By Ritika Chawla:
In the villages of Punjab and Haryana marriage is no more a sacred union of two individuals. Instead it has increasingly become a trade, whereby brides are purchased from far off states of Eastern India for a meager price ranging between Rs.30000 and Rs.50000. The situation does not look as surprising if we consider the sex ratios of these states, with Punjab having 893 females per 1000 males and Haryana lagging behind even more at only 877 females per 1000 males (as per the report in The Hindu dated 28/08/2011).
This issue raises two major concerns. Firstly, what has caused the sex ratio to look so dismal? And secondly, the human rights issue involved with this whole practice of purchasing of brides. Looking at the first reason, the cause of the issue is the age old practice of discriminating against girl child which takes the form of female foeticide and female infanticide. Carrying forward their primitive mindsets the people of these states continue to show a shameless bias for sons. They consider son a blessing who will earn for the family and will be the inheritor of its wealth. On the other hand, daughters are considered to be a burden. To us, this sounds appallingly backward but this is the very reality of these northern parts of our country. What follows this is a serious dearth of girls available for marriage and thus the practice of buying of brides. This leads us to our second issue. These girls who are purchased from poverty stricken villages of Orissa, Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Assam are treated as commodities. They are frequently subjected to increased domestic violence and abuse, forcibly cloistered inside their homes to cook, keep house and, above all else, produce male offspring(s). Thus, the major expectation from these girls is that they will provide the family with the son of the house.
The purchasedÂ brides areÂ duplicated as maids and eventually abandoned. Moreover failure to give birth to a male child can result in dire consequences for them. Sunil Singh of the Rahi Foundation, an NGO active in Punjab, says, “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 poverty like Orissa and West Bengal because their families need the money given in exchange.” Apart from parents voluntarily selling their daughters off in dire need of money, there are cases of kidnapping as well where the families never get to know of the whereabouts of the girl.
Finding a solution for this will require us to look at both the problems simultaneously. The long term solution to the problem is literacy and awareness. There is a need to change the mindsets of the people regarding the girl child. And this is the only solution if we wish to completely uproot this problem. However, while this happens we cannot sit on it and let it take its time. Strong penal measures need to be adopted against killing and trafficking of girl child.
To curb the exploitation against these brides both government and human rights NGOs have an important role to play. While the government can come up with stricter and more effective laws against women exploitation, NGOs can help with the awareness and implementation part. Also these organizations can provide support to the victims of trade marriages by supporting them and helping them in becoming self dependent. They can provide assurance to these exploited women and fight for their cause.
It is important that we understand that with practices like these being followed in parts of India, the dream of India becoming a developed state will remain a distant dream forever.
If you come across such cases of bride-buying, we highly recommend getting in touch with Jagori and informing them about the case. If they are not functional in your city, they will put you in touch with the right people there.