I have always been a firm believer of the idea that showing sympathy and wearing your heart on your sleeves takes a great deal of courage. Niceness is so often mistaken for weakness that this ruthless world leaves no chance to exploit those who are too polite. Naturally, people retreat. They build walls and put on a mask to make the world believe that their heart has hardened and they do not feel any pain.

Sometimes though, it piles up, as in the case of my Buaji. What does a woman who was married off and widowed, all by the age of eight do? Clad in a white saree, Buaji was denied the affections of a husband and the unparalleled joy of motherhood. To ask for a second chance at life? Unthinkable. Once widowed, a woman in rural India has no right to fall in love, no matter how many years go by. The world had not shown her any kindness in first robbing her of her childhood and then of her right to love and be loved. Why would this woman risk being kind to the world ever again? She cocooned herself in what she felt was her safe place, where there was no room for tears or sympathy. As she grew older she earned the reputation of being a hard woman with a sharp tongue, who was set in her ways of life. Buaji’s luck had worked for her in one place though; she was born into a family that accepted her after her childhood tragedies, treated her with the utmost respect, and did not discriminate based on her marital status.

In a turn of events that is almost unheard of in Pratappur, Buaji even found her second chance at life when her friendship with Subhashji turned into infatuation. But the norms of society were so deeply etched in her mind that when Subhash Ji put forward the proposal of marrying her, she did not believe she could go through with it. The disapproving taunts and questions that friends and family would ask echoed in her head. After some resistance, the Mathur family decided they have no right to make this decision for two adults who have the right to happiness.

I almost laugh at how the next sentence may sound, but not every child-widow is that lucky. These girls, forced to live a life that is a nightmare to most, are sometimes not even accepted by their own family. In rare cases where they are taken in, they are treated like outcasts who committed a grave sin. They carry an ill fortune, people say. Do people forget that these girls were forced into an untimely marriage before their minds and bodies were prepared? It wasn’t bad luck, but regressive norms that gave them these lives. I am hopeful though, that one day the people of Pratappur will realise that the only way to prevent girls becoming widows is by putting an end to the despicable practice of child marriage; and I hope that day will come soon.