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Have You Heard About The Unique Custom Of Forced Marriages (of Grooms) in Bihar?

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As per Ancient Hindu literature, there are different types of marriages in accordance with the religious sanction and social acceptance (Brahma, Daiva, Arsha, Gandharva, Asura etc). Among them, Brahma marriage is considered to be the most appropriate marriage, and in today’s Indi, it is the most prevalent one, although in a polluted form. We will see how. The general precepts of Brahma marriage are:

  • The father finds a suitable man and proposes the marriage of his daughter to him – This part is still the same.
  • The groom, bride and families freely concur with the proposal – Quite often, in a patriarchal society, girls have no say whatsoever in selecting their life partners (forget about being engaged in supervised courtship). Their parents and elders choose for them and they have to accept the proposal and marry a person with whom they are unacquainted with (without any prior interaction with the person or any consideration to their personal choices).
  • The two families and relatives meet at the marriage venue and a Vedic marriage ceremony is conducted – However, marriages today are not simply Vedic in nature which include rituals around agni (“Saat Phere”), with the hymns from the Vedas chanted. A wedding is not just a simple ceremony and is getting more lavish with time and represents a classic case of conspicuous consumption. It’s an event which is supposed to be shaped into the greatest show in someone’s life. With an element of innovation, today we have different types of weddings like themed weddings, fusion weddings, destination weddings etc. (We can remember the extravaganza and the sensational media attention at the weddings of Bollywood celebrities, business tycoons, politicians etc.)
  • Dowry, today, has been become deeply rooted within the marriage system and has stubbornly resisted the mutation in its socio-economic construct over the years (Just a few days ago in Greater Noida, a greedy groom walked out of the wedding after dowry demands of Rs 1 crore was not met. By this example, I mean to say that many such incidences occur on a daily basis during the marriage season).

Although the diversity of marriages have reduced since the ancient time, the one type of marriage which was not considered religiously appropriate (it is still socially acceptable) was Gandharva marriage. In this type of marriage, the couple simply lives together out of love and passion (mutual consent and freedom of choice were of utmost importance). However, it was supposed to be an immoral one (originated and sustained from lust). I will talk more about it at the end of this article.

And the one which was not only socially inappropriate but also religiously forbidden was Rakshasa marriage – where the groom forcibly abducts the bride against her will and her family’s will, which is almost non-existent. Now, let us analyse a recent incident which has taken place in Bihar (a regular occurrence in the region of Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh), which might seem to be very strange for rest of India. It reminded me of “Rakshasa marriage” with some role reversals. A 23-year-old college student was allegedly kidnapped and forced to marry a teenage girl at gunpoint. Here, the bride’s family abducted the groom against his will. In local parlance, this role-reversed “Rakshasa Marriage” is called ‘Pakadua Vivah’ or forced marriage, where prospective bridegrooms are kidnapped for marriage.

The main reasons for such marriages are:

Soaring Dowry Demands

Bihar has a skewed sex ratio of 918 females per thousand males. Despite this, the practice of groom kidnapping has been in place for a long time now. It simply leads to the conclusion that the economics (dowry) involved in marriages has ultimately led to the popularisation of this concept. Bihar ranks second in the country, after its neighbour Uttar Pradesh, when it comes to dowry-related cases.

India’s marriage market is very fluid and competitive and the potential groom looks for the highest “bidder” in this market through their social network. In a traditionally patriarchal society like in Bihar, marriages have long become a money-minting enterprise for the boy’s parents, who consider their kids’ education, job etc. as a dowry extracting tool. In such a socio-cultural milieu, families without a socio-economic standing to arrange a decent dowry go for desperate measures like abducting a suitable groom for their daughter’s marriage.

