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Only in India: cheaper to buy bride than raise daughter

June 15, 2010 EP Admin 0 Comments

In Haryana it is still cheaper and easier to buy a ready-made bride from Kerala or Assam than bringing up your own daughters. And sometimes such outsourced marriages take a very ugly turn.

Thirteen -year-old Moena Majhi from 24 Paraganas in West Bengal was conned into marrying Ashok, a widower from Haryana.

“They lied to my parents that they will give me a good life and food to eat and all that,” Moena says.

She says her in-laws were unsympathetic and her husband repeatedly raped her. Two months into the forced marriage, Moena made two unsuccessful attempts to run-away.

“First time when I ran, I was caught and beaten up with a stick. Second time, again Ashok's family caught me. They slapped and thrashed me. I worked in the kitchen, cleaned clothes, cleaned the house, and milked the cow. If I said no, I was beaten up. My leg still hurts,” Moena recalls the atrocities committed against her.

Her horrors came to an end when a Delhi-based NGO Prayas rescued Moena. She is undergoing counselling to get over the trauma of sexual assault.

“Every night he would force me to undress. If I tried to stop him he would beat me up,” Moena says. “He would beat me up everyday, remove my clothes and do bad things to me,” she adds.

Moena’s mother-in-law, however, insists nothing was wrong with her son's marriage to a 13-year-old.

Mera ladka bhi aa jaye moina bhi aa jaye aur phir usska ghar bas jaye (I want Moena and my son to come back), Ashok’s mother Savitri says.

Apart from being marriages of convenience, these alliances come with another cause of concern.

“They tend to look down upon these women and don't give them their real status. There are instances when they are even resold to defray the cost. So several change hands very rapidly. So they are exploited not only labour-wise but also sexually,” social scientist Prem Chowdhury explains.

The Pre-natal Diagnostic Treatment Act (PNDT) has been in force for more than a decade now but till date only two people have been convicted for selective-sex abortion crimes.

The authorities say the problem lies at the grassroots.

“The importance of the subject wasn't understood by various implementing agencies. They brushed it under the carpet. Some of them actually believed they were doing the man a favour,” Minister for Women and Child Development Renuka Chowdhury says.

And these outsourced brides who are pressurised to abort daughters can also be punished under the PNDT Act. The absence of any anti-trafficking laws in India ensure the police just looks the other way.

“Trafficking as such is not on a very large scale. One or two cases, incidents when they come to us we deal with them as per law. As of now I would say in Fatehabad district human trafficking is not prevalent,” claims SSP Fatehabad Saurabh Singh.

Such is the skewed sex ratio that Dr Godbole, the Director of Bal Gram in Haryana's Sonepat district is flooded with desperate requests by marriage hopefuls.

Humare yahnan 100-200 log aate hai shaadi ke liye. Aur wo kehte hai ki agar aap ke yahan se ladkiya hamein nahi milegi toh hamein Bihar aur UP se mol lenii padegi (We get about 100-200 people who want to get married. They say that if we can’t find them a bride, they will have to go and bring in one from Bihar or UP),” Dr Godbole says.

Dr Godbole's institution has many more abandoned girls to care for than boys.

Pitaji ke guzarne ke baad meri mummy ke paas zyada paise nahi the. Woh humara kharcha nahi kar sakti thi. Phir unhone humme yahan pe chhodha. Waise ghar me mummy rakhna chahe toh le jaa sakti hai mummy (My mother left me here because she could not afford to take care of me after my father passed away. If she wants to come and take me back home, she can,” one of the girls at Bal Gram says.

Girls still remain the second sex. Lack of any stringent law enforcement and Government-supported programs like Ladli, Apna Beti Apna Dhan, integrated child welfare and the National Cradle Scheme are yet to transform prevailing social biases.

The authorities claim they are doing their best to overcome the issue.

“We are launching huge awareness programme. You will also see a national campaign being launched now, and then our help lines are being universalised where people can call and complain. We have a very good response where public-private partnership has come forward,” Renuka Chowdhury says.

Despite the PNDT act, sex determination and abortion clinics of Haryana continue to thrive.

The latest Global Gender Gap Report places India at a dismal 114 out 128 countries, lower than Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Across India, women are bought, sold, trafficked, raped and married off without consent. It is only when women are truly empowered at every level that this terrible tide may turn.


Marriage Disguises Human Trafficking in India

June 15, 2010 EP Admin 0 Comments

Kerala has been a pioneer in man power export in many areas and for long. But a new manifestation of this export should be causing all of disquiet. The state has largely been known for its export of man power as NRIs but of late it has begun exporting women as brides in girl starved North Indian states like Haryana. On the face of it, cross cultural marriages in an ethnically fragile country ought to be encouraged as a cementing factor – except for two things – The “ export” of brides and their relatively easy availability would mean that there is even lesser incentive for communities in many of these North Indian States to abort female fetuses. Demographic threats have often been held out as a potential deterrent that might work to retard the increasingly wide spread malaise of female feticide.

The other thing that is happening is that human trafficking, particularly trafficking in women and minor girls is shifting shapes and is often enough now coming disguised as marriages. Trafficked women are no longer clandestinely bought and sold as used to mostly happen, it is possible now to “marry’ such women and then “divorce’ such women who then go on to “ marry” other men.

With marriage – whatever be its colors enjoying social sanction, it becomes difficult to prosecute any one and with birth certificates and mirage registrations largely non existent in rural hinterlands, it is next to impossible prove that a particular girl was a minor or that a particular woman was not married but trafficked. In India in any case, the Prevention of Immoral Traffic Act despite its name, covers only offences occurring in brothels and non brothel based trafficking as occurs in these kind of sham marriages are not covered. So effectively India lacks current ant trafficking laws.

Of course the issue of trafficking and women being trafficked is not restricted to Kerala and is perhaps more rampant with more dire consequences in other impoverished states. “Trafficking can be disguisedas migration, commercial sex or marriage. But what begins as a voluntary decision often ends up as trafficking as victims find themselves in unfamiliar destinations, subjected to unexpected work,” A BBC report for instance quoting the Assam police informs that since 1996 3,184 women and 3,840 female children have gone missing in the state and many have ended up working as call-girls around Delhi or used as “sex slaves” by wealthy landlords in states like Punjab and Haryana. That piece of statistic means that we are talking of about two women a day.

The market rate for a bride currently it seems is between 4,000 and 30,000 rupees ($88 to $660) and the custom of buying brides has not just infected the states of Haryana and Punjab only, it is spreading. In a district where the urban sex ratio is the lowest in the country at 678/1,000 and where the largest tehsil has a sex ratio of 535/1,000, the system of bride buying has become quite rampant in the last five years. Shahjahanpur’s block Bhawaal Kheda has several villages where, due to the low sex ratio, men have been buying brides from states like West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar.

Coming back to the case of the brides out sourced , even if a woman is not bought and sold in the slave market, the racial memory of polyandry as inDraupadi it seems still persists. As the Hindu reports “ In some villages in Punjab, however, all the men in a household have access to the bought bride. She has no choice. Even if she is married to one brother, she must be available to all the other brothers in the house. Thus, polyandry exists, particularly in poor households where only one man can “buy” a wife. Sex selection has ensured that there are too few local women available. And poverty has dictated that only those with money can “buy” a woman. And with sex ratios touching 535 girls per 1000 boys in parts of the country, it may be that soon in places there may be no women to celebrate or observe the annual International Women’s’ Day that just went by.