The marriage bazaar: How female foeticide has made bride trade a roaring business

DANISH RAZA IN THE HINDUSTAN TIMES

They talk about her in whispers. “Don’t tell her that I gave you directions to her house,” a local woman warns this reporter as she points out the two-storey house of Kamla, notorious in her neighbourhood, an upmarket residential colony in Haryana’s Jind district, for purchasing brides from distant states for the local bachelors in the region. Kamla is courteous but wary. She is plump and short. Dressed in a purple salwar-kameez and black overcoat, she asks her family members to leave the room while she talks to us. When she begins to speak, she gives us an unnerving stare. “Who told you that I arrange such marriages?”she inquires, rolling her eyes.

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The trade in brides is flourishing in north-west India. Skewed child sex ratios, and a decrease in the size of land holdings per family has meant that local men are hardly seen as good matches here. They are then forced to look for options, outside the state. Women such as Kamla network with brokers and agents in different states to cater to the demand for brides.

“The problem is so acute that those demanding reservation in government jobs for the predominant Jat community in Haryana tell their followers that without jobs, they will stay unmarried,”says Savita Bairwal, state joint secretary, All India Democratic Women’s Association. According to UNICEF, 80% of districts in India have recorded a declining sex ratio since 1991. ‘Despite these horrific numbers, foetal sex determination and sex selective abortions by unethical medical professionals has today grown into a Rs. 1,000 crore industry,’ notes the agency.

While campaigning for the latest assembly polls in Haryana, BJP leader OP Dhankar said at a rally in Jind that if voted to power, he would bring brides from Bihar for men in the state who are unable to find a suitable match. “Making the BJP strong also means that youths who are roaming without brides will get one,” he said.

Posing as a broker for families seeking wives for their sons, we met with four such traffickers in the Jind and Hisar districts of Haryana to understand the scale, the modus operandi and the money involved in the business of brides.

While some operate in the garb of registered marriage bureaus, most of them are discreet and run their business on word of mouth. They talk business strictly to people within their network.

Most of the deals are done over the phone along with regular visits to source areas in states such as Assam, Chhattisgarh, Tripura, Bihar, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Nepal. They charge around Rs. 50,000 to two lakh depending on the girl’s age and features. The money is divided among the middlemen between source and destination.

Depending on the risks involved, you can get a girl with all her documents in place or none at all and then decide if you would want to continue the marriage. Or sell her.

‘options are many’

Around 13 years ago, Balram, who goes by his first name, visited Tripura’s capital, Agartala, with one of his friends in Dabra village, Hisar. He got married there and since then, has made 50 odd trips to the north eastern state with his wife, Tanuja.

“I have brought 104 girls from Tripura in the past 12 years,” claims Balraj, adding, “Tell me whenever you want to visit. There will be 20-25 girls sitting in a room. You will have many options to choose from.”

Tanuja, a class eight-pass-out, now in her late 30s, handles their business and all its nitty-gritties, attending to customers in Haryana, exchanging phone numbers, maintaining a strong network with agents in the source region and arranging for their travel.

The couple’s estimate is that traffickers have brought around 5,000 girls from Tripura to Haryana and adjoining Punjab. “We are not the only ones doing it. Like my wife, there are numerous women who buy brides from their native states,” he says.

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The return journey to Tripura will take a week and we will have to bear all the expenses, says Tanuja. “The girls’ families are so poor that they will not be able to host you properly. You will have to bear the expenses of your stay there,” she tells us.

The couple also source girls from Tezpur, Assam. They show us a girl from Tezpur. She has been living with them for around 15 days. “Look at her and let us know if you have a prospective groom for her,” he says.

He does not discuss money with us; not even a rough estimate. For him to tell us rates, he says, we will first have to show him the men who we represent, to strike the deal.

‘there will be a proper marriage ceremony’

Doh number kee bahut hain…jitni chahe le le (There are many fakes here….take as many girls as you want),” says Ajay, a bride- trafficker in Jind’s Malsari Kheda village, referring to girls who run away within a couple of days of getting married. “If you want one actually for marriage, you will have to give me time,” says Ajay, who sources girls from Ghaziabad (Uttar Pradesh), Bihar and adjoining state of Jharkhand.

He is upset as one of his main suppliers of brides- a women broker in Panipat with contacts in Bihar’s Gaya district- has quit the trade. Yet, he tries his luck and makes a phone call to her and asks her to give it a second thought. She does not budge and hangs up on him.

His other source, an agent in Ghaziabad, has hiked his rates. The last time Ajay spoke with him, he says, he demanded Rs. 1.5 lakh. “What will I earn if I give him that much? Greed has screwed his brain,” fumes Ajay.

We are told that at least five bride- traffickers are active in this part of Haryana. Each of them source potential brides from different states so that there is no competition. Dharamveer deals in girls from Uttarakhand, Inder Singh procures them from Assam and Radhe Shyam has a solid network in Jharkhand.

