Brides of Bargain

The Sunday Deccan Herald

Bride trafficking continues to thrive in Haryana as women are bought like commodity costing less than cattle from faraway states like West Bengal. For these women life still remains a tryst with destiny…

As the dawn breaks out, Kavita rises from her barren cot in a village near Hisar in Haryana. For a brooding moment she regards her surroundings. There are cows and buffaloes for company in the shed adjoining her little hut with a thatched roof where hay stacks are piled up. She looks for her husband who has sneaked away after paying her a usual nocturnal visit to join his family members who live in a concrete structure more appropriate to be called a house not too far away from her modest surroundings.Suddenly becoming conscious of her unkempt self, she hastily draws the veil over her face and heads to greet her mother-in-law. She is learning the cultural nuances of the new place. The day’s work is cut out – milk buffaloes, clean-up the house, prepare meals, head for the fields, tend to household chores…

Her husband and family members keep a strict watch on her movements and dissuade her from interacting with anyone outside the family. All of 18, Kavita has adapted to her new life in a land and people so alien to her native place in West Bengal thousands of miles away. As someone who was bought by her husband, Sher Singh, Kavita knows her place and status in the family which is not much to speak of. She is grateful though for one thing – at least she is getting two square meals a day which itself was a utopia in her famished parental house in a nondescript village in West Bengal. She also thanks her stars on days when her husband does not beat her up. And cherishes the rare moments when the womenfolk in her house talk to her sweetly. Kavita is a prototype of thousands of brides who have been trafficked, bought and transplanted into traditional households in Haryana villages and towns from as far as West Bengal, Assam, Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar and even from Bangladesh.Ask Kavita about her married life and she sighs. “I am learning to live in the new environment. I had to learn the local language and customs.” She has been assured a place in the main portion of the house from her current lodging in a hut if she delivers a baby boy.A commodityAt a metaphorical level, they represent the inverse of George Orwell’s world in Animal Farm where animals having fallen to human vices increasingly seem to behave like men.

Bought like a commodity costing less than the cattle and treated like chattel, the majority among thousands of procured brides in Haryana have a quick transition into the degenerated existence of a ‘Paro’ – the ‘bought one’ in local jargon.Though there are no official figures available, there are an estimated 50,000 trafficked brides in Haryana. Shakti Vahini, a Delhi-based NGO which conducted a survey on bride trafficking in Haryana estimated nearly 10,000 trafficked wives – mostly from Assam and West Bengal – in Mewat region of Gurgaon district alone. The Mewat region is among the most backward regions of the state. It is normal to find 35-plus men having 13-year-old brides in this region.The trend of procuring brides from outside Haryana is rooted in the changing socio-economic dynamics in the traditional Haryana society.In a state which is notorious for low female to male ratio (861 girls to 1000 boys), the paucity of girls of marriageable age is beginning to be felt in many villages and townships.

Coupled with this disturbing trend is the fact of increasing unemployment, drug addiction and delinquency among the youth. “The poor, landless and labourers have become principal procurers of brides from other states. The parents of girls in local communities are not enamoured to strike matches with those under precarious economic condition. So they go scouting for brides from outside the state,” says Subhash Sharma, a social activist. Earlier such marriages were frowned upon in villages and towns of Haryana but lately, there is a semblance of societal approval to these and they are fast becoming a discernible trend.Shockingly, the girls from the poor-source states are available to be trafficked for anything between Rs 4,000 to Rs 30,000 depending upon factors like their looks, age, virginity and in some cases the number of times the prospective bride has changed hands.Trafficking agentsThere is a network of agents operating in virtually every township of Haryana who facilitate such marriages with their linkages to similar agents operation in Delhi and in source states. Usually, the boy and his relatives go to the source state after establishing contact with the agents. Garlands are exchanged between the boy and the girl by way of a marriage ceremony, the price is paid either to the agent or her family and the girl is ready to resume her long, uncertain journey as a woman in an alien land. “Gross poverty, large families and lack of financial resources to marry the girl are some of the reasons that motivate parents of these girls to give away their daughters to the bidders coming to their villages,” says Raju from Saatroad village near Hansi, who has turned into a sort of agent for facilitating such marriages after his elder brother married a girl from Orissa.

