My Tribal Community Takes Pride In Its Women. Here’s How

“I am a father of four boys” may seem a statement of pride in the families which favour the male child but it is exactly the opposite in the tribal community of Jharkhand. “I am a father of five girls” is a statement made with the head held high, honour and sparkle of happiness in the father’s eyes.

When a girl is born, the whole family and community rejoice and the spirits of the ancestors join in the celebration as well. There is no shame, nor is it considered a burden on the family. The girl is the pride of the family as she has so much to give to the family, rather than take. 

A girl from the Bhumij community in Jharkhand. | Photo- Ashish Birulee

Marriage: The Mother Makes One Of The Most Important Decision Of Her Daughter’s Life

In Indian society, we mostly follow the system in which a girl goes to her ‘Sasural’ (her husband’s home) after marriage; this is what happens in our Adivasi community as well. However, before all these traditions and customs are followed, a ritual of ‘Arre Bonga’ (a pooja) is organised. The Pooja takes place only after the boy and girl have decided to get married with the family’s involvement. The Pooja is conducted to get rid of the bad omen so that the couple do not face any difficulties during their married life.

During this Arre Bonga, the time and date of the wedding are fixed. It is not a Brahmin who decides the dates, but the mother of the bride is the one who makes one of the most important decisions of her daughter’s life. The dates are fixed on such dates when brides do not have their menstrual period. A Brahmin is absolutely not involved, all rituals are performed by the tribal priest.

A ceremony with the brides before their respective weddings. Community- Ho, Jharkhand |
Image: Sahil Purty

The Groom’s Family Must Give The Bride’s Brother Two Oxen

The time and energy spent on the daughter are cherished because there has never been a case in our tribal community, where a tribal woman was forced to give dowry, or faced dire consequences because of the failure to do so. There is no dowry system in our tribal society but there is definitely a tradition where the groom’s family has to give two oxen to the bride’s brother.

The bride’s family does not have to give anything, in fact, they are the receivers. Today, in the present situation, the availability of oxen have decreased and not many families have cows or grow rice, so even if there are no oxen, the groom still has to give the price of the two oxen to his brother-in-law.

The brother of the bride is given the price but there is a meaningful message in it, which is that the bride’s brother must use the oxen for farming and grow rice and practice agriculture, so that when his sister comes back to visit her family to her ‘Mayake’ (Parents home), her brother could host them properly, and would be able to give a feast to his sister and his brother-in-law.

During his sister’s departure after her visit, she should not be sent empty-handed. She is given a full pot of ‘Handiya’, (rice beer) prepared with 5 kilos of rice, and in addition to that, she’s also given 11 kilos of rice. This tradition exists so that the siblings and the two families maintain a cordial relationship.

There is no dowry system in the tribal community but there is a tradition when the groom’s family has to give two oxen to the bride’s brother.

The Widow Is Allowed To Remarry

Every widow has the right to remarry and live her life on her own terms in the community.

When a woman becomes a widow, the community gives her the right to choose a new groom. The only condition is that she cannot partake in an arranged marriage; she has to choose her husband herself. The entire tribal society is based on the collective interest, and it gives that right to the widow so that she does not live her life alone, but can live happily and on her own terms in society.

Social Equality 

Men are always entitled to the property in Indian society, but not in the case of our Adivasi community. If a woman in the family wants the distribution of a property, then she can get her share. However, usually, this share is not claimed because the daughter of the family understands that when she gets married, her husband’s property also belongs to her, so there is no greed in taking it.

A village meeting cannot be held without the participation of any women.|
Image : Anupam Kar

However, if the daughter does not marry and chooses to stay single, she also gets a share of her father’s property along with her brother. If she does not have any brothers, all the property belongs to her. Moreover, during the Gram Sabha, women actively take part in the discussions and give their inputs and their guidance, are not overlooked or dismissed. During the times when the villagers plan to cut a tree in the village, the villagers request for a Gram Sabha and take permission from the women to do so. The villagers can only proceed to cut the tree if the permission is granted. The voice of a woman in a tribal community has great significance.

Women in tribal communities also face a lot of personal problems, however, the community supports them through their struggles and makes sure they have a respected presence in the community.

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