Saika Shaikh – Bhiwandi

When she was 16, Saika was being forced to get engaged to a man she had not even seen

Saika Shaikh

Saika, now 19, lives with her brother Arif, sister in law and their child. Presently her parents have moved to their ancestral village in Uttar Pradesh, close to the Nepal border. Arif treats Saika rather unfairly; home and hearth is the place for women, he feels.

When the talks of her marriage were going on, Saika had finished her Secondary School Certification (SSC) exam. Her friends had decided to go to college. ‘Why do you want to get married at such a tender age? We are going to college. Do something, don’t sit at home, that way they will have an excuse to get you married. Get busy in some work’, good friends advised her. Their counsel set Saika thinking- the person she was to be betrothed was a power loom worker, who earned not more than 8 thousand a month. Saika was well aware of the realities of the loom workers. Her own brother worked in a loom and found it difficult to meet the ends. ‘I will only suffer in marriage’, she thought. Secondly, she wanted to study and be self-sufficient.  

Saika dreaded the Talaq, she had seen abandoned women in her locality. The uneducated women among the deserted suffered the most. They were at the mercy of their family. They were ill-treated; the daily drudgery was their fate.  ‘Did I want to be in that state? – NO’, shared Saika.  

Her friends advised her to have a word with her big brother Arif who was so impatient to marry her off. She did speak with him and voiced her resolve to not marry for two more years. This was enough to enrage Arif; ‘you don’t understand, it’s a question of Izzat (family honour)’. Her brother was not willing to take ‘NO’ for an answer. ‘If you want to study, do that after marriage if your husband allows it’.  

Saika was very upset, but then she decided to seek help. She approached Committed Community Development Trust (CCDT) an NGO working in the area. CCDT’s functionary Basreen Shaikh promised to intervene. CCDT had organized a series of programmes for adolescent girls and women on the issues of growing up, menstruation, menstrual sanitation, sex, contraceptives, and pregnancy care.

Instead of challenging Arif up front, Basreen decided to take the route of family counselling. Saika’s sister-in-law was pregnant. Ms Shaikh counselled her on the care she has to take during pregnancy. She also informed the family about the vaccination the pregnant mother has to take. After addressing Saika’s sister-in-law, Shaikh decided to speak with the brother. ‘She’s only 17, why do you want to marry her off? She’s still a child’. Arif was upset, ‘It’s a family matter, why do you poke your nose into other people’s private matters?’ he asked.

‘So you share our family matters with outsiders? Do you not have any shame?’, Arif thundered. But Saika was resolute, after his outburst, she calmly told him, ‘I am not going to marry for two more years’. Arif had to concede, it was anyway illegal to marry a 16-year-old girl. ‘Ok, I will speak with the family of the young man (would-be of Saika’s). Arif got in touch with the parents; they were annoyed and agitated. Arif tried to pacify them. Finally, Saika’s parents came round and gave her a lee way of two years. ‘Get your education in two years, we are not going to wait after that’, they gave an ultimatum.

‘I don’t have the money for your education, remember that’, Arif proclaimed. The Mangni (engagement) had been annulled. Neighbours and community had started gossiping about Saika’s refusal, ‘she’s light-headed (ghan chakkar)’, commented many. Saika didn’t mind the comments, she had to keep calm to pursue her wish. She wanted to get into Pharmacy. In the neighbouring family, the 17-year-old adolescent girl who was married off had come back. Her husband had an affair with a woman. This incident had an impact on Saika’s family.

Saika couldn’t join the Pharmacology course due to lack of funds. She decided to learn sewing. She started going to a coaching class. ‘I am learning tailoring as I have to earn an income. I don’t want to be dependent on anyone’, Saika is acutely aware of existential challenges.

‘But I can’t have my way all the time, I have to compromise. I want an understanding and responsible husband, the one who knows and understands responsibilities’, Saika has minimum expectations from life. ‘We shouldn’t be with a begging bowl ever. I wouldn’t want to ask for money from people or relatives. I don’t want me or my family to be dependent on anyone’.

‘Parents shouldn’t be in haste to marry off the girls. They should respect the dreams and aspiration of the girl children. I did not get a chance to pursue my dream, but the other girls’ dreams shouldn’t be crushed’.

Young women like Saika are not willing to take anything submissively.  They are willing to put a fight to protect their rights.

Written by : Sujata Shirke
Translated by : Alka Gadgil