Posted online: Tuesday , October 30, 2007 at 12:00:00
Shahjahanpur, October 29 * Anita hails from a small village in Orissa. Five years ago, she was bought to village Shahganj in the Bhawaal Kheda block of district Shahjahanpur and sold off as a “wife” to Mahindar, a Pasi by caste, for Rs 7,500. Two children later, Anita still cannot talk to her “husband”, as she hardly understands his language. Moreover, the village does not consider her to be his wife.
* Meera Devi hails from Bihar. Rajiv, a Baniya, bought her for a mere Rs 8,000 two and a half years ago. So far, she hasn’t been able to conceive and Rajiv’s family feels they have wasted money on her.
If you thought the devil of buying brides has infected the states of Haryana and Punjab only, this might come as an eye-opener. In a district where the urban sex ratio is the lowest in the country at 678/1,000 and where the largest tehsil has a sex ratio of 535/1,000, the system of bride buying has become quite rampant in the last five years. Shahjahanpur’s block Bhawaal Kheda has several villages where, due to the low sex ratio, men have been buying brides from states like West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar. The price is anything between Rs 7,000 to Rs 10,000.
Shahganj is one such village with a population of around 250 families. At least 60 per cent of the families here have bought “wives” from other states. And the trend, which started around five years ago, is still going strong. “We have been forced to buy brides from other states because there are hardly any women in our villages. The number of girls is really low in this region,” revealed the village pradhan, Lalaram.
Incidentally, a survey has revealed that bride buying cuts across barriers of caste and religion. Whether it is the Brahmins, the Pasis or the Scheduled Castes — all are involved in buying brides from other states.
Asha Devi, a 45-year-old widow from Kolkata, was bought as a wife by Brahmin widower Narayan Lal for Rs 10,000 — the “wedding fee” given to her son, she revealed — some five years ago. Asha Devi does go to Kolkata, where her son stays, once every two years. She may not be able to speak Hindi fluently but since Lal’s family is educated, they try to understand what she wants. “Here, I have no problems at all. Being a widow, I was rebuked back home. But now, I at least have a man who takes care of my needs,” says Asha.
Ram Lali (her maiden name was Anita) was bought by Ram Bhajan, a Baniya, from Kolkata four years ago for a “wedding fee” of Rs 10,000. She has four children and is happy that this marriage has saved her from a life of poverty. “The money my husband gave to my family has helped them survive. So it is not so bad for me,” says Ram Lali.
For the rest of the village, these “wives” are mere “arrangements”. Maheshwar, an elderly man in the village, said: “We know these women have been bought and proper ceremonies attached to marriage have not been performed. Hence, it is difficult for us to call them wives.” Mahindar, who bought Anita from Orissa, says, “I bought her from a man for Rs 7,500. She is satisfying all my needs and is also my children’s mother, but my relatives don’t like to call her my wife.”
Non Governmental organisations (NGOs) working on issues of maternal health and female foeticide in the village, say the declining sex ratio is indeed one of the major reasons behind bride buying. Sunil Singh of the Rahi Foundation, an NGO active in the district, said: “These women, who have been bought as wives, have no rights at all. They are brought here only as commodities and nothing else. One can also see that women are being trafficked here from states with high povertly like Orissa and West Bengal because their families need the money given in exchange.”
Dr Neelam Singh of Vatsalya, an NGO working across the state against female foeticide, feels strongly against the system of bride buying. “Women are being treated as machines that can be used to produce babies and satisfy sexual needs and they are being bought precisely for these reasons. Such practices have become commonplace because of the low sex ratio. The administration and government should ensure that social ills like female foeticide are eradicated so that the situation can change in the years to come.”