One such case was Rani (name changed) who was 22 years old, and living in a large city with a steady job. Her wish was to marry her 27 year old boyfriend, whom she had known since childhood. When Rani told her parents of their marriage plans, they had Rani escorted to their village against her will. Rani was then held in her parent’s home under constant supervision and without outside contact. The ‘problem’ was that Rani’s boyfriend was of a lower caste. Although the caste system is officially illegal in India, its influence is still strong in some areas.
After 8 months Rani got access to a phone and called a national women’s help line. One week later the police released her and she was taken to a government shelter home in the neighboring district of Varanasi. This home is a locked facility mainly for girls under government care, but also houses women with physical and mental disabilities. Here Rani was still not free, but she had hope for her future.
One of the reasons Rani was placed in a girls facility was that her parents had claimed Rani was only 18 - even though she was 22. Until 18 Indian parents can still direct their unmarried daughters’ decisions. Once in Varanasi, the Shakti Dayini counselors worked with both Rani and her future husband, as he was also severely traumatized by the events.
Over the next 10 days, many government and court officials were drawn into the case. At one point Rani was released from the girls facility by a magistrate into the care of 4 police officers from her parents district. They arrived without name badges, and without official papers so the Varanasi police were called to stop the car before it left the district. Rani was returned back to the shelter. After this, a Release Order was issued placing Rani in the care of the Shakti Dayini director, and Rani was protected in Shakti Dayini until her case was resolved. The Shakti Dayini counselors were involved in each aspect of this complicated case, using legal and local police assistance as needed to support and care for Rani.
The case eventually went to a higher court, and a habeas corpus was filed. The high court judge deemed that at 22 years of age Rani had the right to live her life according to her wishes, including marriage. Rani and her partner were given a police escort back to their city and have since married.
Shakti Dayini counsellors have since continued to provide phone counseling to support the couple.
Although complicated, in some ways this is a typical case handled at the center. Conflict stemming from the meeting of modern society and tradition, of equal rights with patriarchy, of young with old and other dichotomies are common. The old way of life and old generational networks are vying for support with the new emerging structure. In this melting pot education, guidance and communication can support a new way to be established.
In this instance, education for the parents was not possible. However both Rani and her partner are being supported to understand their rights, their value and how to interact with a shifting society in a way that brings change. They in their turn, now have an opportunity to bring something new to this changing society.