She is now studying technology in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh. Her family had chosen her destiny: a child bride, a wife and a mother. But she rebelled and was almost tortured to death. Her salvation came through education and the loving care of Salesians.
Vijayawada (AsiaNews) – Samkuru Vani is a young Indian woman. Her fate was that of a bride but she dared to rebel and choose a better future for herself through education. For that her family cursed her as a bad omen, and wanted to kill her. Such was situation that she even wished she were a street dog because dogs were freer than her. She cried and thought about suicide. She told her story to AsiaNews through Fr M C George Menamparampil, head of the Missionary Offices of the Congregation of Don Bosco. He also coordinates the actions of the Salesians in crisis situations and natural disasters all over the world.
For years the Salesian clergyman was the national director of Don Bosco schools in India. On our pages he has talked before about child-brides and women sex slaves in India rescued by Don Bosco institutes. His testimony highlights the reality of female slavery connected to forced marriages, recently brought to the fore by a report on "new slaves".
The latter notes that in 2016 at least 15.4 million women have been forced to marry against their will worldwide, including India, which ranks high in terms of "honour crimes" and early marriages. This is Samkuru’s case. Her liberation is the work of some “angels of mercy”, namely some Don Bosco nuns and priests who save street kids and offer them a good education in 400 institutes in 87 cities. Her story follows.
I was born Samkuru Vani and, happily, I am still Samkuru Vani. Early in life my family wanted to change my name. I mean, they wanted me to get married when I was still a minor.
I understand their problem. I am the youngest of eight children. My father abandoned us when I was very small. My mother worked as a coolie in the fields (a daily-wage labourer). The Salesian sisters of Don Bosco became my source of mercy. They gave me free food, lodging and education. When I returned home after grade ten, the family did not want to spend money on food or studies for me. They also feared that if I were better qualified, I would want a better husband, which would mean giving a higher dowry.
They brought a man and his family to see whether he could marry me. I refused to marry him. I pleaded with my mother, weeping for hours. They threatened to stop taking care of her, too, if she sided with me.
For good measure, they also gave me a good thrashing.
One day, I ran away to Vijayawada, to Navajeevan Bala Bhavan, which could be roughly translated as Don Bosco’s Home for Giving a New Life to Children. The director, Fr. Koshy Thomas, was a second agent of mercy for me. He took me to the Government’s District Child Welfare Committee. They summoned my mother, brothers and even my father. That was the first time my father and mother were seeing each other after he had left us. They did not say a word to each other.
My family promised that I could continue my studies. But, back home, the entire family started abusing me. My sisters asked, “What is your problem? All your sisters married young. Most of your friends did, too.” Actually it is very sad because one of my sisters, still in her 20’s, has a son and is already a widow. In India it is so difficult for widows to remarry, no matter how young, and even to survive.
They thrashed me; hit my head against the wall till I was bleeding. They cursed me as a bad omen and a shame on the family. They even wanted to kill me. This is called “honour-killing” in our country. My mother was as helpless as me because she was just a woman, abandoned by her own husband.
After another boy was brought to marry me, I ran away again to Fr. Koshy. He is a true angel of mercy. He admitted me into a course in Computer Science and Engineering (CSE). Not a single member of my family ever came to see me or inquired about me. They considered me dead. In spite of all they had done to me, I longed to see them, especially my mother.
I studied well. I am proud to say I was the topper in my class.
My father then came to take me to his house. He promised to allow me to study. Once I reached home, he beat me and threatened to kill me if I went back to Don Bosco. I really believed his threat because I still have the image of my mother bleeding from her head when my father hit her with an axe. So I went back to my mother and brothers.
The old ritual began all over – a steady stream of boys to take a look at me. I felt like a cow on sale in the market place. It is sad that a female in India has no status of her own. She is only the daughter, the wife or the mother of a male. I was tortured, beaten, cursed, and placed under house arrest. I wished I were a street dog. A dog was freer than I was. I cursed my misfortune of being a girl. I prayed. I cried. I thought of suicide.
Finally, my grandmother helped me to go back once more to Don Bosco Navajeevan. Fr. Koshy, the most merciful man I have ever met, welcomed me. He put me back into college. I am now in my second year of B. Tech. (Bachelor of Technology). I work part time to look after my needs.
I had several reasons for refusing to get married. I wanted to study. I was too young to be a wife and mother. I would have to live with the entire family of the boy – a boy and a family that I did not know at all. Above all, I was being FORCED to get married, not just advised or requested to. I did not feel respected.
The reason I want to study is very simple. I want to do something more with my life than what I saw most people do. Education will give me a better life. It will enable me to extend to other girls the mercy I experienced from the Salesian sisters and fathers. I will study, find a job, and earn well. I will then be able to help girls like me. I do not want any girl to suffer as I did.
The apostolic vicar proposes to focus on family spirituality, making families "active in the Gospel." The Himalayan nation has many mixed couples and hundreds of conversions to Christianity. The 2016 Plenary of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences also focused on the family.