A 13-year-old’s journey to India
“In 2012, some Rohingya girls were raped by the Tatmadaw,” Asma says. “My father was an older man and heard that people were going to India, as the Myanmar situation was getting bad. He was afraid I would be raped, too. Some of our villagers were planning a trip to Bangladesh. My father asked them to take me with them and to help me find a safe life. I was just 13 then. My father was very poor and knew he wouldn’t be able to pay for a dowry for me to get a good marriage in Myanmar. He asked our fellow villagers to find a good person for me to marry in Bangladesh, and to help me as if I was their own daughter.”
But these people were also poor, Asma explains. Rather than helping her find a husband in Bangladesh, they sent her to India with the help of a trafficker. Asma had no idea where she was going. “But my family had trusted these people to take care of me,” she says, “So I also trusted them.”
On the way to India, there was a mollavi [Islamic religious scholar] in the car who realized that Asma was very young, alone and in need of help. He offered to help her, and connected her with a Rohingya family once the group of migrants arrived by train in Jammu Kashmir. Asma stayed with the family for a month until her marriage was arranged with a young man they found for her.
An unwelcome wedding guest
The trafficker who helped arrange Asma’s trip from Bangladesh to India showed up at her wedding. Asma explains, “There is a practice in place by which a broker gets paid by the groom’s family, so I gave my husband’s family my gold earrings to give to the broker in order to appease him. I had never met him before and didn’t even realize that he was the broker who had arranged my travel when he showed up to the wedding. He was a powerful guy who knew everything that was going on, that’s how he heard about the wedding.”
Asma felt upset because she had no relatives around, and spent all of her time doing housework. She stayed in contact with the family who had taken her in and felt somewhat supported by them. She was also able to contact her family in Myanmar sometimes, and called them using her husband’s mobile phone, which costs 2.5 rupees (0.03 USD) per minute.
Becoming family breadwinners in India
Asma’s husband, eight years her senior, was working for 15,000 rupees (203 USD) per month as the cleaner in a cinema at the time. They paid 800 rupees each month for rent and water, and eventually added 100 rupees (11 USD) to their monthly budget in order for their young child to attend the local madrassa. Asma estimates that her household spent 5,000 rupees (68 USD) per month on average, which enabled them to save 10,000 (135 USD). Of this, they saved some and shared some as remittances. Her husband’s parents had passed away, so the couple sent remittances to his siblings as well as to Asma’s parents in Myanmar, relying on the services of a hundi. After the 2017 exodus, they continued to send money to the camps.
Part of the remittance was used to fund the education of a sibling. “My brother was studying at a madrassa in Teknaf the last few years. I sent him 5,000 (68 USD) per month because my parents requested me to invest in his education,” Asma explains. “I never went to school. I have no education. So it was very important for me to help my sibling become educated. My other siblings also supported him.”
Financing the move to Bangladesh
Asma explains that she and her husband decided to come to Bangladesh in 2018, mainly in order to be closer to their families. “When it was time to leave India we had 80,000 rupees (1,080 USD) saved up. We used 25,000 (340 USD) of it to travel to the camps,” she says. “One of my siblings had a road accident in Cox’s Bazar, so we had to use the rest for his treatment.
Nowadays, Asma’s husband is working as a sanitation volunteer with an NGO and earns about 2,500 (33 USD) per week, enough to supplement the food rations and other items the family receives as aid. Asma says that she and her husband think it best to stay in the camps for now, and are awaiting the day when they can repatriate to Myanmar. “We think it is better to go back to Myanmar once we have our rights, for our children’s education.”
“We can’t think of going back to India anymore,” Asma says. “The cost is 15,000 taka (175 USD) per person, including for kids. It is a fixed price.” But she is unhappy with the water, living and sleeping conditions in the camps. “It’s hard to go see my parents in the other camp. ” Asma complains.