the story of Ruksana

We recently met a girl who was married at thirteen.

We heard the first half of her story while driving out to rural Uttar Pradesh, four hours east of New Delhi, with Sam Singh, founder of the Pardada Pardadi School for Girls. One day four years ago, Sam told us, he arrived at his school to discover his students and faculty buzzing with rumor: Ruksana was getting married. Thirteen-year-old Ruksana.

Sam called Ruksana (not her real name) into his office and learned that the rumors were true. Her grandmother had arranged everything. In one week, Ruksana would quit school to become wife to a forty-year-old street barber from a neighboring village.

Ruksana grandmother cared for her because Ruksana’s mother was mentally retarded and completely unstable (“She runs around the village naked,” as Sam put it). Ruksana’s father was a rapist.

Sam went to see Ruksana’s grandmother. “Why are you marrying off such a young girl? Why are you throwing her future away? What can we do to prevent this?”

Nothing. The grandmother was in ill health, and had nothing to leave her ward. The moment she died, the grandmother feared, Ruksana would have no choice but prostitution. Marriage, even to such an undesirable partner, was the best choice for her granddaughter’s future.

Sam’s protests were futile. “You want to help her?” the grandmother demanded. “You adopt her or you marry her.”

Sam, of course, could do neither.

When I was thirteen, I was an eighth-grader at Madison Middle School in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We had a swimming pool and a black poodle named Gypsy. I was on the yearbook committee. I was reading Roots. To amuse my friends, I’d get packages of crackers from the cafeteria, smash in their wrappers, pour the crumbs into my mouth, and then shower my friends with cracker dust when I talked. I loved how they always hid Wilson’s face on Home Improvement.

When Ruksana was thirteen, she had her first child.

Sam hadn’t thought about Ruksana in a long time – as sad as her story was, she was just one of many sad stories. Spurred by our questions, though, he made some calls and arranged for us to meet her in the home of a prominent village lawyer.

In the four intervening years, Ruksana’s husband had left her. Her grandmother, still alive, still terribly frail, still terrified for the future of her young granddaughter, had recently arranged another marriage. Ruksana, when asked, admitted she didn’t know who he was or what he did.

Sam presented her with an option. He knew of an organization teaching vocational skills to young Muslim girls – located, unfortunately, in Goa, far away on India’s west coast. Ruksana could leave her grandmother for Goa and for a slightly better future, if her grandmother could bear the humiliation of canceling the marriage arrangement and the possibility of never seeing granddaughter or her great-grandson again, and if Ruksana would agree to the prospect of a future far away from everything she’s ever known.

Ruksana smiled bashfully, her eyes cast downward, as the adults discussed her fate. Her son sat quietly on her lap for a time; when he squirmed too much, she put him down and he stood patiently at her feet. Dave and I watched in silence as the two rich and prominent men, one dressed in Western clothes and another in fine white robes, berated and pleaded and cajoled the grandmother, explaining the possibilities that awaited Ruksana if she left, and the misery that was sure to find her if she stayed.

Sam finally asked Ruksana what she wanted to do. Ruksana glanced at her grandmother. A negative twitch of her grandmother’s head sealed Ruksana’s fate: she would stay, and she would get married, for the second time, at seventeen years old.

37 responses to “the story of Ruksana

  1. This is horrifying. I mean no offense, but please…if you write of such horrible things, please put a warning at the beginning of the entry. I know that people need to be aware of these issues, but I am aware, and it always makes me cry. I already do what I can, and stories like this crush my spirit, as I’m sure it did for you as well.

    I try to limit my exposure to things like this. I can’t take it. I hope you understand. To my inner workings, this type of hopeless story is worse than viewing photos of a deadly auto accident, which I refuse to do.

    I’m sorry. I hope that with all the comments I’ve made in the past, this one won’t upset you or make you think less of me. Feel free to delete it. Just a word of warning, please. That’s all I ask for.

  2. What a moving story, yes, even for someone who grew up in the country!

    But yes, her grandmother’s intentions were quite noble.

  3. I’m not sure which I’m more sad about, the story or that when I read the story the first thing that popped into my mind was… I’ve heard much worse.

  4. 10s and 1000s of Ruksanas lay here and there untold, uncared, unrevealed…

    I really thank you two for posting this.

    I think the part where you make a comparison with an American 13 year old is really touching.

    How severe can be the discrepancies present in life ?….one wonders!
    At one side there are 1000s who hate to even read this kind of stories, they ran away from reality just because it hurts them…..
    And in other, there is Ruksana who is living her helpless life, helplessly forever…

  5. Pardada Pardadi is working to stop this awful practice of child marriage through its mission of education and empowerment. We hope that by teaching and training girls from the surrounding villages we can help them gain some degree of self-sufficiency and control over their lives.