The marriage of Meenu, his sister-in-law, was facilitated by her elder sister who was married five years ago to a man living in nearby Hisar. Hailing from Karkundi village in Orissa, the sisters come from a family of three daughters and two sons.“We had no choice. My father and brothers work as labourers. They could not have raised money for our dowry for a decent marriage. So, we accepted our fate to be married to men in Haryana,” she says shyly. However, she added she was settled happily in her new home.Raju and Meenu insist no money exchanged hands for her marriage. A young man of 21, Raju, himself is looking for a bride. When asked if he was looking for a local girl, Raju who works as a labourer laughs, “If anybody is ready to give their daughter away to me in marriage I will marry this evening. I know my status in society so I will have to look for a bride outside Haryana,” he says even as three other village youths accompanying him nod in agreement.There are 15 other girls from Orissa who are married to local men in the same village. Kiran, a mother of 25-day-old infant girl, says, “Initially it was difficult to adjust to local customs like pulling veil. Language was also a problem. But now I have adjusted.” Her mother-in-law says, “We never considered her as an outsider. She is part of the family. We had to marry our son to some girl, how does it matter if the girl hails from Orissa,” she asks. Other happily married girls form Orissa in the vicinity are Sunita and Renu. “My parents have visited me twice ever since I was married two years ago. I have no problems,” says Sunita.While Meenu, Sunita and Kiran make a perfect picture of a happy cross-cultural marriage, these cases are a rarity.

Shakuntla Jakhar, secretary of the Haryana chapter of All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) which has been closely monitoring the trend of procured brides in Haryana, says, “The bought brides face acute social isolation and cultural deprivation. Their status is devalued because they have been bought at a price and become source of laughter and disgrace. In many cases, the family members of her husband conspire to deny them or their children rights in the family property.”Another problem arises with respect to their legal status as wives since their marriages are never registered. “It lends them open to sexual exploitation by husband’s brothers, family members and friends,” says Jakhar. She has witnessed many cases where the bought brides are subjected to ill treatment by their drunkard husbands or his family members.She recalled an incident where a bought bride from Assam living in Hisar pleaded with her to get her divorced from her husband who used to beat her up daily. Gradually, over the years, she however got used to her new life and has settled with two kids.Run-away bridesWhile the business of bride trafficking goes on unabated, there are reports of unscrupulous agents seeping into the network who sell girls to prospective grooms and then engineer their escape within days of their marriage.

Twenty-eight-year-old Neki Ram of Hungara village near Fatehabad procured his wife from Jharkhand for Rs 33,000 in February this year. Twenty days later, she fled from his house at night taking away some cash and jewellery. Buan Singh, 35, paid Rs 40,000 to the agent to procure his Bihari wife. A month later, she left for Gurgaon on the plea of meeting her sister there but never returned. When Buan Singh approached his agent, he threatened him and demanded Rs 5000 more from him. Singh returned empty handed. “Some unscrupulous agents use the same girl to marry several men to make money,” says Raju.The role of the police and the administration in the bride trafficking business is characterised by aloofness and unconcern. “There is no role for us since the trafficking is for marriage. We cannot interfere in the life of a couple who is married unless there is a complaint,” says Vimla Ghirai, incharge of the Crime Against Women cell in Hisar. She claims she has never received any complaint of harassment at the cell from any trafficked bride.She recalled an incident at Jind though. “There was a complaint where the girl from Bihar married to a boy in Haryana claimed she had been forced into marriage by her aunt and brother. She came to us and the police intervened to ensure she went away safely. Her husband complained that he had paid Rs 70,000 to procure her, but nobody can force somebody to stay with him,” she said.

Shakuntla Sangwan of AIDWA says her organisation has been demanding from the administration to register all such marriages to accord them legal sanctity for the benefit of procured girls but there has been no response from the administration so far.As the sun sets down the horizon, a tired Kavita heads back to her shanty hut. Her thoughts meander away to her dilapidated home in West Bengal. ‘Is the life of procured wife any better than the struggles of a disturbed childhood?’ She muses. Exhausted by the day’s work, she hits the cot. She has no time to mull over her future.

