· Vatican City ·


* Testimony
“I loved studying. By rebelling against an imposed marriage I eradicated the misery of my lot. And other young Indian girls will do the same after me”.

Child bride my no

 Sposa bambina il mio no  DCM-003
04 March 2023

I was born on  May 9, 2003 in the rural village called Kalavai. Here the houses have wooden doors stained blue, and face onto small dusty streets. We are mixed up with the forest, the wind, the sun, the fresh water of the small lake, the scorching sand, motorbikes, and bicycles. The light colours of the façades are mingled with the blue plaster of the sky that rests on the tiles and palm leaves like a giant stork, a giant flycatcher bird. If it rains, the grey sky looks like a bird of prey with open wings. And, below, the orange of the earth, the circles of fire in the temple.

Children play blind man’s buff, they run between houses.

Deities save them from the scorpions’ bite.

In 2013, Mama Alamelu died. It does not matter why, there is no reason for the mother of a ten-year-old girl to die. Enough is enough.

Me, my sister named Anandi and my brother, both older than me, were left with an alcoholic father who a few months later remarried and went to live with his new wife in the capital, by the sea.  He left us there like three little plants that one leaves and stops watering.

The three of us were taken in by our mother’s sister, who already had children of her own, while only her husband works as a labourer, we are very poor.

The first to free us from her financial burden was my sister, who got married at 17, two years later.

Two years later, it was my turn. I had just finished ninth grade and my aunt decided to marry me off to a man twice my age. I was 14, he was 28. I hardly knew him. I begged, I cried. But nothing could prevent it. The aunt replied that she could no longer support me. My friends told me to obey, that we had no choice, it has always been like this, it is like this for everyone, it will always be like this.

But I am in love.

I had a dream, a passion greater than my life.

I was in love with an abstract thing. How can I explain?

I love books, and studying. How can I explain, I am not made to obey?

18 July 2017. The wedding was set for the next day. Everything was ready.

They were like those bulls pushed into the arena during Jallikattu.They are drunk, with their ears cut off and chilli in their eyes. They are crazy with fear.

I must put on a show too. An Indian wedding is held so as to be remembered. Tomorrow.

I locked myself in my room, weeping over the books I had to leave behind, as if they were the body of a mother, or of a fiancé. That is how it must be.

Then, my gaze falls onto a coloured piece of paper they gave me at school, which was meant for us girls. It says the phone number of Childline 1098.

I did not even decide, I couldn’t say I’m aware: a force greater than my own will propelled me towards the phone.

I asked for help. I denounced those who raised me, I denied my family and the family of my betrothed, I denied my traditions.

I was rebelling against misery with all my life’s strength.

They replied that they would come to my rescue. In a couple of hours.

I came out of my room. My face was made up, my body decorated with henna and turmeric, on my earlobes they had attached earrings, on my forehead I had crowns of pearls, my wrists were covered with bracelets and they had painted me with gold and enamel. I had flowers on my head, like the Jallikattu bull.

It was eight o'clock in the evening. The household rites were over.

We had to go to the temple, where the groom's family was waiting for me.

We walked. Or rather: they walked and I walked. Two incompatible universes walking side by side. Me and them, me and everyone else.

Imagine walking and knowing that you will spend the rest of your life serving the stranger with whom you will be forced to sleep, knowing that you will be forced to look after his parents as if they were your own.

I am the bull gone mad with pain. I am an offering, the result of an agreement.

Says the Kamasukta, the hymn to love that we recite during the wedding ceremony: “Who offered this girl, to whom was she offered?”

The drums and the sound of the shanai took my heart out of my body, and made everyone feel a pounding that felt like joy and despair.

The procession, as it passed, was colorful and significant. It was happening. It was happening.

The child was completely alone in the midst of the relatives pushing her. Completely alone in the hubbub.

She inhales the rancidity of elderly bodies. Tradition.

In the crowd, she saw her cousin with a twitch in her eye. Perhaps he wanted to encourage her to run away.

I was no longer me.

The adults who were supposed to protect me are a flock of cruel birds offering my life as if it were their own. However, my life is sacred.

We entered the temple. Imagine the smell of burning incense. Imagine the glazes and stucco. The colourful flock had delivered me. 

Imagine the herbs, the potato fritters, imagine the smell of the rice and the buzzing of the flies over the aluminium containers that were full of marinated chicken and cheese, imagine the vertical split of the chilli cut lengthwise like me, who’s already two, the living and the dead in the cold water.

The red of the clothes, the wreaths of flowers were blood and thorns. The joy of others was  piercing. On the sides of the temple hang chains of flowers and glass. In the bowls, coconut and milk are ready. No one comes to the rescue. Nothing happens. The wedding proceeds, towards my end.

The colours, the bellies, the herbs, the milk, the rice, the red and gold, the fire.

The colours, the bellies, the herbs, the milk, the rice, the red and gold, the fire.

His smile was like a grain of incense that consumed me. The perfume took away my soul.

I am made of resistant materials, but I did not think I would have to endure my end.

Then, finally, it happened. The jeeps arrived. They braked, raising the dust.

Twenty people got out excitedly. They were civilians, they were police. They were looking for me.

The flock stripped me of my jewellery and hid me, asked me to lie. I said yes, I nodded my head, but then I ran out and shouted, until I lost my voice, that I only wanted to study.

I stayed for weeks in a Terre des Hommes shelter, until they sorted out all the paperwork. I was stunned, I was like in a dream, I was alone, completely alone as one who is free.

Between eight o'clock in the evening and midnight my life became mine. I now attend class 12, I have become a celebrity in my own right, the government has even given me 1,200 euros; I will study, I will fight for others like me.

By making the gesture of that phone call, I eradicated the misery of my fate like an unhealthy weed, I made a journey through space and time. And others will do so behind me.

We are subject to time and are masters of nothing. Only the little time we have, which is our life.

The studio saved my life. In fact, more than that, it saved my freedom.

However, I have not betrayed you, I love you as always, but I remain in myself, in my heart, as firm as the grass that cannot be crushed. Because I did not want to pass in vain, in this life.


Maria Grazia Calandone gave voice to Nandhini, who at the age of 14 in India managed to escape an arranged marriage by her aunt. Together they told her story at #StandUpForGirls 2019, a Terre des Hommes event.