    As you can see, though, our mission is far from complete. Thank you two for giving voice to Ruksana’s plight.

    To find out more about more about PPES and how you can help, please visit our website or our blog at

  6. Pingback: A thirteen-year-old bride | DesiPundit

  7. Pingback: A thirteen-year-old bride | DesiPundit

  8. Nicole,
    I found your reply offensive- to ignore and skip over Ruksana’s story, simply because it makes you sad, is, quite frankly, appalling. By reading her story, processing it, and working towards changing not only her life, and the lives of millions of other women who face the same challenges, can a real difference be made. I think it’s ludicrous that you would opt not to read something that is so important to learn about because it “crushes your spirit”…almost as if her plight is not worth listening to.

    I’m sorry I’m not writing anything more important, but this whole mentality about “not wanting to hear it” is the same reason why news stations are reduced to covering Paris Hilton stories instead of real issues about what the world is going through today. Sigh.

  9. Terrible.
    A decent husband of twenty-twenty four would have been fine by the grand mother. She must have worried about what might happen to the girl so far away, and they are so poor and helpless. What if the girl was sold into prostitution?
    If she was found some job right there, now that she is a mother there was no reason for such desperation to get her married again.
    Marriage is not, but is considered a great security in India. I am thinking what I would have done….was there any way to help her….I wish there was.

  10. Sad , isn’t it. But we are the people of this country. But no matter how he hard we try , there is always a Rukshana in every town.
    It was rampant about 80 years ago. My grandmother married when she was 11 years old to my 13year old grandpa.
    Makes me feel lucky to be born to parents with a totally different line of thinking.
    With a grandmother like that , we can only pray , for poor Rukhsana.

  11. Thank you for giving voice to Ruksana’s situation. I wish you could have added a couple of links to some organizations working towards changing such stories.
    I personally support CRY ( and if you are in america, I think you can even claim it on your taxes ( Its a fantastic organization, and they need all the help they can get.
    Thank you once again for writing about this. Its so easy to forget that lives like this exist.

  12. jenny and dave

    Arpit – We definitely recommend Pardada Pardadi School for Girls (the link is the in second paragraph) as an excellent organization. With them you can also claim for your US taxes.

    Thanks for your CRY recommendation!

  13. Viraj,

    I’m married to an Indian, and I’ve been to India. I also do extensive volunteer work with immigrants in this country and I support microfinance in the developing world so that people like Ruksana can have a better life.

    I do everything I can from this continent and with the resources at my disposal. When I go to India again in December, I’m going to volunteer there instead of just sitting on my butt.

    I am not minimizing her struggle by any means. But I also know that I can do no more to prevent it than I am doing right now. So, no, it’s not helpful for me to read about things like this. It makes me sad, makes me angry, and makes me hate my husband’s country because it allows these things –and this poverty–to continue. It makes me hate my own government and the governments of rich countries that don’t do more to help impoverished nations.

    So, no, it’s not helpful to me. It’s unfortunate that you don’t think I have the right to filter what information I take in. I, however, DO feel that I have that right. I don’t watch news stories about Paris Hilton. I DO, however, read the BBC website and listen to it on NPR, so I imagine I’m more informed about international news than the average American.

    I’m done. I started reading this blog because I need to like India more and I hoped that this would help change my perspective. My husband loves that country, but when I go there all I see is the poverty. I can’t get past that. This blog isn’t helping me in my endeavors, so it’s obviously time to move on.


  14. Very sad story. I cannot imagine at 13 or 17 being married. I’m now 24 and just coming to that notion. This is after I’ve completed a degree and started a career in teaching.

  15. Americans gasp at a story like this because we’re so conditioned to being only accepting of our own culture.

    We are not all that evolved when it comes to women’s rights either, it wasn’t all that long ago that women in this country were being married off against their will at 12 and 13. Clitoridectomy (aka female circumcision) was still a widely practiced surgery to cure women and children (as young as five) of masturbation well into the 1950’s in the United States of America. How evolved and civil is that?

    Personally, I think its grotesque that empathy towards an empirical government has become an American practice.

  16. Does anyone in India marry for love?

    Although I do understand that in many cultures, marriage is not about love. It’s about financial support and bearing children. Nothing more, nothing less.

    • I was curious if you ever thought of changing the
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      I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more
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      Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or two pictures.

      Maybe you could space it out better?

  17. Life is so different for some. Education from an early age might help, but provided one let them pursue it without inturruption. In Indian society marriage seems to be the “solution” for all troubles in a girl’s life. Sad.