Who killed the girls?

In February 2006, Tripala Kumari, an 18-year-old tribal girl from Ranchi was killed by her husband Ajmer Singh, a farmer in a village in the Jind district of Haryana. Her crime? She refused to sleep with his brothers.The tribal girl was brought to Haryana by an agent who promised to get her a job. She was “married” to Ajmer Singh who desperately wanted a male heir. However, soon after her marriage she found she was expected to sleep with all his brothers. When she refused, he killed her.The murder of Tripala Kumari gave a gruesome face to a form of sexual exploitation which has become increasingly popular in the women-starved states of Punjab and Haryana. The media has even given this kind of exploitation a name: The Draupadi Syndrome.Today, Kurukshetra, the great battle ground where the epic Mahabharata war was fought is part of Haryana. In the 2001 census report, it figured as one of the “top 10 districts with the lowest sex ratios” in the country.

In 2005, when I went to Punjab and Haryana to research Disappearing Daughters, my book on female foeticide, I was shocked to hear that the discarded tradition of forced fraternal polyandry, had come into vogue again because of the alarming decline in the population of women. A new dimension had been added to the problem. Because of the paucity of women within the community, tribal women and women from other states were bought and forced into such relationships. They were also forced to abort their female foetuses. It is happening in a big way in Gujarat, another prosperous state with an alarming sex skew. In Gujarat, I met an agent who specialised in getting Adivasi brides for Patel men. This agent scouted around for girls in many of the poorer districts of south Gujarat where the sex ratio in tribal areas was good. The Adivasis did not discriminate against women. They had different problems. Poverty and alcoholism had driven their communities to the brink. Families were more than willing to sell their girls, hoping perhaps that they would enter better lives in their new homes.According to one report, an estimated 150 agents and subagents were “bride trading” in Gujarat, using tribal girls. The going rate was around Rs 60,000 for a tribal bride and Rs 80,000 for a scheduled caste non-tribal girl.Families in these states justified female foeticide to me by saying that the world was an unsafe place for women. Daughters could get raped, ill-treated by in laws, assaulted by strangers. They had a ready list of ways in which their precious daughters could be violated.But to me, it seemed so ironic that these very men and women who were now accused of treating tribal girls like sexual slaves and son-bearing machines were the ones who said they did not want daughters because the world was an unsafe place for women!

As I researched my book, many middle class families came up with one more extraordinary justification for killing of their daughters before they were born. The status of women would actually improve, they said. As women became scarce, their value would increase and society would learn to respect them more. Nothing could be further from the truth. Forced polyandry, purchasing women as sex slaves and household chattels, female infanticide…could the status of women be worse? Gita Aravamudan(The writer is the author of ‘Disappearing Daughters, the tragedy of female foeticide’)

Marriage of convenience

Young women belonging to poor families of Kerala have never had qualms in looking beyond the state’s boundaries when it came to choosing husbands. This was not because of the unavailability of grooms in their hometowns or villages but because of the straitened circumstances in which they lived. However, the character of such cross-border marriages has changed over years. After Arabs (Arabi kalyanam) and grooms from Karnataka (Mysore Kalyanam) men are now coming in hordes from Haryana. Most of these men, who are not as educated as their prospective brides, travel down south to villages surrounding a sleepy town called Payyannur in Kannur district to find their match. “It just happened that one person from Kanayi village married a Haryanvi girl some eight years ago. Later, he arranged a match for his wife’s relative and this set off a series of alliances,” says Sreejith Paithal, a journalist of Kannur. “More than 100 women have found Haryanvi grooms in the past eight years. I found that many of the women were more or less happy in their new environs,” says researcher C K Viswanathan. “My father had an eye problem which kept him out of work for a long time and my mother was also jobless,” says Sreeja, the eldest of three sisters, who married Bhirbal Singh of Soukhi village. “My family could not afford to give dowry. So I opted for this marriage.”

