October 30, 2007 11:30:18 pm
• Anita hails from a small village in Orissa. Five years ago, she was brought to Shahganj village in Bhawaal Kheda block of district Shahjahanpur and sold off as a “wife” to Mahender, a Pasi by caste, for Rs 7,500. Five years and two children later, Anita still cannot talk to her husband as she can hardly understand his language. She may have been bought by Mahender, yet the village does not consider her to be his wife
• Meera Devi hails from Bihar. She was bought as a wife for Rs 8,000 by Rajiv, two and a half years ago. So far, she hasn’t been able to conceive and Rajiv’s family feels that they have wasted the money on her
Bride buying is no longer limited to states like Haryana and Punjab, and these cases serve as an eye opener. In Shahjahanpur district, where the urban sex ratio boasts is one of the lowest in the country (678/1,000) and where the biggest tehsil has the lowest sex ratio (535/1,000), the system of bride buying has become rampant in the past five years. Bhawaal Kheda block has several villages where men have “bought” brides from states like West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar. The price ranges from anything between Rs 7,000 and Rs 10,000.
Shahganj is one such village that has around 250 families. As many as 60 per cent of the families have “bought” wives from other states. “We have been forced to buy brides from other states because there are hardly any women in our surrounding villages. The number of girls is really low in this region,” says Lalaram, the village pradhan.
A survey of the village reveals that bride buying is a constant factor in all castes. Asha Devi, a 45-year old widow from Kolkata, was bought as a wife by a Brahmin widower Narayan Lal for Rs 10,000 (she calls it the ‘wedding fee’ given to her son), some 5 years ago. She says she visits Kolkata, where her son stays, once in two years. She may not be able to speak Hindi fluently, but since Narayan Lal’s family is educated, she is able to make them understand what she wants. “I have no problems at all. Being a widow, I was rebuked back home. But now, I atleast have a man who takes care of my needs,” she says. Ram Lali (her maiden name was Anita) was bought by Ram Bhajan, a Baniya, from Kolkata four years ago, for a “wedding fee” of Rs 10,000. She has four children and is happy that this marriage has at least brought her out of poverty. “The money, which my husband gave to my family, has helped them survive. So it is not bad for me,” she says.
The villagers, however, refuse to accept these women as wives and consider them “arrangements”. Said Maheshwar, an elderly man in the village: “We know that these women have been bought and the proper ceremonies attached to marriage have not been performed. Hence, it is difficult for us to call them wives.” Mahender, who bought Anita from Orissa, said: “I bought her from a man for Rs 7,500. She is satisfying all my needs and is also my children’s mother, but my relatives don’t like to call her my wife.”
NGOs working in this village on maternal health and female foeticide say the declining sex ratio is indeed one of the major reasons behind a practice like bride buying. Sunil Singh of Rahi foundation, an organisation which works on the issue of maternal health and female foeticide in the district, says, “These women who have been bought as wives have no rights at all. They are bought here only as commodities and nothing else. One can also see that the women are being trafficked here from poorer states like Orissa and West Bengal because their families need the money to survive.”
Neelam Singh of Vatsalya, an NGO working in the state against female foeticide, said, “Women are becoming commodities to produce babies and satisfy sexual needs and they are being bought for this reason. Such practices have come up because of a low sex ratio. The administration and the Government should ensure that practices like female foeticide are stopped so that the situation can change in the years to come.”
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