Bride trafficking must stop now

Bride trafficking - Haryana

The dangerous impact that a skewed gender ratio has on society has been laid bare by reports on growing bride trafficking in India. A shortage of women in states like Haryana and Punjab — sociologists even have a name for it: the ‘male marriage squeeze’ — has resulted in men purchasing brides from other parts of the country. This is a well-organised, exploitative and brutal trade. Mere teenagers are sold for marriage, sometimes with aged men. Sometimes, several brothers purchase one woman. More often than not, a marriage doesn’t take place or the marriage isn’t registered, which means the woman has no rights. The woman’s life with the ‘husband’ is an unending nightmare. She is treated as a sex slave and subjected to domestic violence. She is locked up in the house and not allowed to interact with her neighbours. Besides, brides are sold and resold multiple times. Even the death of the ‘husband’ brings them no freedom from exploitation as they are simply sold again.

States like Assam, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar and Odisha are the main source states for bride trafficking. Crippling poverty here makes people vulnerable to the trade. Many parents believe that they are giving away their daughter in marriage to a prosperous man in a distant village and fall prey to the money offered to them. They are unaware that their daughters are being purchased for a trade. Agents play an important role in the buying and selling of brides. Cracking down on bride trafficking is a challenging task. A lucrative trade, it has the support of powerful vested interests. Importantly, no one complains to authorities about it. The victims are not allowed out of the house. So, the question of filing a complaint with the police doesn’t arise. Besides, so widespread is the practice of buying brides in Punjab and Haryana that it has become socially ‘acceptable’ here. Panchayat members and society see it as an acceptable solution to the ‘male marriage squeeze.’

The ‘buying brides’ phenomenon has its roots in India’s patriarchal and misogynist society. Female foeticide, which has resulted in a seriously skewed sex ratio, is widely practised in Haryana and Punjab. Indeed, these states are often described as India’s ‘Bermuda Triangle’, where girls even while in the womb, disappear without a trace. This has resulted in the shortage of women in these states, which in turn feeds the demand for trafficked brides. Women and girls are looked upon as mere property that can be bought and sold. A monetary transaction takes place and ownership of the woman is transferred from the father to the ‘husband.’ India needs to tackle this deep-rooted patriarchy. This needs to be addressed now.

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Bride trafficking must stop now

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