You know her. Or someone very like her.
She’s about 14, and maybe she’s your maid’s daughter.
Or maybe she lives in the flat next door, or the large house across the street.
She’s studying, your maid says proudly, she’s not going to be married off till she finishes her Intermediate, at least. Nowadays, even girls must study, no? she says.
Her mother chats with you sometimes, tells you she’s studying hard for her engineering entrance exams. If she gets into a good college, gets a good degree and a good job, she can ‘settle’ well, her mother says. Or maybe her parents are sure she’ll get into a good college for her B.Com. Or maybe her B.Ed. A basic degree is necessary for girls also, her mother says to you. Maybe her husband will want her to get a job, or even allow her to study more, who knows? That will be good, no, ma?
She talks to you, sometimes, telling you about her elder sister who wants to do a course in a beauty parlour; which one is good, akka? she asks. This Shahnaz Hussain is very popular, no? Her sister experiments on her, sometimes – she shows off her bright red nailpolish (on her toes only, where shoes and socks cover it at school, so PT ma’am can’t catch her), one day, magenta coloured lipstick, even.
Or maybe she experiments with a different haircut, now that she’s going to intermediate ‘college’. Or even tries on her mother’s cosmetics. She comes and chats for a while, on a Sunday evening, after her coaching class tests, hoping you’ll notice and comment before she has to point it out. She talks about Shahid and Kareena, maybe. Or her freshers’ party, and the <giggle> boy who had to give her a rose ‘for ragging’.
One day, the talk is a little more serious. She talks about ‘boyfriends’. Is it wrong to want to have one? It isn’t? Men are usually older than their wives, aren’t they? What do men do with their wives, anyway? Don’t tell amma, akka, she’ll have my hide for asking this… do they… touch? And… ? Is it true that…?
The talk could be about older men. Creepy older men, but some are nice too. Who decides what age gap is ‘appropriate’ in a relationship, anyway? You smile inwardly at her talking about relationships – how seriously we take our crushes at that age! You know, everyone at school says they’re doing it, she says. Probably not true, but some of them are actually going around, do you know?
You refuse to be shocked. You want to be mature and informative and kind, and let her open up, don’t you? From here on, it could be one story.
It is some time later. She tells you she has a boyfriend.
And then one day, the boyfriend did something that scared her. Will I get pregnant, she asks. You ask her what happened. She tells you. It was all her fault, she says. She should have known that men can’t control themselves. But it hurt her, and she’s still scared and confused. Who was it, you ask. An older man. She knows him, and he’s been her ‘boyfriend’ for ‘so long, now’.
You call your friend at the Centre. Take the girl down there. They talk to her. Take her to the police, record her statement. Take her home, tell her parents. You’ve slipped away quietly – you don’t want to be involved, or maybe there’s just no more that you can do. It’s been six months, and you haven’t seen her. Your maid quit/her parents avoid you. You know that’s inevitable. The people at the Centre say it’s a foolproof case – DNA evidence, and she’s a minor – just 14, for chrissake, and he knew it. The b***** paedophile is going away for a long stretch in prison.
Except he isn’t. Suddenly, there’s a wedding. She’s getting married. At 15. To the man who raped her. Her parents are happy he will now have the protection of Section 375.
You know her. Or someone like her.