Available in paperback.
Aged 11, Chandra is sure she'll be happy with her young husband - they are both modern-minded. But when she goes to visit him, she is trapped, and has to fight desperately for her freedom.
Yes, it still happens - and not just in India
‘Daughter-in-law!’ Roop’s father. Sick with fear and hunger, Chandra stepped to the door. He gestured with his stick. ‘Cover your unlucky face!’ Hastily she draped her dupatta over her head, as far forward as the narrow cloth would go, before returning to the door, her hands clenched to hide their shaking. ‘That’s better. You are a widow. Do you know how to behave?’
‘Yes, father-in-law. I must stay inside until it’s time for me to go home.’ She bit her lip, hoping...
‘Home? Ha! This is your home.’
‘But I’ve another six years to go at school -’
‘School? Why should you go to school?’
‘I can get a job -
‘Job? Shiv preserve us! No woman of my family will ever shame me by going outside to be stared at by every man in town, or working as if her menfolk can’t afford to keep her. You’ll stay secluded in purdah, and serve us. Follow custom.’ He nodded decisively, his bushy grey moustache twitching.
Behind him, his wife's voice shrilled, ‘Too late for sati, even if she’d do it - no courage, modern girls! No tradition, no pride!’
Chandra shuddered. Burn herself on her husband’s funeral pyre, to prove her devotion to him? At least, with Roop’s body burned already, they couldn’t expect that of her.. Desperately she protested, ‘It’s against the law, Miss Kapoor told us about it! You can’t keep me here!’
‘What?’ The silver-headed cane lashed across her shoulders. ‘Insolent! In my own house, I am the law! No government can make a law that says right is wrong and wrong is right! If this Miss was your teacher, she had no business teaching you such evil ideas! You will do your duty and obey me as custom says - and not argue!’ He struck her again, and the women beyond him murmured in satisfaction. ‘And how will you leave, eh? Walk across the desert? You’d die of thirst, or snakes. No, daughter-in-law. Here you will stay, as tradition lays down. Accept it.’
She knelt and held her hands out, begging. ‘Let me go home, please! My parents will be waiting -’
‘Ach!’ He spat in disgust. ‘You are a fool as well as unlucky. I spoke to your father by the telephone, I told him last week. He said of course you must follow proper customs!’
Chandra’s mouth fell open. Bapa had sent her here, knowing what had happened, what was going to happen! That was why he had been so affected at the bus station... And mata had had to say nothing, let her go... Poor mata! They had sent her away, knowing... knowing... No! No!
Whimpering in despair, she watched her father-in-law stalk away across the little yard. Her bruises and the scratches of the thorn bushes she had been beaten with ached and stung, she was thirsty again already, with a long hot day ahead. For years...
Maybe sati wouldn’t be so bad after all.