“This is why you will find roughly 20 to 50 such girls from almost every neighboring village,” says a villager who did not want to be named.

Currently, Ajay’s only source in the region is a headmaster in a government school in the nearby village. “A Bihari girl will cost you Rs. 70,000. You will have to pay almost double the price for a girl from Himachal Pradesh,” says Ajay.

Despite making more than ten visits to Bihar, Ajay says, he would not want to deal directly with families who sell off their girls to fight poverty. “The day I try to bypass brokers, they will stop my access and ensure that I stop getting girls,” he says. Also, sourcing brides through agents is safer because the agents take care of all legal issues bound to arise in the source area. “That is the best part. There will be a proper marriage ceremony as per your religion,” he says.

‘my trade is bound to thrive’

Subhash, a 35 year-old wrestling enthusiast in Kaimri, a hamlet in Hisar, says it’s not about the money. He runs a flour mill and a grocery shop in the neighbourhood. The rear entrance of his mud house overlooks his farm-land. “I have everything by God’s grace,” he says. Around 12 years ago, he  was diagnosed with diabetes and has been grappling with weight loss since then. “I don’t travel a lot now,” he says. To add to his income, Subhash developed, what he calls a ‘side business’.

“How many girls do you want? I have ‘clean’, unmarried girls from Assam and Chhattisgarh. They are from poor families. You will have to pay them money. I will take my share too. This is how it works,” explains Subhash, who fits into one’s stereotype of a man from rural Haryana – tall, well-built and ear-ringed.

Assamese girls, he says, find it difficult to adjust in Haryana as they face language issues. As alternatives, he suggests girls from Rajasthan’s Alwar district, Lucknow and Ghaziabad.

Noticing that Subhash is opening up to us in the very first meeting, his wife interrupts saying he just facilitates marriages and does not trade in girls.

Subhash shuts her up and asks her to attend to household chores.

When we stress on fair complexion and ‘pretty’ features, he mentions Nepal. “We have the most beautiful kids. They are up for grabs,” he says. Regarding the costs involved, Subhash says it all depends on the situation when the deal is struck. “It all happens within minutes,” he says.

To keep the police at bay, traders have started getting such marriages registered in courts. It is not a pre-condition though. “You can take the girl’s thumb impression on a blank paper,” he says with a shrug.

Subhash says his trade is only going to flourish in the years to come as land holdings will keep multiplying and boys here find it extremely difficult to get married if they don’t have enough land. The only option before them is to get girls from outside. “The breed which we get from such alliances will not be good. But if start saying no to girls from outside, all our boys will remain bachelors. Therefore, we cannot help it,” says Subhash.

‘the returns have to be really good’

Kamla wants to take over the business from her boss, Pandey ji. A resident of Panipat district, he has been arranging girls for her for the past seven years. “If a deal is done in Rs. 1 lakh, he takes Rs. 70,000. Saara paisa wahi khaa leta hai (he takes the major chunk of the profit),” cusses Kamla.

Through him, she is in touch with brokers dealing in girls from Bilaspur (Chhattisgarh) and Himachal Pradesh. One has to travel to these states to get brides she says. “If you want to see the girls here in Haryana or Delhi, it will cost Rs. 10,000 extra. And if, on the way there is a police case, you will have to pay for that too.”

The morning we met her, Kamla had returned from her five-day visit to Himachal Pradesh.  But she says she operates through the phone and does not travel. She has another office in Faridabad, one of the satellite towns in the National Capital Region, adjoining Delhi.

She dials Pandey ji’s  number and insists we talk to him for clarity. “System samajh yaar (Understand the system, dear)” she says. He is busy and asks her to call later in the day. She wouldn’t mind the easy money and asks us for business ideas which she could explore. “Do not worry about the police and civic agencies. I have my people in all those offices. That’s not an issue. But the returns have to be really good,” she says.

We wind up soon as she is late for an appointment.

Before that, she asks us for the second time if we are really meeting her with the purpose of buying brides and wants to be sure that its not a trap. “Tum CID waaley toh nahi ho na? (you people are not from the CID, right?),” she says.

When convinced, she makes us an offer. “I have two girls from Chhattisgarh  here in Rohtak for the past one week. Let me know if you want to get it done in a day or two,” she says.

Kamla claims to know almost all major traffickers in Haryana and Punjab. She wants us to be cautious about them and is eager to know who all we met in Jind and elsewhere. She tips us off about a Hisar fixer who, she says, is a fraudster. “There are all kinds of people in this business. I am telling you as a well-wisher,” she says.

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FOR THE ENTIRE PICTURE SERIES

THE PICTURE AND THE STORY HAS BEEN PUBLISHED IN THE HINDUSTAN TIMES DATED 28/12/2014.

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