Conflicting interests: Story of Zahid, a male social volunteer of BRAC ADP (Adolescent Development Program) Kishori Club
Zahid, age 19, belongs to a very poor family living in the Bhashantek slum for about 20 years. His father is a drug addict who gambles often and does not provide for the family. His mother works as a housemaid and is the only bread-winner of the family. Now a college student, Zahid has been an active member of the BRAC ADP (Adolescent Development Program) since high school; he has been a volunteer in the program activities raising awareness on social and health issues and preventing early marriage.
Despite the involvement, Zahid along with his family had decided and married off his younger sister (now 15) at the age of 14 while she was still studying in class nine.
For quite a long time, some ‘mastans’ had been harassing his sister on her way to school. These were not local boys; they came from surrounding areas and teased and harassed slum girls.
They teased his sister and sent her proposals for relationships, even for marriage. She felt scared and often complained at home about the harassments. Zahid and his family were helpless; they were scared of his sister’s safety and at the same time they felt the situation is shameful to the family’s reputation, not to mention her sister’s. Desperate for a remedy, they began searching for a groom, thinking that if she is married then the boys won’t harass her anymore and her reputation will be preserved.
Within a couple of months after the harassment had started, the family got her married to a 22 year old young man who was from their village, jobless at the time and pursuing work opportunities in the Middle East. To their relief, the ‘mastans’ stopped harassing his sister after marriage. She continues to stay with them as her in-laws haven’t arranged for her moving-in yet, goes to school regularly escorted by Zahid without any trouble from the ‘mastans’.
Zahid opines that most girls in the slum are married off before 18 by parents for the same reasons he wanted her sister to marry. Moreover, it is generally accepted that a girl has less scope to engage in any work and support her family compared to a boy; so, when a girl cannot continue education, cannot find any job to earn and support her family, her parents consider her as a burden and try to marry her off as soon as possible:
‘Girls do not have much scope of income here….They either work in garments or as housemaids… They do not know where to go, how much risks are attached in that particular work, etc. Those who have the minimum age, height, they can find work. Mostly they have to stay home and do household work…. Parents feel they are a burden on the family’
In case of boys contrarily, earning by themselves is considered a sign that he is ready for marriage- by parents and the boy alike, making it an underlying reason for slum boys getting married before they reach age 20. Many poor families in the slum cannot sustain education of the children, and consequently the sons start earning at a young age. These boys soon consider themselves eligible for relationships, marriage and settling down with the girl of their choice; parents have little scope of disagreement in such cases. Zahid, himself, does not want to get married anytime soon.
Zahid’s future plan is to complete his Bachelors, get a job and take care of his family. To achieve this he is willing to postpone marriage for another 8-9 years. He thinks, his ideal wife should be someone who is educated, but not more than him, however. She does not need to work outside of home either. He thinks it is the husband’s responsibility to earn and provide for the family, and it is the wife’s duty to look after the household and take care of the family:
‘Even I think, if she works, earns independently, then she will not take care of my parents. If she works then she will have to stay outside of home. Here, my mother will have to do all the household chores, it will be a pressure for my mother… why should she (wife) earn money when the male (husband) is earning money for the family! I think, the husband will earn and the wife will stay home and take care of parents, family. If a wife is educated, she will be more capable of running the family but she does not need to earn.’