• Mariam Gevorkian

The impact of Indian tele-series in reducing rates of young marriages in Indian society

Tele-series in Indian society have proven to serve a far more incredible impact than delivering a daily dose of entertainment. In recent years televisions have become a more accessible luxury, leading to Indian communities having increased exposure to the media. A tele-series which certainly stands out from the rest is the infamous hit series ‘Balika Vadhu’ as it grasped the attention of the public and thereby paved way for a new trend...the representation of real social issues prevailing in Indian communities. 

Indeed, this effective use of media is a strategy the Indian government forwarded to spark social and political reformation. Tele-Serials being the most watched programme on TV enabled this strategy to flourish as it attracted a mass audience of the general public who happen to be incredibly marginalised. As well as the use of media, the government has also introduced a ‘Prohibition of Child Marriage Act’ back in 2006. A fine of 100,000 Indian rupees ($1,535) and two years in prison for parents caught trying to marry off their underage children is the consequence of breaking this law. The combination of media and policy have vehemently sparked progress within Indian society. 

The hit series ‘Balika Vadhu’ astonishingly gripped the attention of the whole nation with its intense portrayal of the immoralities of child marriages. UNICEF studies confirm that 50% of 20-24-year-old women are married by the age of 18 in India. This is perceived as a harmonious solution to financial burdens within the family, a common disparity in rural India. What’s more controversial is that child marriage has been in practice for over 400 years in India despite economic progress and Western influence. Yet studies have indicated the approach of tele-series have been effective towards social and political transformation in tackling this social convention. 

‘Balika Vadhu’ summary: based in rural Rajasthan, a child bride Anandi is married off to a similarly young and naïve childhood friend Jagdish, the tele-series explores how Anandi suffers intense emotional trauma from the customs inflicted on her by the surrounding society and from her in-laws. With a very intricate and detailed plot line delving into different perspectives and delivers a poignant message at the end of each episode to discourage the practice.

A study focusing on the impact of ‘Balika Vadhu’ in Indian society explicates the importance of entertainment programmes in engaging with lower class communities. The study conducts research within the JJ colony (a slum area in Bawana, Dehli) and captures the opinion of viewers in the effectiveness of ‘Balika Vadhu’ in transforming their views on child marriage.

An overwhelming majority of respondants show consensus on the following points:

  • 98% believe there should be more TV series like ‘Balika Vadhu’.

  • 100% believe Balika Vadhu emits a strong social message.

  • 62% show preference towards ‘Balika Vadhu’ on the premise that it showcases a potent message. 

Viewers of ‘Balika Vadhu’ have also indicated via the study that they watch the series on a daily basis signifying that there is a general engagement with the unique messages each episode implies. This strategic use of media combined with governmental intervention is explanatory for the proportion of girls getting married in India halving within the previous decade.

“In the current trend, 27 percent of girls, or nearly 1.5 million girls, get married before they turn 18 in India. This is a sharp decline from 47 percent a decade ago,” said Javier Aguilar, UNICEF’s chief of child protection. UNICEF also concluded that child marriages increase risk of poverty, abuse and illiteracy hence these statistics indicate an improvement of the standard of living for young females.