The tribals of Yavatmal district have a high ratio of unwed mothers known as ‘kunwari maata’. The district has been in the news recently for farmer suicides. In three blocks — Maregaon, Pandarkawada and Jhari Jamini — there are at least 45 registered unwed mothers and over 450 unregistered unwed mothers, says Professor Bhoumik Deshmukh of Savitribai Phule Pune University. He travelled in the district for over a week and visited 18 villages. His research paper, Tribal Unwed Mothers, which he began working on in January this year, will be converted into a book and printed by the university.
“The villages are so remote that to find a tea kiosk one has to travel at least 20-25 km,” he says, adding that the main challenge he faced during his research was language. While he spoke Marathi, the villagers spoke a local dialect, Kolani. However, after a while, we found a balance between the two,”he adds.
Throwing light on his research work and its findings, Deshmukh says in Matharjun village, there are 12 unwed mothers. Since the village is close to the Andhra Pradesh border, many traders come there. Some traders sexually abused young girls in the village. The healthcare in this region is poor and the girls have no access to medical help, Deshmukh says. However, what startled him is that in the Kolam tribes, to which most of these women belong, getting pregnant before marriage is not considered a stigma. “Compared to other parts of the country, I found this pattern of thinking quite progressive, just like developed European countries. I spoke to the parents of some of the unwed mothers and they too were okay with the fact,” he adds.
The system of ‘pat vivah’, where a girl is married to a boy if she gets pregnant by him outside a premarital relationship, failed some time after it was adopted. “Wen the girls started filing police complaints, the ‘pat vivah’ system came to an end. Now, it is very difficult to bring about a compromise between the two parties if they belong to the same village,” he adds.
Arrests in such cases are rare, states Deshmukh’s research. A local school teacher of the area shared that two of his sisters were sexually exploited when they were young and then abandoned. They had to bring up the children alone.
“A man had come to the village as a driver and used to stay there. He promised to marry the school teacher’s sister but after a time he vanished. The girls were minors when they became pregnant; no medical examination was done and no arrests took place,” says Deshmukh, adding that the teacher, being left with no option, is bringing up his sisters as well as their children now.
His probe into the subject and interactions with the taluka health officer revealed that the problem of unwed tribal mothers arises out of economic poverty, unemployment, absence of formal education and ignorance about sex education. “The families in most of the villages I visited are leading a deprived life with serious lack of even basic necessities,” says the professor.