Marriage has become a money market and everything is being conceptualised in terms of economics; the whole process seems equivalent to a tendering/bidding process which has stages like:

  • Pre-qualification: Here, caste and religion are the most important factors. Endogamy (marrying within one’s caste) has been entrenched in our socio-cultural psyche; rather, we can say that it has etched itself into our genetic system.
  • Issuance of tender documents: It’s like a list of marriage proposals. Here, we seek sufficient information about the groom/bride and their families. Our social network plays an important role in it (digital social space like social media and matrimonial sites also play a significant role).
  • Review and award of tenders: Grooms from IITs/IIMs, Bank employees, Civil Servants etc. all are evaluated on the basis of differential parameters. For example, for IAS and IPS grooms, bidders are families that have money but no power. It’s a gamble they take to associate with the power that the groom symbolises.
  • Awarding the contract: Regardless of the type of tender procedure used, owners of projects also realise that the lowest tender or price may not necessarily be the most advantageous. In the marriage market, it is not the lowest, but the highest bidder who gets the contract. The evaluation parameters for the “Best Value contract” include caste, class, religion etc.
  1. Police’s Apathy And Incapacity Of The Groom’s Family To Fight Legal Battles: Apart from being married against their will, coercive power is also used to compel a marriage, ranging from outright physical violence to psychological pressure. Despite this, it is very hard to believe that such forced marriages rarely get nullified (one reason could be the traditional regard for the marriage as an inward and spiritual grace). It gives impetus to the perpetrators to continue to opt for groom kidnapping (the easiest way of getting a suitable match) since they presume that everything will be fine after initial hiccups. If the boy wants to opt out of this forced union, he may suffer criminal charges under the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, and end up fighting lengthy legal battles, which he can’t afford. Mostly the groom’s family is from a humble background and they don’t want to get entangled into the judicial proceedings. ( There is an idiom in India:- “कोर्ट कचहरी के चक्कर में कभी नहीं पड़ना चाहिए”)
  2. Societal Acceptance: It has gained social sanction among some sections of the society (especially upper castes) where dowry demands are high and “groom” career success is used as a money extracting tool. Over the years, organised criminals (social groups) have become part of this practice, as they carry out abductions for a fee and also ensure post-marriage compliance by the groom. Thus, many such marriages go unreported and often continue under fear of violence from these social groups. The intellectual/educated people from the village simply don’t care because there is a very high possibility of reconciliation at the later stage. Many times, the boy’s family frets and fumes after the marriage but only to raise a dowry demand (“एक बार सिंदूर लग जाने के बाद उसे मिटाया नहीं जा सकता, तो कम से कम दहेज ही आ जाए”). Being assured their daughter is married now, the girl’s parents are also willing to settle things by offering a proportion of the usual dowry (economic value of the groom in the marriage market) that they would have had to offer if the boy was not already married.
  3. Such Kidnappings Display Awareness of Caste and Class: An inter-caste ‘Pakadua Vivah’ rarely takes place. Inter-caste marriage in the state is still considered a social taboo and there is a big ‘no- no’ to inter caste marriage despite the government doling out incentives up to Rs 1 lakh to those breaking the social order. (However, it is not as intense as in states like Haryana and UP where honour killings have been on the rise in recent years due to young boys and girls choosing to marry outside their caste). However, official figures for inter caste marriages do not represent the true figure. Many such marriages are not reported as couples do not come forward to avail the grant scheme. Fear of social ostracisation is one factor that restraints couples going for inter-caste marriage to take monetary assistance from the government. For example, last year a young couple in Katihar had been ordered by a Panchayat to pay Rs 50,000 as ‘tax’ (marriage tax?) for their inter-caste marriage and had also been threatened if they failed to do so.
  4. A Social Compulsion to Marry: In a rural patriarchal setup, being unmarried is considered unfortunate, shameful and demeaning eventuality for a woman, reflecting badly on the woman herself, his family and village as a whole. Hence, in almost all such cases, the villagers also extend support to the girl’s family. Clearly, the societal acceptance of such marriages has emboldened the families to take the law into their hands. Many times, it is not as if the bride and groom don’t know each other in all the cases of ‘Pakadua Vivah’. For example in the Nawada case, the bride claimed that they knew each other for a long time and she also knew the man’s family. Many times, couple develop a consensual physical relationship, where the girl’s will and choice are taken on a promise to marry. However, it does not work out due to varied reasons like- i)Boy succumbing under familial and societal pressure.  ii) Many times the guy makes a false promise only to satisfy his lust. When the girl’s family comes to know about it, they ensure that the groom follows through with the wedding. Many times, it is occasioned by an unplanned pregnancy and it serves to obscure the fact that the baby was conceived prior to marriage. Also, India is still a largely conservative society where virginity is a prized asset and a woman who’s known to have had pre-marital sex may find it hard to get married. In such cases, “Pakadua Vivah” is considered a moral imperative.

