Gender Parity,  World Around Me

The Vanishing Brides of Haryana

“All names of people have been changed to protect their identity.”

Rewari is a small district in the south of Haryana, around 50 odd kilometers away from the National Capital. I met Balbir Hooda and his wife Poonam Devi here. Richard and I were out on our weekly field trip when we met them. Courteous and extremely hospitable, the couple invited us over for lunch in their modest home, overlooking a paddy field. Haryana is blessed with cattle wealth, and this was visible in the lunch served. Hot parathas (handmade flat bread) soaked with homemade “tindi ghee” (clarified butter), with a generous helping of vegetables and lentils. Haryanvi meals are almost always finished with a tall glass of buttermilk popularly called “Chaaj”.

Afternoon siestas are mandatory after a meal as sumptuous as this. Low lying “charpoys” are laid out under the tree. A cool breeze sways across, rocking almost anybody into deep slumber. I sat on a thick straw mat with Poonam Devi inside their home. Women seldom venture out when men folk were around. Poonam opened her heart out to me. It’s been five years since Kisan, her son, had reached the marriageable age. However the couple has been unable to find him a suitable bride.

What was the problem? He seemed to be a good looker (I had a glance at the family photograph nailed to the wall) and was employed in the factory floor of Maruti, in Hisar. Poonam Devi also hinted to me the acres of land her family had ”amassed” over the years. So why was it so difficult to get a bride? “Achchi choriyaan milte kahaan he aaj kal”(where do you get good girls these days), she said in chaste Haryanvi. She continued, “Girls these days are not like how we used to be. We used to leave our village only once when we got married. After that we worked for our husband’s family all through life. Nowadays girls leave home before marriage, to work in cities such as Delhi and Faridabad. They never return back to their home town.” Poonam Devi’s reason for not finding a bride made no sense to me. I brushed the conversation aside for the moment. As we got back to Delhi that evening, I put my thoughts together and did a bit of Google reading. The problem may seem small – of Kisan not having found a bride. But there are underlying issues that needs to be addressed

  • The skewed up sex ratio

Census 2011 reveals a sex ratio of 879 for each 1000 male in Haryana, well below the national average of 940. Here is why. Over the years, there have been rampant practices of sex selective abortions. The repercussions have trickled down and boys of marriageable age now face a deficit of brides within the state.

  • Caste above all

I wonder when this would leave our country. When I asked Poonam why she wouldn’t look at a girl from another community/caste, she raised an eyebrow. She would prefer Kisan to remain unmarried than marry a Dalit, or for that matter anybody outside the Jat community.  How would she answer the Khap Panchayat if he married a Dalit? She was aghast at this very thought.

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  • “Importing” from another state

In the recent years, brides from not only the neighboring states, but as far as Tripura and down south Kerala where being wed to Haryanvi boys. The term used for such brides in the Haryanvi vocabulary is Molki and Paro. Molki means bought for a price and Paro means from across the state. Poonam was fine with this, however the girl had to be from an upper caste.

Richard helped me get in touch with Mr. John Oomen of Kannur district, Kerala. He said, “Haryana Kalyanams (Haryana Weddings) are rampant in Kannur, similar to the erstwhile Arab wedding, where young brides were packed off to live with old Arabs, for paltry sums. Girls from economically weaker sections are married off to boys in Haryana for sums as low as Rs 20,000-Rs. 40,000”. John and his NGO, “Sahayam”, try to identify such marriages to ensure there isn’t any force or trafficking. What John says is the problem is when these young brides are forced to say that they are doing it on their own will.

For most of us living in urban households, such bits of information is nothing but information. We read about them or come across it on television news. And that’s it. We probably do think it over at that moment. But sooner or later we let it slip out of our minds. The common thought is, it happens in Haryana. They killed their girl babies, hence face a bleak future. It is the government who should be looking into this. What could we really do?

An earlier blog post of mine, 4 Main Reasons Why Indians Prefer a Son speaks about the rampant presence of gender bias in many people around us. What we should probably do is understand the underlying causes, and bring about a whole new thought process within ourselves. Today it is Haryana importing brides from another state. Let us not reach a situation where we Indians are importing brides from another country !!!

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