  18. What a revealing story about Ruksana. The pardada/pardadi school is doing wonders, no doubt.

    My father (a professor at Temple University in Philly) has also opened a school in his rural village in India, helping girls obtain an education where before they did not have the means to do so (

    It is in the village Rathora in Uttar Pradesh, India (about 2 hours from New Delhi). We are there nearly 3-4 times a year. Please contact us if you would ever like to visit the school or speak to the girls and provide inspiration to them.

    This is a wonderful blog. New Delhi is my favorite city (I’m currently a student in Baltimore, though born and raised in Philly), and I visit often.

    Please continue to write about your experiences while there, the posts are both amusing and heart-warming. I’m sure you’ll grow to love the city more and more each day. The quirks you find there will stick with you when you move on. There’s a sense of belonging that you attain from the culture there which I’ve struggled to find elsewhere around the globe. Good luck with your endeavors!


  19. Nicole,

    I understand and sympathize with your feelings of aversion to such a tragic story. I would be a hypocrite to criticize you for feeling this way, having become conditioned to avert my eyes from countless beggars on the streets of Calcutta and Delhi.

    But I think a moving human interest story goes a long way in spreading awareness and in, quite frankly, hitting where it hurts. The emphatic part of our brain seems to turn off when the numbers of people suffering get too large. I think it’s vitally important to try and overcome this evolutionary impediment through stories such as this that put personal faces to the suffering, so we can relate to it, try to understand it, and try to help. If you’re already aware of the problems, you needn’t finish reading the story. But putting a warning before the story would defeat the entire purpose of trying to engage people who are already tragedy averse, as well as cheapen it considerably by comparing the plight of the victims to the commiseration of the reader.

    As for your stance on choosing blogs based on the requirement that they will make you ‘like india more’, this strikes me as rather delusional and dishonest. You’ve stated your bias, and while you could quite easily select your media channels to meet any pre-conceived notion (and turn them off when they flash a misery warning), your resulting worldview need not have any strong correspondence to reality.

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  20. GirlWithPinkStethoscope

    Our right to comfort cannot ever supersede other’s rights to safety.

    If the story wasn’t sad, and disturbing, and vicious, and all encompassing frustrating – it would just be a story. This is a testimony of our world. A world that allows these things to occur because to have to actually confront, acknowledge, and assume responsibility would mean that we have all failed as human beings.

    There should not be any warnings. By providing a warning, you are allowing others the right to choose whether or not to be burdened by some guilt. True stories should not have warnings. The “characters” in those stories are not allowed the privilege of choosing.

    This is not an attack on you or your comment. I just feel that before we commit to a position, we have the responsibility to examine why we are making that choice. Killing the messenger, or putting restrictions or censorship on the message, or editing the content only compounds and empowers those who feel entitled to violate the living rights of others.

  21. Life is so different for some.In Indian society marriage seems to be the “solution” for all troubles in a girl’s life. Sad.

  22. This type of issues should be taken care. Gov should not downgrade themselves to – merely become a law making mechanism they have to implement it… Education and economic welfare will help to solve these problem.

    Society (which is mostly passive) have to think differently.

    Thanks for bringing up this type of issues.

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  24. Personally, the real issue in this story seems to be: why does the grandmother think that marriage is the only way for Ruksana to survive?
    Why is it that India still holds such old-fashioned rules, and that the law against child marriage could not prevent this girl from getting married? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure that a law has been in place for a while now. It really makes me wish that there had been a greater emphasis on general education for all people in India before now (and even now the idiots in the Indian government are “debating” making education available to everyone and mandatory). Perhaps if she knew that Ruksana could have a better life outside of marriage, and that marriage was not all-important, Ruksana would not have to deal with these issues.

    But to Nicole: I am an Asian-American. I was born/raised here, and my parents are immigrants from India. Every time I go there, I can’t help but be appalled by the way the poor are treated in that country. I can’t help but feel that hate that you do towards the authority that allows this to keep existing. But my anger is geared towards the government, not the nation. Because no nation watches its poor as carefully as anyone would like. Even in the USA, we have issues of poverty and hunger, but that doesn’t mean we hate this nation.
    And if you have to force yourself to try to like something, I think you might as well give up. You are allowing one aspect of that country to cloud your judgment of the entirety of India. Yes, there is extreme poverty. Yes, there are slums and homeless in every major city. But that is not all that India is. It is also a gorgeous place filled with plenty of interesting people, and amazing places. It is a country filled with ancient traditions and practices. And while it’s not the best place on Earth, it’s certainly not the worst.

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