Tamil Nadu's 'tsunami marriages'

By Papri Sri Raman
June 28, 2006

Nagapattinam - Seventeen-year-old Ambika cooks and keeps house for eight people, among them her 48-year-old husband, his first wife and their three children.

Surprised? Ambika (some names in this story have been changed) - the sole survivor of a family that perished in the December 2004 tsunami disaster - of course claims she is 18 years of age, while officials here explain the larger story behind the bizarre 'tsunami marriage'.

The tsunami, which killed nearly 10,000 people in Tamil Nadu, orphaned scores of young men and women. Since the government barred adoptions, relatives of the young women survivors decided to take them in using 'marriage' as a cover.

In the process, however, even 13-year-olds and 14-year-olds have got 'married'. They may have gained a family in the process, but other forms of trauma are just beginning to unfold.

Ambika is just one of the 112 women in Nagapattinam district who have entered into what is popularly known in these parts as 'tsunami marriage'.

'Much too often we now have elderly uncles coming forward to shelter the teenagers by offering marriage. These marriages are called tsunami marriage,' explained D. Koteeswara Rao, tsunami project coordinator for the Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF).

The marriages are not legal because a woman cannot marry under the age of 18. But NGOs say that the young women invariably claim they are adults. And as they are mostly 'marrying' into relatives, the authorities are turning a blind eye.

SCARF does not give out the names of women involved in 'tsunami marriages' for reasons of privacy.

'One day Ambika came to me and asked with disgust if her life would be like this for ever,' Rao said, referring to the young woman's complaint about the lack of sex drive of her husband. 'I had no answer.'

Rao went on: 'Even then 13-year-olds and 14-year-olds get married to their relatives.'

The men such women are 'marrying' have wives and the latter give their consent to such relationships. Some activists say these families only have an eye on the monetary compensations the orphans may have got from the government.

SCARF has been engaged in trauma care in villages along Tamil Nadu's winding coast. The disaster left nearly 200,000 people without homes, relatives or even livelihood.

Social Need Education and Human Awareness (SNEHA), an NGO, has recorded 112 tsunami marriages from communities in 20 villages in Nagapattinam, the district worst affected by the tsunami.

The young victims act like housekeepers. 'We cannot stop it because the government rules say that if relatives come forward to take in victims, we must let them,' said a member of an NGO.

There is no doubt that the scars of the tsunami linger on.

'More than 50 percent of the households in the tsunami-hit districts are women-headed households', SNEHA director Jesu Rethnam told IANS.

Many households are also headed by children, especially girls, often as young as 10.

In one case, a 15-year-old girl was placed in a government shelter after her mother died in the tsunami.

She fears that some family might trap her and take away all the compensation she and her siblings are entitled to.

There are other problems too.

In Kilinjalmedu village, a mechanised boat was given to a female tsunami victim. The village panchayat was upset. 'What will a woman do with a boat?' someone asked, demanding that it be turned over to the panchayat.

In another village, a woman was provided an auto-rickshaw. Again, the village authorities wanted to snatch it away.

In both cases, the donors argued that the beneficiary could hire out the boat/vehicle to young men to ply.

In Chinnankudi village, women survivors were given Rs.4,000 as immediate compensation. That too led to unexpected headaches.

'Women's needs are less than men's. What will women do with so much money?' was the reaction of the panchayat. So, half of it was taken away from the women.

SCARF is counselling 48 cases of extreme trauma in children. 'Two girls in Nagoor, two in Sellur, one in Samanthanpettai. Two cannot talk even a year after the tragedy and one keeps attempting suicide,' said a SCARF activist.

In Cuddalore district, a woman saved herself by clinging on to a tree but the huge waves stripped her of her clothing. Till today, she hangs her head down as she walks. She just cannot overcome the humiliation.

Indo-Asian News Service








2005 Asian Sex Gazette.
Contact Us | About Us | Newsfeeds | Newsletters | Advertising

Terms of Use
 | Privacy Policy | DMCA Policy | Removal Policy 
Adult Industry | Adult Performers | Magazine Reviews | Movie Reviews |
Home | Central Asia | Greater China | Japan | Koreas | Middle East | South Asia | Southeast Asia