How prevalent is child marriage now?
On a particular day every year in Rajasthan, in a particular village, there are twenty thousand marriages performed. It’s called “Akha Teej,” and that’s an auspicious day when you don’t have to see the calendar, whether that’s a good day or a bad day, so there are twenty thousand child marriages on that day. I went in disguise as chairperson of the National Commission for Women, and stayed in that village for three days to get raids done so that these children don’t get married. But it was so difficult. You know, they do it in their own fashion, somehow or the other, at home, or here, or hiding somewhere. It’s so difficult to catch them. But it’s a huge ceremony. And even the government has not been able to stop it.
What incentive do the parents of these girls have to marry—
See, these children are a burden, these girls are a burden on the parents.
These are all presumably poor parents?
Even if they are rich a girl is a burden. Rich or poor she’s a burden. So, they're a burden, and the older the girl is the dowry demands are greater. So this is the age when they start getting these girls married. They don't send the girl to a husband’s house till 10, when she’s matured. Then only the girl goes to her marital home. By that time the husband is often dead. I mean, she has not even gone to her husband, but she has become a widow!
Have perceptions of widows changed in all the time that you’ve been working on this issue?
Very little, very little. In spite of all this work that I do, it’s just two per cent of the whole society that I'm touching. It’s so difficult.
And this is in North India alone, or have you worked all across—
I work all across, yes. It’s everywhere.
Are there regional variations?
There are regional variations, yes.
Are some places better than others?
Oh yes, sure.
What are the worst places?
Worst places are religious places.