The Haryanvi grooms do not demand dowry or matching horoscope. What is more, they even foot the marriage bill. “Kerala women are well-educated, have clean habits, take good care of the children and ensure a stable family,” Bhirbal Singh told Sunday Herald over phone from Soukhi in Haryana. However, it is not all hunky dory. The women, who grew up in a matrilineal society, are suddenly thrown into a male-dominated culture where they don’t enjoy as much freedom. There have been complaints that some of the women are being forced to undertake hard physical labour. “We have to monitor their situation,” says Viswanathan.

R Gopakumar in Thiruvananthapuram

The wage of innocence: Rs 1 for a kilo of foam

14 BARABANKI CHILDREN RESCUED FROM A FACTORY IN KARNAL; ALL WERE EIGHT TO 13-YEAR-OLDS, FACTORY OWNERS FEIGNED IGNORANCE ABOUT THEIR AGE
Tarannum Manjul & Rajendra Khatry

Lucknow/Chandigarh,

August 1 Indian Express: Administration officers of Haryana conducted a raid at a foam factory in Karnal, Haryana on Wednesday and rescued 14 child workers — all from the Dhanauli and Narayanpur villages in Barabanki district, UP.

The factory, Bhagwati Enterprises Ltd in the Nissing block, employed these children in cutting foam and paid them Rs 1 for a kilogram. The factory owner Pramod Kumar and manager Sanjay Kumar, who told the Karnal police that they was not aware these children were minors, have been issued challans by the Labour Department under the Child Labour Act, Payment of Wages Act and the Payment of Gratuity Act.

NGO Shakti Vahini Sanstha, which is actively involved in child and women welfare, played an active role in the rescue of these children. Social worker Rishikant of the Shakti Vahini said the children had written a letter to a local Hindi daily in Karnal about their difficulties. “All children were in the age group of 8 to 13 years. The owner told us he could not distinguish their age though it was evident on their faces,” Rishikant said.

Deputy Commissioner of Karnal B S Malik said the children are at present in the Madhuban Bal Bhawan. “They will be sent to the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences in Rohtak tomorrow to ascertain their exact age. Most children want to go back home, so we have called their parents,” Malik said. It is learnt that a total of 22 children were rescued from the factory but 8 were let off because they looked over the age of 14 years. SDM of Karnal R K Singh was also present during the raid. Superintendent of Police, Karnal, A S Chawla said that two among these have families nearby. Sources in the Karnal district administration have also revealed these children were working in the factory for several months. Initially, one was brought from UP and then the others followed.

Meanwhile, Newsline has found that parents of these children were aware the kids were being sent off to work in Karnal. However, they thought the work would be good. Since these villages are under heavy floods, it was difficult to trace the parents. But one village pradhan Moinuddin defended the decision to send away the children. “The parents had no idea the children would be exploited in such a manner. We are waiting for the administration to contact us so that we can get back our children,” he said. A local NGO Pani has also assured that the children will reach their parents.

The district administration of Barabanki has been informed about the rescue. The Chairman of the Central Child Labour Welfare Board Ajit S Kataria said he will try and ensure they are back safely. Superintendent of Police in Barabanki Shachi Ghildyal said she will find out if an organised gang is operating in this child-trafficking business.

Former general secretary of the Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee Gyan Sohota has lauded the efforts of the district administration in rescuing the children. “Poverty forces children to work. But the society should be aware that child labour is a crime,” he said.


NHRC gets compliance report form States and UnionTerritories on Vishakha guidelines

New Delhi July 30, 2007 All the States and the Union Territories have made necessary amendments in their conduct rules and regulations to implement the Supreme Court’s guidelines on sexual harassment at the workplace.

The National Human Rights Commission, which had been supervising the implementation of the guidelines, has been given the compliance reports by all the States and Union Territories in this regard.

In the year 1997, the Supreme Court issued the Vishakha guidelines on sexual harassment at the workplace. The inception of the guidelines came about after Bhanwari Devi, a 50-year-old social worker in Rajasthan fought the practice of child marriage as a part of her job as saathin in the villages. The upper castes were taken aback by the action of Bhanwari Devi who challenged their tradition, despite belonging to a lower caste. Five men from the upper caste family of the child gangraped her in the presence of her husband. To add to her miseries the village authorities, the police and doctors all dismissed her situation and the trial court acquitted the accused. Appalled at the blatant injustice and inspired by Bhanwari Devi’s unrelenting spirit, saathins and women’s groups all over the country launched a concerted campaign to bring her justice. They filed a petition in the Supreme Court under the collective platform of Vishakha, asking the court to take action against sexual harassment faced by women in the workplace. The result was the Supreme Court judgment of 1997, popularly known as the Vishakha guidelines.

