When Lalita Raut’s brother told her “we need to follow the culture,” she was dubious and fearful. Her fears were warranted.
Lalita was born and raised in Janakpur, Mujeliya in southeastern Nepal. It’s common for young girls to be married in Nepal. In fact, 37 percent of girls in Nepal marry before age 18 and 10 percent are married by age 15. Lalita was about to join the 37 percent.
Her brother informed her that a boy from another district, Morang, was ready to marry her. The boy’s father worked as the principal of a college and her soon-to-be husband studied business (working toward his bachelor’s degree) while owning a bread factory. Her brother even visited Morang, met the groom’s father, saw a large home, and returned to Janakpur pleased with what would become his sister’s circumstances.
Lalita stopped her studies even though she was only 17 years old and not yet done with the 10th grade. Her family scraped together enough money to pay the huge dowry of $7,000 US in cash and provide a motorbike. The financial sacrifice seemed worthwhile. This investment would buy Lalita a fine life, remove the financial burden of caring for her, and guarantee that she would no longer have any contact with unsavory boys in school that could compromise her or her reputation. She would be a married woman.
The married woman part became true, but most of the other aspects of her new life were false. After she was married, Lalita quickly learned that her husband had not even completed high school and that her father-in-law, instead of being the principal of a college, was illiterate. The home her brother had been shown was someone else’s. Her new family was very poor.
Lalita found herself pregnant, physically and mentally abused, and in a community where she knew nobody. She ran from the violent household, while pregnant, back to her father’s home. Her husband and his family never came to see her, even after the birth of her daughter, but they later filed a legal case against Lalita accusing her of neglecting her husband and in-laws.
Now 22 years old with a 3.5 year old daughter, Lalita lives with her parents and listens avidly to a radio drama, Hilkor (“Ripples in the Water”). In it, she hears her story and she hopes that other girls will know the truth and be able to avoid situations exactly like hers.
“The drama exactly reflects my story,” says Lalita. She talks about Shilpa (the young female character in the drama), explaining that Shilpa’s parents believe she may get involved with a boy at school. “People started gossiping about me and my male friends at school and my parents believed that,” she says. “That is why they started forcing me into marriage.”
Hilkor is produced by Population Media Center (PMC), a nonprofit specializing in entertainment-education that addresses the rights of women and girls. Nepal has the third highest rate of early marriage in Asia and only 53 percent of women over the age of 15 can read and write. More than 25 percent of the people live below poverty, directly contributing to hunger, illiteracy, and early marriage.
Hilkor began broadcast in April 2016 and will air until April 2017 in the Maithili language. The 104-episode drama covers a wide range of issues including rights of women and girls, child marriage, family planning, domestic violence, gender based violence, gender equality, reproductive health, maternal and child health, and nutrition. PMC partnered with Nepal’s premier communication and production house, Antenna Foundation (AFN), to broadcast over 40 stations nationwide.
“I dream if I could stop Shilpa from obeying her family,” says Lalita about Hilkor. She says she has learned that crying and complaining about life is not a solution and that listening to the drama has made her feel empowered and hopeful for other girls. “If I had chance to listen the drama ‘Hilkor’ before in my life, I would have filed a case against my parents but would never get married.”
About Population Media Center
Population Media Center is a nonprofit leader in entertainment-education, dedicated to women’s rights and empowerment, population stabilization, and the environment. For the past two decades, PMC’s entertainment programming has promoted social and cultural change and has helped 500 million people in more than 50 countries.
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