Paul John& Prashant Rupera, Times of India
SURAT/VADODARA: You might have heard of rent-a-womb, but who ever heard of rent-a-wife – it goes a step further of even wifeswap! And these are certain people – especially in tribal belts – who have sniffed up a rather unusual business opportunity in the difficulty posed by the skewed sex ratio in Gujarat. If many tribal daughters are being sold in marriage, there are also reports of husbands agreeing to their wives staying with higher caste men not able to find a wife in their community for a monthly rental charge! In Netrang taluka in Bharuch, police officials quote the instance of Atta Prajapati allowing his wife Laxmi to stay with a Patel in Mehsana for a monthly rental of Rs 8,000. Laxmi has two children and used to work as a farm labourer at Patel’s farm. The demand for brides fuelled by the dwindling number of girls in Mehsana, Patan, Rajkot, Gandhinagar and other districts has inspired many agents and poverty-struck families to capitalise on the situation and make some quick bucks. In certain pockets of Netrang, Valia, Dediapada, Sakbara, Rajpipla and Jhagadia, tribals from Vasava community families can be witnessed entering into financial agreements with brokers – called Vachetias – from Banaskantha, Mehsana and Ahmedabad districts to marry off their daughters to Patels or those from the Thakur community for a price. The broker charges anywhere between Rs 65,000 to Rs 70,000 from the Patel and then pays the Vasava families Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 for their daughters. Many “middlemen” operate in the tribal heartland to supply tribal girls for Rs 500 and Rs 60,000, depending on how desperate the girl’s family is. With the demand for girls escalating, a committed agent easily makes Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 2 lakh every month! “We cannot take action against this activity as no one comes forward to lodge a complaint.
We do not rule out the possibility of minors being married off to the rich Patels,” says Ankleshwar deputy superintendent of police, Naresh Muniya. The business of selling brides is also going international. In Godhra, Heer Baria’s marriage to Kalpesh Patel is the talk of the town. Not because Heer had married an NRI from the US, but because her family was suspected to have taken Rs 1 lakh cash for the marriage. “After the marriage, the Baria family has gone missing from the district. We think they are living in Surat,” says Mohan Baria, a community member. Activist Kanu Brahmbhatt concedes that many tribal families in Chotta Udepur and Devgadh Baria get more than Rs 50,000 for marrying their daughters off to men from other communities, especially from North Gujarat and Saurashtra. (Inputs by Radha Sharma in Ahmedabad)