November 11, 2007
Namita Kohli, Hindustan Times
Just over 100 kms from the Capital, a curious waiting game is on at the nondescript village of Bamla. Men here have gotten used to waiting for a bride — sometimes, for years on end. With at least 70 per cent of the ‘eligible’ bachelors unable to find a girl, it could well be a scene straight out of Manish Jha’s 2003 film Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women.
Azad Singh, 40, a shopowner at Bamla, says, “Fot the last ten years, the problem has been acute. Earlier boys here used to get married at 18-20. Now even at 30, many are unable to find a girl.” At least 500 boys are desperately looking. There are even families with four or five unmarried sons. “This is leading to great tension within the village,” adds Singh. With age, the single men become the subject of ridicule amongst friends who have “settled down”.
Curiously, while bride buying is de rigueur all over the state, in this village ‘single’ men are still living in denial. “Get a truckload of girls here and you will see a queue of boys in no time. But we don’t want to badmouth the village. We will try to hide the fault till we can for our honour,” says ex-sarpanch Sudhir Pehelwan. Sudhir says that after the local media reported this trend sometime back, the then sarpanch was forced to take his statement back, due to local pressure.
Ajay Grewal, who’s in his late 20s, has almost given up on getting himself a bride — even though he owns a sizeable portion of land and is a “state-level” wrestling player. Ditto for Sanjay Kumar Grewal, 28, a local farmer.
With a low female population and consequently more ‘single’ males, the fallout has been a rise in sexual violence against women. Says Ram Chander, a schoolteacher from the neighbouring village of Bhalli Anandpur, “Earlier, we could send our women to the fields alone, but now men around can’t be trusted. Rapes and violence are rising due to their desperation. It will take a lot of time for the situation to change.”
While Bamla village takes great pride in its male wrestlers, women here are still supposed to cover their heads and faces completely. “We don’t allow girls to roam freely outside, nor do we send them to work. That’s why you can’t see them around. They stay indoors mostly,” says Pradeep Kumar Grewal, a resident. Women, he says, are a “liability” for the middle class families like him and perhaps, that’s the reason behind the scarcity of brides.
Many like Pradeep have no qualms in accepting that female foeticide is happening on the sly, and that no one registers for government incentives for the girl child. “Schemes don’t work. The procedures to avail the benefits are too tedious. Sex determination is easy. Families decide on their own about their children.”
But with a scarcity of women, how do they intend to have ‘families’? “That’s the way our society is. We can’t really help it,” says father Anil Kumar Grewal.