The harbingers of change in Haryana

A programme to create awareness about the rights of bride trafficking victims.

As ‘purchased brides’, they have lived a deprived life for years. Now, they have become ‘survivor leaders’. They are out in the field, making their way in the face of adversity to square the circle of bride trafficking. Not one or two, but an army of 400 survivor leaders have become harbingers of change and are helping other deprived women live a better life. Their past and the hope for a better tomorrow unite the ‘purchased brides’ of Haryana.

Winds of change are blowing across the state as a greater number of these brides have become survivor leaders. Empower People, an NGO, is generating solidarity among trafficked brides living with their partners. The NGO is steadfast in providing a solution through organising these women into village communes. Such communes are currently active in the 252 villages of Haryana. Various district legal service authorities and NGOs have joined hands in achieving the objective of ensuring a self-reliant life for these unfortunate women.

Living in Multhan in Nuh, 30-year-old Sanjidha is one such survivor leader. She was relocated as a ‘purchased bride’ from Guwahati. “I don’t know who brought me to Mewat. I was just 11 years old then,” she told DH. Sanjidha is a volunteer with Empower People. With four children, she wants to focus on her mission to help other women like her. “I engage with other village women and make them aware of their rights. We tend to act as their support system. Our past binds us all,” she said.

Police have no clue

Empower People’s founder, Shafiq ur Rahman Khan, explains how sensitive the issue of ‘purchased brides’ is. He said it cannot be addressed at the level of police or any other enforcement agency. The police do not have statistics of bride trafficking, he said. “Many of these women have been staying with their partners without any legal validity of marriage.

Still, you cannot suddenly intervene and ask these women to walk out of the marriage. It’s a complex issue,” he told DH. “We are attempting to create a mechanism that will address the issue,” he said. “A majority of women in Haryana are trafficked for marriage and not for commercial or sexual exploitation.”

These survivor leaders are trained and equipped with information to become change-makers. They hold awareness campaigns to stem the rot of bride trafficking. “One of the survivor leaders will be contesting the forthcoming assembly elections in Haryana,” Khan said.

Empower People representatives engage with local government and have been able to include issues of bride trafficking with government schemes and local welfare plans. “The survivors communes are trained to act as para-legal counsellors in their areas. They connect sufferers with the appropriate mechanism,” Khan said.

Selfie with Daughter Foundation, another NGO, is leaving no stone unturned to restore the dignity of these women. The foundation has launched a campaign which says: ‘Pardesi Bahu, Mahri Shaan’ (Outside daughter-in-law, our Pride). “According to our estimates, in wake of the skewed sex ratio in Haryana, over the past decade, nearly one lakh women have been brought from other states. Most of them have been purchased,” the foundation’s director Sunil Jaglan told DH. Campaigns and awareness drives are being held in many villages, he said.

Change-makers

Survivor leader Marzina, a native of Assam, talks about the 24 ‘purchased brides’ in her village, Khedli. She now goes around video recording the experiences of such women. “We help them in every possible manner,” she said.

The formation of many community-based organisations (CBOs) at the grass roots, led and managed by these brides, remains central to the success of various initiatives. These CBOs act as an eye and ear of various stakeholders and help not just as support groups for the victims but also as reliable facilitators for their rescue and rehabilitation.

“We work in tandem to support law enforcement agencies and families of the victim,” Khan said, adding that the communes run skill centres for the women. Empower People also runs a helpline in Assamese, Bangla, Hindi and English to help these women in distress.

But more serious problem to deal with at the ground level is of property and land rights for these women. Empower People is working in this direction to secure a future for these women.

Another problem central to the crisis of bride trafficking is the future of the children of purchased brides. They suffer from identity issues. “It’s a major concern,” Khan said. These children belong ‘no-where’ and face discrimination.

Khan says, despite all claims, it is observed that many children do not attend school or receive basic support from the society.

Haryana’s poor sex ratio is one of the reasons for this regressive practice. Aditya Parihar, a former research associate at Panjab University, said lack of income or occupation and fragmentation of land leading to decreased landholdings contribute to the crisis.

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