According to the Supreme Court guidelines, sexual harassment includes any unwelcome physical contact or advances; demands or requests for sexual favours; sexually-coloured remarks; displays of pornography; other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.

The judgment created mandatory sexual harassment prevention guidelines for the workplace, applicable all over India. All employers or responsible heads of institutions must institute certain rules of conduct and take preventive measures to stop sexual harassment in the workplace. The guidelines direct employers to set up complaints committees within the organization, through which women can make their complaints heard. These complaints committees must be headed by women, and at least half its members should be women. To prevent undue pressure from within the organization, the committee should include a third-party representative from a non-governmental organization or other individual, conversant with the issue of sexual harassment.

The National Human Rights Commission took up the issue and consulted with government departments, private institutions/agencies as well as NGOs with a view to set up a complaint mechanism. The Commission supervised the implementation of the guidelines and the norms of the Supreme Court and now has the compliance report from all the States and the Union Territories.

India developing first anti-sexual harassment law

ndia’s government is tackling criticism on all sides while trying to create its first-ever legislation to stop sexual harassment at work.

The proposed law aims to put an end to everything form dirty jokes to physical abuse. However, some critics say the law is too flimsy while others say it’s open to abuse.

The proposed law, which parliament will review when it resumes later this month, states “gestures of a sexual nature whether verbal, textual, physical, graphic or electronic” are “unwelcome conduct.”

However, the law would only apply to women working in the organized sector, which includes factories, hotels, airlines, textile mills, parts of the farm sector and offices.

Of India’s hundreds of millions of working women, only 1.5 million are considered part of this formal sector.

hrreporter.com,
August 2, 2007

The majority (89 per cent) of the 270 million workers in India’s unorganized sector are women and this law wouldn’t afford them any protections, said Jaya Arunachalam, a prominent Indian feminist.

While the law won’t cover all working women, sexual harassment is rife in India’s organized sector. In 2005, Indian air force pilot Anjali Gupta was court-martialed for misconduct after she accused three superiors of sexually harassing her. The year before, three trainees were fired when they levelled similar charges.

The proposal would offer victims leave from work, transfers if they wish and compensation from money deducted from the salaries of their abusers.

Men’s rights groups, including the Save Family Foundation and the Protect Indian Family group, say that the law would open to rampant misuse and that some women would exploit the legislation to further their career.

DRAFT GUIDELINES FOR SPEEDY DISPOSAL OF CHILD RAPE CASES- NHRC

DRAFT GUIDELINES FOR SPEEDY DISPOSAL OF CHILD RAPE CASES.

www.nhrc.nic.in

(i) The complaint relating to child rape cases shall be recorded promptly as well as accurately. The complaint can be filed by the victim or an eyewitness or anyone, including a representative of non-governmental organization, who has received information of the commission of the offence. The case should be taken as follows:

a) Officer not below the rank of SI and preferably lady police officer.

b) Recording should be verbatim

c) Person recording to be in civil dress

d) Recording should not be insisted in police station, it can be at the residence of the victim.

(ii) If the complainant is the child victim, then it is of vital importance that the reporting officer must ensure that the child victim is made comfortable before proceeding to record the complaint. This would help in ensuring accurate narration of the incident covering all relevant aspects of the case. If feasible, assistance of psychiatrist should be taken;

(iii) The Investigating Officer shall ensure that medical examination of the victim of sexual assault and the accused is done preferably within 24 hours in accordance with Cr. PC Sec. 164 A. Instruction be issued that the Chief Medical Officer ensures the examination of victim immediately on receiving request from I.O. The gynecologist, while examining the victim should ensure recording the history of incident;

(iv) Immediately after the registration of the case, the investigation team shall visit the scene of crime to secure whatever incriminating evidence is available there. If there are tell-tale signs of resistance by the victim or use of force by the accused those should be photographed;

