One-night marriages: Curse of the Gujjar marriage
Oct 21, 2010
DHARWAD: In the marriage mandis of North Karnataka and Uttara Kannada, agents rule the roost, striking bargains with parents and selling innocence for hard cash. Here, women are a commodity and their price is fixed, depending on age and beauty.
It is called a Gujjar marriage, and is the first link to the booming trafficking racket in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. The victims are impoverished lower caste women, for who the marriage becomes the path to a brothel in Mumbai or North India.
Police say they are aware of this problem, but are unable to act because they receive no complaints and no complainants have come forward so far. Only human rights and NGO activists alert people to the issue.
Widely known as `Gujjar marriages' (also `Gurjara maduve' -- the word Gujjar here is not intended to refer to any community, but a practice, tradition and style of marriage) across North Karnataka and Uttara Kannada districts, impoverished girls, deserted women, widows and single women from lower castes are sold under the guise of marriage.
SHEETAL RETURNS HOME
Sheethal (name changed), 31, has just returned from Mumbai to her home in Bedasgaun in Mundgod in Karwar district. Belonging to a scheduled caste, she was sold to a 40-year-old man in Maharashtra in June 2009, she returned home two weeks ago after her husband deserted her.
Isabella S Xavier, founder member of Sadhana, women and children welfare society and District Human Rights Centre, Dharwad, said: " Gujjar marriage is just a `one-night' ceremony. The men, who hail from Gujarat or Rajasthan or UP, pay a certain amount to the girl's parents and get married overnight. The men bear all the expenses, including buying jewels for the bride. The next day, they take the girl away."
Pankaja K Kalmath, executive director and founder trustee of KIDS (Karnataka Integrated Development) Dharwad added: "In Gujjar marriages, only the bride's parents are present and none of the bride's relatives are invited. After that, no one is aware as to what happens to them."
Recalling her traumatic experience, Sheethal said: "I was cheated by a man in my village when I was 27 years old. I was three months pregnant. He promised to marry me only if I aborted the child. My family members took money from him and got my child aborted. He refused to marry me and absconded."
Promising to get her married off, her mother took her to Maharashtra. "In June 2009, my mother and an agent from Malagi village in Mundgod took me to Maharashtra. I don't know the name of the place, but I do remember that it was beyond Mumbai. I was married off without any expenses. My in-laws managed everything and gave a lot of jewels, which they claimed to be gold. Later, I was taken to a house where their mannerisms were taught for a month. There was a girl from Karnataka who taught me how to behave and work. My husband owns a provision store in Nasik," she said.
She added that the jewels she was given were all fake gold. "They lied to me saying the jewels were gold and silver," she said. However, she refused to reveal the name of her husband.
INJECTIONS AND ILL-HEALTH
Sheethal recounted that her husband used to give her a lot of tablets and injections. "They made me feel giddy and my health deteriorated slowly. I was unable to recover because of which my husband left me in his friend's house in another village. He said he would take me home after I recover. But he never returned. Even after making several calls, he refused to take me back, stating that I was very weak. I couldn't stay in his friend's house. Later, I went to Mumbai," she said.
Unaware that she was sold to him, she said: "I have seen many girls from my village who were married off like me. Their families were paid huge amounts, with which they bought lorries, and a few also built houses. I wanted to know how much my mother was paid. I kept asking her but she refused to tell me."
Deserted by her husband, she took shelter in Mumbai. "In Mumbai, there are many girls from my village who are deserted by their husbands. With their help, I started working in a shop. I make woollen hair bands and stay in the shop owner's house. He takes good care of me. I do all the household work and then work outside. I get Rs 2,000 per month. But my health condition worsened and my owner sent me home for a month," she said.
Her return to the village has only alerted the agents around. "One agent from a neighbouring village is constantly pestering me to get married. He said he would arrange another wedding if I give my consent. My family members want me to move out of the house as fast as possible fearing societal pressure. But I am not ready for another marriage," she said.
However, she believes that some day her husband will take her home. "I will once again try to call my husband and convince him to take me home. Otherwise, I have to find a job," she rues.
There are also women who refuse to go back to their husbands. Chandrakala (name changed) came to her village in Kyasankere in Mundgod for delivery. "She refused to go back home fearing physical harassment. She was married off four years ago at the age of 16 to a person in Pune. We don't know how much her parents were paid. But when she came for delivery, she complained that she was harassed every day. It has been one-and-half years since she came to the village," Renuka F Bhovi of Kyasankere village said.
Why are they termed `Gujjar marriages'?
Explaining the genesis of the name, Pankaja said many men come from Gujarat. "People started calling it `Gujjar marriages'. Though women are sold to men from Maharashtra and Rajasthan, this practice is known as Gujjar marriage," she said.
Young girls sold for Rs 2 lakh
Beauty and age determine the price. " Girls below 18 years are sold for Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2 lakh. For widows or deserted women, the price is below Rs 50,000. In some instances, they're even sold for Rs 10,000," Pankaja K Kalmath, executive director and founder trustee, Karnataka Integrated Development Services ( KIDS), Dharwad, told TOI.
In June 11, 2010, a case was registered in Bidnal village where a 24-year-old girl was sold for Rs 60,000 to a man in Gujarat. Police sources said at least two to three such marriages take place in a village every year. In most cases, agents pay less than Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000. "We know about these cases only when there's a problem in money-sharing between agents and parents," they said.
Women and child welfare department deputy director in Dharwad Sarojini B Kademani said 15 years ago they'd stopped a Gujjar marriage in Gadag. "There are cases being reported even now. Women are sold to men in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh and there's a lack of awareness. We conduct awareness programmes for adolescent girls through non-governmental organizations and law departments at the taluk and district level," she said.
Middlemen and agents
While inspector Veerendra Kumar P of Mundgod taluk said agents play a key role in organizing such marriages, Pankaja said they're based in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. "They are linked to agents in North Karnataka, who have their men in every village on the lookout for poor widows, deserted women, unmarried women and women in broken families. The agents pay money to family members and get them married overnight and she disappers the next day. The bride's family is not invited for the wedding for which the groom bears all the expenses. No one knows what happens to the girl after that. She returns home only when her health deteriorates," she said.
Malathi S Pol, project director, Bala Vikas Academy, confirmed that cases of missing women have increased and the practice is rampant at Kalghatgi on the Goa border. "If they are married and happy, it's good. Otherwise, it's bad and has to be tackled," she said.
Zilla Panchayat vice-president L T Patil pointed out that impoverished women of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are targeted. "This is very prevalent among Lambanis. It's a lucrative business in backward villages. Illiteracy and lack of awareness are the main reasons," he said.
Study confirms trafficking
That Gujjar marriages are linked to trafficking of women is clear. Pankaja said: "Of 20 villages in Dharwad where we work, this practice is prevalent in at least 10 villages. Such marriages linked to trafficking happen in other villages too but are done secretively," she said.
They first noticed this practice in 2000 in Guledkoppa village, Dharwad. Similary, Isabella S Xavier, founder member of Sadhana, women and children welfare society and district human rights centre, Dharwad also noticed it around that time.
Pankaja said during the HIV/AIDS intervention work with 1,200 lodge or dhaba or street-based commercial sex workers with the support of ICHAP in 2003-04 in Dharwad, most women were found to be victims of Gujjar marriages. "After two to three years, the husbands sell them to brothels in Mumbai or Pune," she said.
Two women of Neeralakatti village in Dharwad who were married to men in Gujarat and Rajasthan returned to their village in 2005-06. One contracted HIV and another woman suffered from skin diseases.