A pertinent question arises; to what extent can these wrongdoings be justified under the guise of escaping torturous traditions like dowry? And what about the human rights of the grooms? Would the response be similar had it been the case with females; and if not so, can it be qualified as gender-based discrimination? Look at the figures. More than 3,400 youths were kidnapped for forced marriage in Bihar last year (especially in the “Lagan” season), as per official data.

Marriage is expounded as a communion of two souls on the physical, mental, and spiritual planes. It is supposed to be a sacred duty that entails both religious and social obligations including a commitment of lifetime friendship, love, and loyalty. If we look at ‘Pakadua Vivah’ from this angle, it looks like a game of probability where the groom can come to loving and respecting his better half or not.

The concept of love derived from this kind of marriages is a far cry from being a soulmate connection; because this imposed love is derived out of fear. People accept it as their destiny and join the union hesitatingly (a lifelong association beginning with traumatic experiences). After marriage, they do fulfil their social obligations, but there is no element of being sacred in this relationship. We often relate the consummation of marriage as a spiritual experience and use keywords like a life force, cosmic energy etc. in relation to it. But look at the disgust through the words of a groom who was forcefully married: – “He was then locked up in a bedroom with the bride and asked to consummate the marriage. The girl kept telling her folks if I resisted her advances. I had to submit as they threatened to have me killed. I felt violated and dirty both through the act and later.” 

Absence Of Inter Caste Social Mobility And Restriction To Couple’s Mobility

A few months back, I had booked a hotel in Patna and for the first time, I noticed a specific line written in the “Please Read” section. It read,” No unmarried couples allowed” (However, this is not the case with Patna/Bihar only). In small cities where there is a lack of public places likes parks, malls etc., couples find it difficult to get some privacy and spend some quality time together. Hotels deny rooms to unmarried couples because of the fear of being judged and worry about the reputation of the hotel.

Sometimes, the local police also get involved and instead of “legal policing”, what they do is “moral policing”. For example, a few years back, 40 couples were dragged out of a hotel in Mumbai, by the police because they were unmarried. Even police think that choosing to stay together is not a personal choice and can’t be guaranteed under freedom of movement; thus, they bring it into the category of immoral acts.

For girls’ in general, patriarchal traditions and unequal gender norms limit their ability to express their voice and exercise their choices. This discriminatory condition affects girls in many aspects of their lives, including domestic chores, education, healthcare, psychological and emotional health, and their ability to build social capital through a network of friends and activities outside of the confines of their home. It also limits their ability to make marriage decisions both in terms of when to get married and who to marry. With so much of restrictions on couples’ (girls in general) mobility, we can’t even think about the Gandharva marriages (modern love marriages/inter-caste marriages). And the only option left is the “Brahma marriage”, in its polluted form.

Inter-caste social mobility is not possible without a social relationship. It is also found that inter-caste marriages discourage dowry, destroy caste identity, and help in bringing harmony and friendship among different castes  Ambedkar had termed it “revolutionary” as it directly attacks the edifice of caste “endogamy”. Once endogamy is attacked and destroyed, the entire fortification of the caste system will crumble. But is the change anticipated by Ambedkar taking place?

