Trapped after being forced to say “I do”. Ratnashri, India

Ratnashri’s story was kindly shared by our member Human Rights Watch

Ratnashri Pandey is from Madhya Pradesh. Her family pressured her to marry soon after she passed her class nine examinations. Pandey told Human Rights Watch, “I didn’t want to be married, but a girl’s wishes are not respected. Everyone said I should get married…I got married.” Pandey never set eyes on the groom; not even his photograph. “I told my nana (mother’s father) I wanted to study after marriage.”

She described her struggle to continue her education — juggling household work, fighting with her husband and in-laws to delay pregnancy, and enduring insults and beatings because of her decisions. She separated from her husband because he started beating their young daughter, and eventually divorced him.

She completed her master’s degree and worked as a teacher. But because the income was not enough to support both her and her children, Pandey dreamed of becoming a civil servant. Leaving her children in her parents’ care, she went to another city, moved into a women’s hostel, and started preparing for the State civil services examinations. Her parents spent nearly Rs.300,000 to help. She passed the preliminary examination in 2006. But State policy stopped her in her tracks a month before she was to sit the main examination.

I didn’t want to be married, but a girl’s wishes are not respected.

Ratnashri

The Madhya Pradesh authorities informed Pandey that she was ineligible to take the exam because she was married as a child, she said. She filed a case in the Madhya Pradesh High Court, which granted her permission to write the examination pending a decision on the merits of the case. She did not pass the first time. After another round of litigation, she sat the exam again in 2009. “I spent more time in courts than with my books,” she said. The Madhya Pradesh High Court upheld the government rule disqualifying applicants who had married as children. She appealed to the Supreme Court, and awaits the verdict.

Latest developments

According to reports, on April 24th 2013, thanks to Ratnarashi’s relentless efforts, the Madhya Pradesh Supreme Court lifted the rule which disqualified applicants who had married as children, realising it worked against the women and girls it meant to protect.