I have a housekeeper, who has become somewhat of a close friend. To respect her privacy, I’ll call her Fee here. Fee has a bright sunny personality, isn’t afraid of hard work, and comes from a tiny village just outside Lahore, whose name I can’t spell.
Recently she told me how her younger 13 year old sister had ‘matured’ and they had her married off to someone before she could ‘ruin herself and her family’s reputation.’ Not an entirely alien concept to me, living in Pakistan, I’ve truly seen worse. So I asked her to tell me the full story, which I’m not going to write here, translated, in her words:
“My sister was born a pretty little thing, with big big eyes, heavy lashes and silky black hair. My father held his hopes for her; he wanted her to marry into a rich family so she could alleviate our desperate circumstances. I suppose you’d find it strange that the moment she was born, we talked of her future marriage, but this is how it is, no two words about it. As soon as she became 13 years old, my father found her a husband. She was innocent and quite naive, and she thought marriage meant living in the same house with someone else, cooking for him, and not much besides. A week later, my mother and I dressed her up in the best clothes she owned, not telling her what was going on. We thought she should know on her own, in time. So there we led a 13 year old girl, my little sister, outside and introduced her to the 60 year old man who would soon be her husband. She looked up from under her lashes, shyly at first, but then when she saw his face, thought we were joking, and loudly said “Okay, you’ve had your fun, now where’s my husband?” Clearly an uncomfortable situation for my father, who at once dealt her a stinging slap across the face; she stood silent.
Three months later, she was married. We polished and waxed every inch of her skin, still without telling her anything that was going to happen, and made her recite vows sitting beside a man old enough to be her grandfather.
You, baji might find this all shocking, but this is how I was married too. You’d think our fathers would’ve stopped looking at us as dowry debts, but never. My sister has been verbally, physically and sexually abused by the man she was entrusted to, and I’m sure she still doesn’t understand. He never lets her out of the house, doesn’t let her speak, and will beat her more if she doesn’t produce a son in the future. Most of us, we stop fighting, because we know ultimately, this is what happens.
And in the end, women must accept. Especially here,where our fathers and our country will be merciless if we don’t.”
I will never ever be ungrateful about anything, again.