(v) The Investigation Officer shall secure the clothes of the victim as well as the clothes of the accused, if arrested, and send them within 10 days for forensic analysis to find out whether there are traces of semen and also obtain report about the matching of blood group and if possible DNA profiling;

(vi) The forensic lab should analyze the evidences on priority basis and send report within couple of months;

(vii) The investigation of the case shall be taken up by an officer not below the rank of S.I. on priority basis and, as far as possible, investigation shall invariably be completed within 90 days of registration of the case. Periodical supervision should be done by senior officers to ensure proper and prompt investigation;

(viii) Wherever desirable, the statement of the victims u/s 164 Cr. PC shall be recorded expeditiously;

(ix) Identity of the victim and the family shall be kept secret and they must be ensured of protection. IOs / NGOs to exercise more caution of the issue.

TRIAL COURT

i) Fast Track courts preferably presided over by a lady judge and trial to be held in camera;

ii) Atmosphere in the court should be child friendly;

iii) If possible, the recordings be done in video conferencing / in conducive manner so that victim is not subjected to close proximity of accused;

iv) Magistrate should commit case to session within 15 days after the filing of the charge sheet.

NDIA: NGO rescues 115 child labors

JAIPUR: A Rajasthan based NGO, Dakshin Rajasthan Mazdoor Union, has rescued 115 children who were about to be sent to Gujarat to work in cotton factories.

The child laborers were rescued from Udaipur, about 500 km from here by a team of the Dakshin Rajasthan Mazdoor Union, an advocacy group working for migrant laborers.

Most of the children belong to poor tribal families. “These children were rescued by us when they were being sent to cotton factories of Gujarat, especially in Ahmedabad and Disa,” Meenakshi Paliwal, an official of the NGO.

According to a study by the union, at least 100,000 children from Rajasthan’s tribal belt are employed in the cotton fields of Gujarat. The study said that about 50 percent of the labourers employed in the cotton fields come from four tribal districts of south Rajasthan, Dungarpur, Banswara, Udaipur and Sirohi, which border Gujarat. It also revealed that about 35 percent families send their children for cotton works.

The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 bans employment of children below 14 years in specified fields which are considered unsafe and harmful to children.

However, the practice goes on uninhibited across the country.

‘Take social offences out of criminal law’

A home Ministry-appointed committee has asked the government to decriminalise social offences like campus indiscipline and minor marriage offences and hold summary trials for other minor offences to enable the over-burdened criminal justice system stand straight on its feet.

In one stroke, this would reduce the number of cases out of the formal criminal justice system by nearly 40 per cent, said Professor RN Madhava Menon, chairman of the committee tasked to formulate a policy paper for the national policy on criminal justice.

“Minor marriage offences, which are more of civil in nature, can well be part of social welfare offences,” the report, handed over to the Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil on Wednesday, said. Offences classified under this code should be entrusted to agencies other than the police; reparation should be the objective rather than punishment.

The committee had toyed with the idea of identifying adultery as one offence that could be struck out from the Indian Penal Code six months ago. Menon hinted there was no unanimity on this count. Mohan Dayal Rijhwani, a Mumbai-based lawyer who was on the panel, had spoken out against adultery remaining on the statute as an offence at the committee deliberations.

“It is for the lawmakers to decide which of the existing offences should be so changed and when,” the report said.

India has a controversial adultery law that lays down a five-year jail term for men; women, however, are not punished. A suggestion to treat men and women at par several months ago had run into opposition from bodies like the National Commission for Women.

Sentencing guidelines

The committee has also supported the concept of federal offences to be investigated by a national agency and called for formulation of sentencing guidelines to ensure that judges have lesser discretion in sentencing jail terms for convicts.

Menon referred to the perception that actor Sanjay Dutt had been handed out a harsh sentence, saying this happened due to the absence of sentencing guidelines. For a similar offence committed under similar circumstances, Menon said it was possible that two judges sentence a convict to different periods. It is arbitrary, the committee acknowledged, suggesting that judges did not have any special expertise in determining the length of jail term. Other members in the committee included former secretary, internal security, in Home Ministry, Anil Chowdhury and Kamal Kumar, former director, National Police Academy.