|HER WORLD||Sunday, July 13, 2003, Chandigarh, India|
“Temporary” weddings on the rise
She was sold for Rs 40 two decades back; today she might have to sell her daughter
The Rajasthani Mahila Mandal, a powerful network of women from the Marwari community in Mumbai, recently held a large workshop to discuss the state of matrimony in today’s frenetic society. The picture of the institution of marriage, which emerged in the discussions, was not only surprising but almost an eye opener! Vimla Patil analyses the trend.
IT is natural that different generations look at the institution of marriage from different points of view. For the older generations, it is a sacrament. They totally accept their roles in their families in spite of the fact that their roles are defined by traditions based on male perceptions. "We are honoured as Tyagamurtis as wives and mothers in our culture," said Urmila Roongta, who anchored the discussion, "And we should follow these samskaras so that our lives are fulfilled. Marriage is a sacrament in which a woman’s role is well defined. In adhering to that role we find peace. Yet, I have to admit that even within the Marwaris, a community known for its conservative attitude towards women and its deep-rooted culture, things are beginning to change."
The workshop invited top family court lawyers like Kranti Sathe, leaders of women’s movements like Rinki Bhattacharya and actress Bhagyashri, who is herself married into a Marwari business family, to participate in the discussion. There were also unmarried young men and married young women from the Marwari community to present their points of view. Surprisingly, the men in the panel said that today’s generation of young men do not know the real meaning of marriage. They are rarely given any serious idea about the responsibilities they are expected to take on with marriage. There is so much hype around clothes, decorations, rituals, family celebrations and an ambience of romance and glamour, that the real purpose of marriage and its role in a man’s life is given a total go by. Among Marwari business families, marriages are mostly arranged. Modern couples are, however, given some time to get to know each other a little before marriage. There is no guidance on how to conduct the relationship to achieve compatibility. This is why many modern marriages even in orthodox communities such as the Marwaris result in unhappiness, causing separations or divorces.
For the younger women, marriage is a necessity because there are few other options before them. Indian society does not take kindly to single women who choose to live on their own or in their paternal families. Much as they would like a single status for women to be validated by society, they see that marriage remains a sure eventuality. The glitter and glamour attached to the various functions of a marriage also make young women hanker after the magical day on which they become queens of the world for a brief while. Young women, however educated, still live in a world of dreams and expect their grooms to be shining knights who come to sweep them off their feet and take them to the world of romance. "The disillusionment comes after the celebrations are over," say many young women who suddenly to accept totally different sets of customs and traditions, "Most well-to-do families expect daughters to achieve the same goals as the sons. But marriage changes all this and a status of subordination is forced on women. Thus, though marriage is seen as a necessity to begin with, it becomes a compromise within a few years. Every woman — especially in communities like the Marwaris — questions as to how much compromise is right for women. Of course, there is no answer to this question, as every individual woman must decide where to draw the line and design her reactions accordingly. But increasingly, Marwari families too are beginning to support daughters who face matrimonial storms and help them to set up their own lives with a strong career base."
According to social workers, counsellors and lawyers in the panel, men and women today are stressed beyond imagination at the workplace or at home. Sex is a major issue in modern marriages. "There is such an emphasis on sex today in the media, that men and women find it difficult to match their skills with those perceived in film or TV heroes and heroines. Though the sex appeal exuded by women in the celebrity circuit may be entirely fictitious, ordinary women are expected to come close to the carefully projected brands. This creates immense anxiety among women."
Money and ego come next as the problem areas. Who has more money or how a couple uses money as a weapon to hurt each other determines the level of anguish which plagues a marriage. Double standards in morals cause problems, too. Ego battles rage on when a wife is aware of her rights and refuses to compromise on vital issues dear to her. Gender inequality which is often obscenely explicit, a relentlessly unequal pecking order, non-recognition of a woman’s role in building a home or contributing to the family’s progress or prosperity, verbal abuse, domestic violence, loss of dignity for the woman and her parental family, lack of safety for the wife or the children, constant put downs for women — are considered major causes for marital strife in the modern context.
However, Bhagyashri, an
actress, was of the view that young people do not understand their
responsibilities in marriage. She said, "We watch our parents, our
elders and see live demonstrations of how relationships work. We know
the pitfalls and the pleasure areas. It is for the younger generation to
explore the best features of the institution of marriage and create a
healthy society for the future. At the moment, there is no viable
alternative for a marriage and a family. We are a very family-based
society. Men as well as women, while they treasure their dignity and
self-reliance, must continue to support the family system so that the
future is safe for coming generation. I support the idea that a marriage
should be a contest of generosity between the husband and the wife. A
husband must offer his wife every opportunity to optimise her life and
personality and a wife must stand by her husband in his search for
excellence in all walks of life. Marriage should be a sacrament which is
holy. It certainly should not be just a necessity. It should be a
creative compromise for both partners."
“Temporary” weddings on the rise
MONSOON is a bad time for Indian weddings. Apart from being inauspicious, the inclement weather can always get into the way of grandiose preparations that usually accompany the ceremonies. It is always in ‘extraordinary circumstances’ that marriage priests relent in allotting dates during the rainy season.
The extra-ordinariness is fast getting ordinary as several communities all over India are choosing this time for what is commonly understood as mutta marriage — a temporary contract of matrimony. Nubile girls, some barely entering their teens, are packed off in wedlock with moneyed men on the assurance that after a fixed period, they would return to their homes with a handsome alimony.
