Great Indian bride bazaar

4 Jul
Away and alone: Rasespuri, of Bargarh in Orissa, and her daughter are left to fend for themselves in Chhatarpur, Madhya Pradesh, after her husband died. / Photo: Sunil Mishra

Oriya girls are hot property for matchmakers and wannabe grooms from Hindi heartland

By Deepak Tiwari / Orissa & Bundelkhand

Amit Jain, 37, a trader from Jhansi, spent 12 years looking for a bride in his village. He found none thanks to the skewed sex ratio in the region. Finally, he did what many wannabe grooms in central India did-headed to the ‘bride bazaar’ in Orissa.

An agent took Jain to three Oriya girls. He chose a good-looking Brahmin girl from Kuranga village. The impoverished farmer family, with five daughters and a son, all educated till Class 12, sealed the marriage after verifying Jain’s credentials.The ‘bazaar’ is spread over a dozen districts of Orissa. It works through a network of agents who persuade impoverished parents to marry their daughters to men like Jain. No matter if the groom is over-aged, unemployed, notorious or poor; the agents-in cahoots with local leaders, lodge owners, temple priests and the police-get brides for them, for fees ranging between Rs 20,000 and Rs 40,000.

With sex ratio above national average, the districts of Sambalpur, Bargarh, Kalahandi, Bolangir, Sundergarh, Jajpur, Koraput, Rayagada, Nuapada and Mayurbhanj in Orissa are hotspots of the bride ‘business’. “The agents convince parents by painting a rosy picture of prospective grooms from distant lands and cite examples of Oriya families who have married their daughters to these places,” said social activist Lingaraj Pradhan.

“The best season for agents to look for brides is during the months of hardship in summer,” said social activist Ranjan Panda. “The practice is rampant in the poor pockets. The unbalanced development in the state has added to the problem. A study showed that 80 per cent of target Oriya families is landless and 70 per cent of those trafficked illiterate.”

The agents bring wannabe grooms in unreserved coaches of trains to evade the police and put them up in dingy lodges. They take part of their fee as advance and the balance when the marriage is fixed. Half their fee goes to the facilitator, usually the bride’s relative or neighbour, and the local agent, in most cases village leaders, educated unemployed youths, hotel managers or grocers. The local agent also mobilises support to conduct the marriage in a temple or in the presence of a notary. If the bride’s family is poor, it gets Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 towards marriage expenses.

Sometimes greedy agents get people of different castes to marry, leading to marital discord later, said Narayan Sahu, who owns a lodge in Bargarh. Caste hurdles are overcome by passing off a Jain as a Brahmin and those from backward communities as banias (traders). “Once the marriage is over, the couples adjust to the new life,” said agent Tulsi Kumar.
“Many girls who marry men from remote areas in the Hindi belt return with tales of exploitation,” said Tikalal Mishra, a social activist in Parmanpur village of Bargarh. His niece was duped by a Brahmin family which had claimed to own vast tracts of land but later turned out to be paupers. “Most agents lie about the grooms’ background,” he said.

Videshi Mahapatra of Porwadi village in Sambalpur married his daughter Aruna, 26, to a man from Bundelkhand after an agent told him that the groom was from a rich family. But the groom turned out to be a landless labourer. When Aruna protested, her in-laws abused her. She returned to Sambalpur and filed a police complaint. The case of Rasespuri, 28, of Bargarh is tragic. She married Ajjudi Rajput of Ranital village of Chhatarpur in Madhya Pradesh. But after he died of kidney failure, she and her nine-month-old daughter were left to fend for themselves, with only her mother-in-law to help. Not all girls suffer. Asarfi of Orissa’s Kharmanda village married Kriparam Lodhi of Chhatarpur in 2003. After five years, she got her younger sister married to Lodhi’s brother. The sisters are happy. “The two girls have learnt our traditions and are like us now,” said Lodhi’s father, Santram. Similarly, Kamlini Pani of Dungipali village of Bolangir, who married Mahesh Shukla, a Brahmin, five years ago, is settled in her husband’s village, where she is an anganwadi worker.

The dowry system was not traditionally prevalent in western Orissa but has caught on over the past three decades. This is a reason that “poor parents marry their daughters to grooms from across the state border,” said Shibshankar Nanda of the Oriya daily Dharitri. The worst hit by the dowry system are Brahmin farmers and educated families from other castes whose farms were ruined because of shortage of farm workers, caused by NREGA and migration. Social taboos have prevented Brahmins and the educated class from working in the fields.

A reason why Brahmin men go bride hunting is shortage of girls in their own community. “In the Bundelkhand region, the Brahmins are poor and illiterate and live in remote areas. Parents do not want to send their daughters to such places,” said Pushpendra Nath Pathak, BJP president in Chhatarpur.
Aspiring grooms find paying an agent to get an Oriya bride better than spending on wedding ceremonies. “Oriya girls serve their twin needs-sex and farm labour,” said Virendra Diwedi, a Youth Congress leader in Panna district in MP. Women who cannot adjust to the new place are sometimes sold to other men.

Noticing the trend of men from his state marrying Oriya girls, Madhya Pradesh Rural Development Minister Gopal Bhargava told an agent in Sagar that he would organise a mass marriage for the grooms so that they can benefit from the Mukhyamantri Kanyadaan Yojana, under which couples get Rs 10,000 as government grant. Pathak, who plans to form a confederation of Oriya brides in Bundelkhand to help them interact with each other, feels the practice of marrying Oriya girls should be institutionalised to eradicate the ills of the system. Such a move could help the Oriya girls, because a study by the Institute of Social and Economic Development in Bhubaneswar in 2003 showed that even brothel owners in Mumbai, Delhi or Kolkata were among the bride hunters.
(Some names have been changed to protect identity.)


2 Responses to “Great Indian bride bazaar”

  1. RAKESH PATEL March 22, 2010 at 9:28 am #


  2. RAKESH PATEL March 22, 2010 at 9:31 am #


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