An eerie silence engulfs when one initiates a discussion on the life of the victims of bride trafficking in Morkhi village, around 225-km from Chandigarh, in Haryana. Across meandering narrow lanes strewn with cattle dung and open drain gullies, the villagers are unwelcoming if the discussions are around the women brought here from other states. This explains much about the rot that exists.
Women ‘bought and brought’ as ‘purchased brides’ from states across the country live in an appalling condition, suffering exploitation, both physical and mental, and doubling up as maids. They are referred to as a paro (outside woman) or molki, derogatory terms in local language, in scores of Haryana villages.
These women hate being called paros. But the name-tag seems inseparable and reflects their doleful predicament. ‘Import of brides’ is rampant in Haryana, which is infamous for bride trafficking. Worst still, it is fast becoming an accepted social norm in rural areas. An ear to the ground reveals the ugly part. “You can purchase a bride for as low as Rs 7,000, and a buffalo for Rs 70,000,” they crudely say.
In most cases, ‘purchased brides’ become victims of unverified, unregistered marriages. They ‘live a life on the fringes,’ with no legal validity of marriage, which throws enormous legal complexities to deal with. Chronic bachelorhood or ‘male marriage squeeze’ as termed by sociologists is common in Jatland. Many men in the state are finding it difficult to find a partner mainly because of the gender imbalance. This is the main reason for purchasing brides from other states.
Life sans dignity
The Muslim-dominated region of Mewat in Haryana has a large number of ‘purchased brides’. According to a sample survey in 56 Haryana villages where the problem is rampant, about 7% of women are purchased from other states and are living without any human rights.
Many like Abida (name changed) have been sold and resold multiple times. Hasina (name changed) living in Mewat has been ‘married’ several times and the men were twice her age in some alliances.
Abida’s life explains how nexus operates. She was sold and married when she was just 15 years. She was brought from Maharashtra in 2012 by her maternal aunt on the pretext of marriage with a rich man from her community. Her groom turned out to be a 60-year-old who wanted a son from her. The purchase price was Rs 22,000.
He died in 2015, but Abida’s ordeal had just begun. She wanted to go back but was sent to another man through a tout who said there was no escape as a price had been paid by her next buyer. After a few months, Abida was thrown out from the house. She returned to her first husband’s house, where her brother-in-law forced her into a physical relationship. She again became pregnant and had to seek the intervention of judiciary to terminate pregnancy.
Morkhi village has in excess of 150 such women leading a miserable life. Villagers remain tight-lipped, unwilling to admit any crisis. But every house has a story to tell. Most of the women brought to Haryana are from Assam, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
Talking to DH, Prof Rajesh Gill, sociologist and coordinator, Centre for Excellence in Cultural Fixation and Honour (CPEPA-UGC), Panjab University, Chandigarh, said, in many cases it has come to light that paros are subjected to domestic violence, made to perform all household chores and are used as sex slaves. “These women don’t get the status of a wife. They are purchased from other states and are kept at home. They don’t have any legal marriage rights. These women are an exploited lot. They are not allowed to communicate with their families back home. They lose their name, identity and culture,” Prof Gill said.
There is also a prevalence of a trend towards polyandry, a report by an NGO, Empower People, points out. Last month, a minor bride purchased from Odisha by a man in Bhiwani district made an attempt to escape from the dungeons where these women are generally kept. She jumped off the man’s house and was badly injured. Fortunately, she was rescued.
The Bhiwani man and his mother were arrested for buying a minor bride for Rs 2 lakh and keeping her hostage for two months.
This bold act is just an exception. Comprehending there is no possibility of escape, the ‘purchased brides’
in several regions of the state have accepted a highly subservient life as their destiny.
As the victims grow old, life becomes intolerable for them. Marzina, 38, was forced into this vicious circle when she was 14 years. She was sold by her relatives in Assam. Her husband, who died in 2014, was 31 years older than her. “My marriage was not registered. I have no proof of marriage. I have daughters to nurse. My husband’s family now wants to throw me out. They want to get rid of me, so they harass me every day,” she told DH.
According to a sample survey by an NGO working to square the circle, 35 out of 62 women interviewed were brought as brides when they were minors. One of them was just nine years when she got ‘married’. “The number of women brought here as ‘purchased brides’ after they crossed 20 years is less,” the report stated.
No longer a stigma
Prof Rajesh Gill points towards a dangerous trend. “The conditions of victims of bride trafficking are so common in Haryana that it has almost become an acceptable norm. This trend being institutionalised is a scary development. It is no longer considered a stigma in villages.”
So how does this whole business of purchasing girls as brides take place? There are touts in this trade of ‘bride bazaars’ who are experts in identifying the vulnerable people and striking a deal, said Aditya Parihar, at Centre for Social Work at Panjab University, who has documented 41 case studies of the victims of bride trafficking. “There are reference points in villages who remain active to look for potential customers for which they get a commission. They act as brokers. There are also some agencies, which organise such deals. In some cases, old ‘purchased brides’ become agents and bring girls from their home towns.” In return, they get paid, in cash or kind. Once the deal is finalised, a visit is organised to the bride’s native to create an impression that the marriage was solemnised. The prices are negotiated based on the woman’s age, beauty and virginity. Villagers say that the price ranges from Rs 10,000 to Rs 50,000 for each deal.
A maximum number of deals is made through agents. Sources told DH that the national highway townships of Panipat and Sonipat are the main transit points for the trade. Truck drivers also act as middlemen.
In Haryana, trafficking happens in the name of ‘marriage’. Poverty remains the common thread that binds all the girls brought from other states. According to an estimate, 23% of girls are trafficked to Haryana from West Bengal, followed by Himachal Pradesh which accounts for 17% of girls sold in the name of marriages.