The story of a day-long ‘marriage’

He is 15, she around 60. They got talking on the phone, resulting in a meeting, a ‘forced’ wedding and instant divorce. A month later…
The groom

When he finally got the phone — a second-hand Nokia base model, for just Rs 200 — he thought his fortune would change. He was 15, had never been to school, lived in a two-room hut with his widowed mother and two younger sisters, and was soon to start work as a daily wager. A phone, someone told him, would get him more jobs. What he got, however, was a bride.

In September, says the 15-year-old, the resident of a village in Assam’s Goalpara district, 200 km from Guwahati, he got a missed call. When he dialled back, on the other end was a voice he had never spoken to before.

Over the course of the next month, according to the teenager, that brief ‘wrong call’ turned into long, intent conversations. “I had never really spoken to a girl before. I began falling in love,” he says. The mobile plan he had purchased for Rs 100 allowed him unlimited calls for the month. “I could not take photos or watch videos on my phone, like my friends did. But I could talk.”

Soon the person he was talking to expressed a desire to meet him, claims the minor. “I wanted to bring her back home as my bride,” he says. Her village, even though not too far, fell under Barpeta, a separate administrative district. A date and a time were set.

On the morning of October 17, the boy set off on his cycle to meet the owner of the mysterious voice. “I told her I would wear a blue shirt so she would recognise me.”

His mother, also a daily wager, says she had no idea where her son had gone. “I assumed it was work.” Since her husband died eight years ago, the 35-year-old had raised the children on her meagre earnings, and hoped her son would now pitch in.

The 12-km journey took the 15-year-old almost two hours — the roads were broken, and to get to the island beyond which the person he was going to meet lived, one had to cross the river. In October, the river is mellow and thus, easy to cross — by road, or over the many precarious makeshift dolongs (bridges) across it. The boy crossed several.

When he finally arrived at the address provided by her, he was met by an elderly woman. She asked the boy to wait before serving him lunch. “She fed me rice, telpitha. I ate but I kept asking her where my bride was,” recalls the boy. After lunch, the woman, roughly 60 years old, told him it was her.

The bride

All her life, she has lived in the char chaporis (or simply chars) of the Brahmaputra and its tributaries — growing up here, getting married, becoming a mother of five, grandmother to “several”, and losing her husband. Life in these sandy, shifting islands of Lower Assam, covering nearly 3,600 sq km of the Brahmaputra basin and mainly occupied by the Bengali Muslim community, isn’t easy: flooding almost every monsoon, poverty, lack of development, and the fear of being branded “illegal” or “foreigners”.


“Town girls never want to be with char boys. And char girls are always looking to get out,” says the woman.

Even within the ever-changing life of the char, she does not have a home of her own. Her face wrinkled, her few remaining teeth rotten, she says, “I keep moving, from my children’s homes to my neighbours, relatives.”

Her story about how she met the 15-year-old is different.

They met, she says, in September, at a construction site in Bongaigaon, about 100 km away. “He would tell me, ‘Bhabhi, find me a girl. I want to marry’,” she claims. She says she urged him to come to her char. “I said, ‘There are many girls there’.” She also claims she never asked for his name, and doesn’t know it still. “This ‘wrong number’ story is rubbish.”

She says while they exchanged phone numbers, she lost his not knowing how to save it. Then, a month ago, the woman claims, they started talking on the phone and a day was fixed for him to come to the char. “He came, we roamed around the village. He even liked one girl he saw.”

By that time, she says, it was too late for him to return home. “I asked him to spend the night at my place,” she says, adding that she herself was staying at her daughter’s house. “But many people in the char had seen him. Someone started a rumour that a young boy and I were having an affair.”

In the night — and here is where the stories of the teenager and the 60-year-old merge — around 10 men turned up at the woman’s house, allegedly dragged him out and started beating him up. “Our village is full of such people,” says the woman. Her daughter adds, “Yes, they say they are doing it for the village, but they just want trouble.”

No one else in the village wants to talk about the incident now.

As they beat him up, the men asked the teenager about his relationship with the woman. “He blurted out that he loved me,” says the woman. “So, I confessed my love too.”

Was she in love with him? “Of course not. But if I hadn’t said that, they would have killed him,” she says. “It was my duty to save him.”

The marriage

The couple were forced to marry in the “xamajik (accepted)” style. A qazi was called, a little ceremony held, and the teenager spent the night with the woman. Both insist that it was in separate rooms.

The next morning, the 15-year-old took his new “bride” home along the same route as he had arrived — on a cycle, down the rickety roads and the dolongs. She wore a red sari, he the same blue shirt.

When they reached, says the boy’s mother, she was shocked. “I had a daughter-in-law who was older than me.” The local diwanis (self-styled leaders who wield a lot of power in the village) were called.

Shah Jahan Ali, a businessman, says, “The boy told us how they had begun talking on the phone. We weren’t surprised. A few months ago, a woman from Nalbari had showed up claiming she was in love with a man here. Before that, a Nepali woman from Tinsukia married a Muslim man from our village.”

Both were ‘wrong number’ marriages, he says, talking about the phenomenon in rural Assam where phone calls (whether unintended or not) often set off a relationship.

The verdict of the diwanis was that the 15-year-old and the woman should have a “xamajik” divorce. So about two hours after they returned, the two signed some papers in the presence of a qazi. In 15 minutes, their marriage of less than 24 hours was over.

By then, the story of the marriage had spread, first through mobile phones, then local media and TV. “The clip has some 5 lakh views on Facebook,” says a local journalist who broke the story.

Says Ali, “We got enquiries from the local police station, but since the wedding had happened in another district, they did not follow up.” Shah Alam, the Officer-in-charge of Alopoti Char police station, says, “Since no complaint was made, we did not do anything.”

There were reports of the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights taking up the case. But Chairperson Dr Sunita Changkakoti says no one reported it to them.

The divorce

Ali says, “the boy is now famous, as the one who married the widow”.

The 15-year-old’s phone was broken by the villagers that day, and his SIM card destroyed. “I don’t care how much it helps the world but phones are obviously bad,” says his mother. Without a phone, the boy has been trying to find jobs here and there, and the mother adds that he is sullen and talks much lesser now.

The 60-year-old returned to her village the same afternoon as the “divorce”. She says while no one brings up the incident, one thing has changed. Walking barefoot to the market, she shows two things tucked inside her petticoat: a tin of zarda, and a mobile phone. It is dead. “They took away the SIM card that day,” she says. “But I still carry my phone around. It’s a habit I can’t get rid of.”

This article was originally published in The Indian Express in November 2018. Full article here.