National Geographic : 2011 Jun
• great poverty. "Beautiful new clothes," Shobha told me, with a mirthless smile. "I didn't know the meaning of marriage. I was very happy." Yes, she said, she had seen her young husband since the wedding. But only brie y. He is a few years older. So far she had managed to postpone the gauna, the transition to married life in his household. She looked away when I asked her impression of him and said, he is not educated. We regarded each other, and she shook her head; there was no possibility, none, that she would disgrace her parents by delaying the gauna for- ever: "I have to be with him. I'll make him study and understand things. But I will not leave him." She wanted to go to college, she said. Her in- tense wish was to qualify for the Indian police force so she could specialize in enforcement of the child marriage prohibition law. She had been keeping a diary throughout high school. One of the entries read, in carefully lettered Hindi: "In front of my eyes, I'll never ever allow child mar- riages to happen. I'll save each and every girl." Every time I visited Shobha's village, her par- ents served chai, or spiced tea, in their best cups, and the Shobha stories thickened in their layers of pride and dissembling and uneasiness as to what the foreign visitor was up to. It wasn't a wed- ding! It was only an engagement party! All right, it was a wedding, but that was before the Veerni people made their kind o er and Shobha's capa- bility had astounded them all. It was Shobha who had gured out how to obtain electricity for the house, so that she and her younger siblings could study after dark. "I can sign things," Shobha's mother told me. "She taught me how to write my name." And now, her parents indicated, this ne episode was surely concluding---and it was time. e husband was calling Shobha's cell phone, de- manding a date. Her grandmother wanted the gauna before old age overcame her. e classes in Jodhpur were both Shobha's passion and her delaying tactic, but Veerni support runs only through high school; to stay on and cover the cost of college, Shobha needed a donor. e email arrived a er I'd returned to the United States: "How are you I miss you Mam. Mam I am pursu- ing B.A. 1st year I also want to do English spoken When Sunil's parents arranged for her marriage at age 11, she threatened to report them to police in Rajasthan, India. They relented, and Sunil, now 13, stayed in school. "Studying will give her an edge against others," her mother now says. Why must women be the ones to sacrifice, I asked, and the look Shobha gave me suggested only one of us understood the world she lives in. "Because our country is man-oriented."