Our society remains a hugely conservative one by far in terms of accepting adolescent sexuality. The brunt of this conservatism is borne largely by the rural or suburban population of the young since the youth in cities have significantly greater choice and individual agency to exercise given the less cohesive social structures in the latter scape. Repression and rigid social mores when it comes to exploring sexuality or even the mere excitement of young romance has detrimental effects on both genders. This strict compartmentalisation and forbidden free social intermingling between the genders can be seen as accountable for a number of prioritising domesticity over a career path.
The privileged classes of our society derogate the problem that a large number of marginalised women willingly choose a married life, often over available opportunities at building a life of financial independence and dignity, simply as a class issue. It is seen as innate or intrinsic to the working class and stigmatised as a problem in the innate worldview and mentality of this demographic of the population. This is simply an example of the hypocrisy of our society as the problem stems far deeper.
We see a large number of smart, intelligent, often academically proficient young women from the marginalised sections of society ( in terms of class, caste or social capital) agreeing to get married right after the minimal achievement of formal school education. Very few avail of an opportunity for a college education or a vocational training course or an employment examination. While more often than not this is the result of parental or social compulsion, force, fear of consequences, social conditioning and pathetically poor standards of government-sponsored education, a lot of young women exercise the choice to prioritise domesticity over life outside of it. A large part of the issue can also be traced to the fact that any sort of romantic relationship between young people can achieve acceptance only after a marital bond is formed. To add to this rigidity, our society is furrowed by deep divisions of caste, creed, religion and community. To love freely and without the umbrella of any binding social contract is impossible for young people, specially in marginalised sections of our society as the fear of actual punishment is far more than social stigma.
When young boys and girls are at ages where exploring one’s sexuality presses upon as an urgent need, there is no other way to do that apart from marriage. Far more so for girls than boys who still can navigate through social life by following an unconventional behaviour pattern without at least fearing death or violence inflicted upon them. The most a boy can expect for choosing to disobey conventional social restraint is ostracisation. For a woman, the question can be a matter of life and death. It is quite difficult under such a scenario for young girls to think practically and stay focussed on the more prudent decision; to choose financial independence over wanting a companion that inseparably comes with the shackles of tending to a home and hearth. Moreover, a girl with an education and earning an independent living has scanty prospects to don the bride’s wear someday. A choice very few can afford to make, the few being the meagre population of the urban elite and considerably liberated female.
The problem of early marriages and often willing ones in women of marginalised communities is not a class problem. It is a problem more in layers and layers of misogyny, patriarchy, class and caste hypocrisy and repression of sexual freedom. The last condition being a severely undertended and significantly corroding one. As long as we do not look into our collective failures as a society, our girls shall be denied the right to choose better, choose a life of emotional and financial independence, a luxury as it seems in the present moment.