‘Safe spaces’ and ‘bad’ girls: ‘child marriage victims’’ experiences from a shelter in Eastern India

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This article interrogates the politics of safety that underpin rehabilitative practices in a state-funded shelter run by an anti-trafficking NGO in Eastern India. It focuses on the experiences of a group of female adolescents, categorised as ‘child marriage victims’, residing at the shelter. The analysis of in-depth life history interviews collected over a two-week period in October 2014 reveals that the adolescents contest the legislative victimhood imposed on them. For them, their marriages and pre-marital relationships are an expression of romantic and sexual agency, in contravention of familial norms. In this context, the adolescents perceive the shelter as a punitive space and interpret their enforced stay for ‘protection’ and ‘rehabilitation’ as an extension of familial control and regulation of their lives. The protectionism-as-safety discourse rewrites their agency as victimhood and transforms the shelter into a site where everyday forms of gendered power inequalities within social relations in the household are authorised and reproduced by the state and NGO. The adolescents perceive themselves as ‘bad girls’ and adopt various strategies to insist on their rehabilitation into ‘good girls’ to secure release from the shelter often by enacting the ‘victimhood’ expected of them. This allows for unique expressions of agency in an otherwise constrained context but hinders relationships of solidarity with other residents. Overall, the article highlights the need to challenge the ways in which patriarchal norms continue to spatially govern and discipline the expression of female sexuality and agency through 'safe spaces' in India.




Guha, M. (2019). ‘Safe spaces’ and ‘bad’ girls: ‘child marriage victims’’ experiences from a shelter in Eastern India. Gender, Place and Culture, 26(1), 128–144. https://doi.org/10.1080/0966369X.2019.1574720

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