Bride on Fire
My name is Paloma. I am a beggar woman on the streets of New Delhi, India. I put my hand out for bread and passersby look at me with scorn or revulsion or both. My legs are scarred, my arms are hideous, and my face appears mutilated. Occasionally some kind person will take pity on me and hand me a rupee, being careful not to touch my outstretched fingers.
It was not always this way. I was once a beautiful girl, with dreams of becoming the dutiful wife and mother I was told I was meant to be in this world. Of having a loving husband such as my father and raising a family. It was not to be.
At age fifteen I was favored by a man who offered to marry me. He was given money and gifts by my family, as is the tradition of my culture. I was thrust into an unfamiliar life with my new husband and in laws, all people I did not know. My mother- in-law trained to me to become a proper wife for Ragu, my new husband. All seemed well for awhile.
Ragu was happy with me at first, or it seemed so. Then his kind demeanor turned ugly, and my father- in-law started to harass me. They said if my family did not pay more money and gifts to him I would be in harm's way. I was threatened daily with words of Choola.
Choola is what happens when a wife is doused with kerosene and set on fire, and it happens to a woman every one hundred minutes here in the region of India.
My parents paid for my protection as long as they could, but they are not wealthy people, and could not keep meeting my in-law's demands. I lived in terror day by day of what might happen to me. One day I overheard my father-in-law speaking, and I knew what was coming.
“I have found a new one for you, Ragu. Her family has money.”
“Yes, Baba.” I heard my husband say.
My blood ran cold, but I had no where to go for help. My family would not take me back, as it would bring great shame on them, and I had no one else to turn to.
My mind now goes back to the evening I was cooking dinner, and my father-in-law came into the kitchen, yelling at me. I looked up, startled, and he threw kerosene oil on me and lit a match. I caught fire, but I managed to get out the door, screaming in agony. Someone heard me and came to my rescue, but not before my whole body was severely burned.
The authorities did nothing. My husband and his family managed to convince them I had been depressed and was trying to commit suicide. I was hospitalized and then put out on the streets to live as an outcast in shame and humiliation.
Now I pray daily for the courage to to take my own life, but it does not come.
I wish I had died in the fire.
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