Runaway Groom: Teena’s first husband left her; it changed her life in wonderful ways

“My name is Teena Rawat. I’m from Mayapur village in Ajmer district. I got married when I was in Std 8. My husband hadn’t studied beyond Std 7. This bothered my in-laws because they didn’t want an educated ‘bahu’.In Std. 12, I found out that my husband had married someone else. I was heartbroken. He denied the rumours and I believed him. I begged my in-laws to take me in, but they refused ‘supposedly’ because my parents hadn’t given them a motorcycle as dowry.

To save face, they told the ‘samaj’ that my family had reneged on the marriage. They hid the fact that their son had re-married and his new wife was eight months pregnant. We didn’t get a chance to speak at the hearing. We were fined Rs 1.5 lakh and when we didn’t pay, we were ex-communicated. I spiraled into depression and tried to commit suicide twice.

In 2016, I joined CORO’s Grassroots Leadership Development Program, which taught me to question social norms. I began wondering why a man can marry a dozen times without consequences but a woman’s ‘izzat’ is destroyed if she marries again. One particularly insightful exercise involved pasting tags like ‘Rajput’ or ‘widow’ on our backs. We were then told to alter our behavior towards each other based on these arbitrary tags that we couldn’t control. None of us knew what label we’d been assigned, but we all felt its power.

During the fellowship, I decided to work towards abolishing child marriage. After I’d conducted an awareness drive in a school, a Std 6 student went home and told his parents that he didn’t want to get married. If they forced him, he would go to the police with ‘Teena didi’. I also helped 9 abandoned child brides remarry and 12 reconcile with their husbands. I’m one of the last child brides to remarry. At my wedding, I’m going to break with tradition and do the ‘saat pheras’. This is unheard of in my community for a second marriage, but I refuse to be punished for something that wasn’t my fault.

The fellowship’s focus on constitutional rights had a big impact on me. I realized that if I want to help people fight for their rights, I need a degree. So, I studied and became an advocate. I’ve been able to eradicate child marriage in three villages because people fear that I will report them.

I’ve also filed five cases against my ex-husband. My proudest moment was when the judge found out that I was both the plaintiff and the lawyer and congratulated me. She told my ex-husband, ‘If you hadn’t abandoned her, this woman would have spent her whole life following you around in a goonghat. Instead, she’s a lawyer. Look at how little you’ve achieved and how much she has done with her life.”