Role Of Urbanisation And Modernisation

According to my understanding, inter-caste/love marriage is a by-product of urbaniaation and modernisation. Bihar has not witnessed urbanisation as states like Maharashtra or other developed states have. Bihar is mostly a rural state (rural population – 88.71%), which provides a highly localised worldview and a fertile soil in which caste can flourish. Compulsions of urban life loosen the hold of caste and prevailing caste prejudices get carried into cities and probably metamorphose into different shapes in vibrant and multi-faceted city life. For example, cultural competence and tolerance develop when a diverse set of values, norms, and traditions interact at the workplaces (educational institutions, MNCs, Cinemas, restaurants etc) and people imbibe diversity and multiculturalism in their socio-cultural ethos.

Thus, with the onset of modernisation/cosmopolitanism, educational advancement and anonymity of modern urban life, people in the middle class recast their social relations substituting family and caste networks by friends and professional networks respectively. Apart from it, access to films, TV and mobiles (internet, social media etc) are also catalysts for this change. Being exposed to new ideas that challenge traditional social mores, young people are more likely to focus on personality and compatibility than caste and religion. Today, we also come across many matrimonial pages/websites which have placed a column under caste/religion no bar. It shows a denouncement of caste as criteria of marriage.

However, these changes come with a caveat. Recent changes in socio-economic-cultural structure are empowering the bride and groom to exercise their individual agency over the tyranny of traditional norms (a sort of fresh version of Gandharva marriage – “love-cum-arranged marriage” and it can be a panacea for evils like dowry). But, this “freedom to choose” is still a family-mediated arrangement. On the surface, it looks like an open-ended choice (where they can choose their life partner), but that space is still claustrophobic in nature, being demarcated by our caste, class, religion and background. In this way, the notion of choice has been integrated into the notion of norms. We must not overlook the fact that societal changes do take place in a gradual manner. Hence, it is a welcome step and is presumed to rescript the marriage discourse in future.

As far as ‘Pakadua Vivah’ is concerned, changes are taking place and people are becoming aware of the consequences of groom kidnapping. Many such marriages ended with the brides being abandoned but due to the improved law and order situation, the abductors are being arrested. Most of the so-called “social gangs” who used to carry out this groom kidnapping are now able to find other dignified employment opportunities.

Thus, better policing and employment opportunities can help society in getting out of the quagmire of crime. On the behavioural front, the state government is also taking the necessary steps. Last year, the world’s longest human chain” comprising of 13,660 persons was formed in Bihar. It was a symbolic event to make people stand up against the social evils of the dowry and child marriage. The chief minister had also flagged off 38 “Abhiyan Jagrukta” raths for all 38 districts of the state to raise awareness among the masses on the issues. Such events will play a significant role in changing human behaviour.

Bihar has nurtured and spread the light of knowledge and wisdom not only in the country but in the whole world for thousands of years. The works of many scientific thinkers like Aryabhata, Panini, Varahamihira, Bhaskara and Brahamagupta can be traced to the land of Bihar. On its soil, great personalities like Buddha, Mahavir, Guru Gobind Singh, Mahatma Gandhi (Champaran satyagraha) had worked and transformed the society. To regain that lost glory, it is necessary to get rid of such social evils.

You must be to comment.
  1. Regula Ram

    Thank you for lots of detailed information. Very interesting.
    Nowadays it’s not easy to question customs (including marriage customs), because immediately people may suspect you to be a bad Indian, not enough a patriot, not a devoted Indian.
    It is so refreshing to meet young Indians, not particularly well-off, who say: “I prefer working with my own hands, earning, purchasing bed and fridge and everything for my future family’s little home. Instead of accepting dowry.”
    I know only a handful of young men who say that. If they are actually serious about it, and go to all the trouble of explaining the matter to the parents, over and over again… Then that’s rather courageous.

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