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The ‘Paro’ System: How Women Are Trafficked In Northern India

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By Koushik Hore, a student of PGP in Development Leadership at ISDM:

On the second day of “Realising India”, we were interacting with female members of a self-help-group at Nangravaleiya Dhani (hamlet) in Piprodi GP of Ramgarh Block when suddenly one lady said to me, “Bhaiya, wo bhi Bangalan hai! Kalkatta se ayi hai!” pointing her finger at another lady.

Sitting at the corner of the circle, she was breastfeeding her 2-year-old kid. I was left wondering at the sight of a Bengali girl in that remote village of Mewat in Rajasthan. I asked her where her family lived in Kolkata, in Bengali. She tried her best to reply me in Bengali but she couldn’t, and had also forgotten her Kolkata address. The first woman interrupted, “She is here since the last eight years after getting married. That’s why she has forgotten her own language.” She also added that there were a few other women who belonged to Assam and Bihar. They were brought to this village after marriage. And they are called ‘Paro’. Paro implies ‘Yamuna ke us paar’ (from across the Yamuna).

This incident suddenly haunted me. I got lost musing about my very close friend from childhood, Buri, with whom I grew up. She was our maid’s daughter back home in Malda. She was the youngest amongst her three siblings. At the age of 14, she was forced to marry a man from Rajasthan in exchange for a few rupees!

Unable to find local brides for men because of the lower sex ratio in Rajasthan, “Paros” are brought from different parts of India – from Assam, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh to satisfy the reproduction needs of men and the need of manual labour for fieldwork.

“The Paro system is the inevitable fallout of a deadly combination of attitudes towards women and girls in these areas where female feticide, economic poverty, dwindling landholdings and increasing poverty are seen. The whole system has been created to satisfy the sexual need of men and labour needs of a family,” sums up Dr Virendra Vidrohi, who runs the Matsya Mewat Shiksha Evam Vikas Sansthan in Alwar.

He also spoke about the brief history of this evil practice. In the late 70s, driving became a lucrative profession for a huge number of males, especially from the Meo and Gujjar communities, because of the growth of several transport industries in this region. They started visiting states like Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam etc. because of their profession while building rapport with the local community.

According to Mr Ram Roop, a Police Inspector working with the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit, Alwar, this district is the hub market for cross-region brides in Rajasthan. Female trafficking rackets started ‘supplying’ brides from these states. Families of the girls are more often than not poor, and cannot afford a dowry.

Parents of child brides like my friend, Buri, are not even aware that their daughter has been taken away from them. In some cases, women themselves bring their relatives and arrange matches. Even khap panchayats seem to accept the practice of Paro – even if the bride is not from the same community, because of drastic decline in the sex ratio. Since the 90’s, around 5,000 girls have been trafficked into the region each year.

These women are often victims of a number of human rights violations, such as child marriage, trafficking, kidnapping, abuse, child labour, marital rape, rape outside marriage, day-to-day violence, lack of freedom of movement and decision-making in childbearing to name a few. They are almost treated like slaves in their families. They are also sold multiple times and even forced to get into commercial sexual exploitation (CSE). Cases, where one woman is ‘used’ to meet the sexual needs of all male members in the family, are also rampant.

This information gives me the chills whenever I think about my friend Buri. Where could she be? Is she even still alive?

Our cold-hearted indifference towards gender inequality and the objectification of women does result in these horrific human rights violations. Now I genuinely don’t feel the need for research or statistics to back this. We just need a little introspection about how we remain silent every time an incident of gender-based violence takes place around us. This will easily give us an idea of how we have normalised gender-based violence in every sphere of our collective lives.

“What would you call people who feast on fruits, wine and other exotic dishes while their fellow beings were torched to death in their presence to facilitate their luxuries?”

“I think, now we all know who Nero’s guests are.”

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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