Clearly, economic considerations determine these contractual arrangements. Earlier, the practice was confined to impoverished Muslim families, but these days, it cuts across community and regional barriers and can be witnessed in places as varied as Hyderabad, Raipur, Satara and Chatturbhuj.
"The system started centuries ago when soldiers would stay away from home for long periods," says Shahzadi Hakim, a social activist in Mumbai who has working for the welfare of these sex slaves. "Since they did not want to acquire a woman without according her the status of a wife, they would marry and divorce them legally. This gave the woman a sense of security as she was entitled to alimony after the soldier left and was free to remarry. Those conditions are no longer relevant today."
"This is the worst form of sexual exploitation," says Vinod Nair, crime editor of a leading daily. "Till the mid-nineties we had pleasure seekers coming from the Gulf who married women from poor families for a fixed sum and fixed period of time. Now, anybody who has the money, whether he is a local goon, a petty contractor, politician or businessman, is indulging in this practice."
Curiously enough, people in rural hinterlands have become so blase about temporary marriages that no attempt is made to hide them from the eyes of the law. They are held with full pomp and ceremony like any other marriage and in full public view, except in those cases, where the girl is a minor.
The police (if at all present) are reduced to idle bystanders, as the law does not allow them to intervene unless somebody protests. Instances of girls changing their mind and walking out of a marriage mandap are, however, not lacking — as was witnessed last year in the widely reported case of 17-year-old school girl, Kokila Sawant in Maharashtra’s Sangli district.
The daughter of a farm worker was being betrothed to a 50-year-old widower (with seven children) for a period of two years, much to the consternation of her boyfriend, a jobless youth. In true Bollywood style, he landed at the ceremony at the eleventh hour and whisked away the girl in front of all the awe-struck guests. In her complaint to the police, Kokila stated that she was being made to marry against her wishes.
Around the same time, Bihar had another case to report from Araria where a young tribal girl virtually "escaped" before she could be married to young man with underworld connections. The police intervened only when neighbours took up for the girl and raised a public outcry. Predictably, the groom washed his hands off the incident, denying he had anything to do with the marriage.
"These cases come to light when both bride and groom are locals," explains Nair. "So people have got clever. They have begun operating through agents who escort the girls to big cities and get them married. Or else, the grooms arrive in villages as tourists, get married and disappear with the girl. Either way, there can be no tracing them, once they have left."
Little wonder, problems erupt for the police when there is a breach of contract. Complaints are usually from bride’s side and range from defaulting on payments, not releasing the girl on time to kidnapping and physical abuse. But cases of divorce, before the contractual period ends, are yet to arise.
"These marriages hold no legal
sanctity," states Nirmala Prabhavalkar, chairperson of the
Maharashtra State Commission for Women. "They are not registered
and the girls end up cheated and exploited. The marriages don’t even
last for the stipulated period and the girls rarely get the promised sum
of money. A combination of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment forces
families to participate in such transactions."
She was sold for Rs 40 two decades back;
"I walk eight kilometres every day to earn Rs 260 a month. On some days we eat and on some days we don’t. We sleep on empty stomachs. I became a showpiece. They published my photographs and forgot I needed food to live." This comes from Banita (32) who was sold for Rs 40 in 1985. Her name along with that of her native place Kalahandi made it to the headlines, causing the then Prime Minister to rush to Orissa.
Driven by hunger and starvation, her sister-in-law Phanus Punji sold off 14-year-old Banita to one Pati Boda for just Rs 40 almost two decades back. The then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and his wife Sonia rushed to the remote village of Anlapali in the Khariar block of Kalahandi, where she lived. There was a beeline of politicians, officers and journalists to the place. The heart-rending story of Banita formed the staple of sensational stories in glossies and Kalahandi became synonymous with poverty, starvation and sale of children.
Eighteen years later the world has forgotten Banita who is still caught in the vortex of poverty and misery. She has become cynical. "Why do you all come? To take my pictures and print them? What do you come to see? My hunger, poverty, my blind husband, my famished children?" she cries out. Worn out and withered, Banita looks like an old woman. A mother of five and with a blind, ailing husband to look after, she is neck deep in loans and ever-increasing interest. None of her kids go to school and dreadful poverty stares her in the face. To stave off starvation, she perhaps has no other option but to sell her youngest child, a daughter who is barely three.
Pati Poda who bought her got her married to his blind, elderly son Bidyadhar Poda and she bore him five children. "My husband forbade me to have the operation. He said he would abandoned me if I got it done," she says explaining why she did not go for a family planning operation. To make matters worse she faced social boycott as she was not the legally wedded wife of Bidyadhar. The marriage did not get social sanction as they did not have the money to host a wedding feast.
"There was no marriage. I had no choice," she reveals calmly. However, 15 years later on October 21, 2000, her marriage was conducted according to Vedic rites, thanks to former union minister of state for railways Bhakta Charan Das who funded the wedding and the feast.
The villagers accepted her but life remained grim. She was engaged as a cook in an Anganwadi centre 8 km away. At first she earned Rs 3.50 a day; an amount that was hiked to Rs 7. Today she gets a monthly salary of Rs 260 which is not paid to her regularly and at times, if she buys leftover food from the center for her starving children, the supervisor deducts her salary.
She is the only earning member of her family. None of her children go to school and her blind husband cannot work. Sometimes her elder daughter tends cattle and gets some rice in as payment for the work. To ward off starvation, Banita has taken loans from local people at an interest of 5 per cent per month. She now lives in Khatimunda village. The other villagers are too poor to give any help to her. And Banita’s is perhaps the poorest family.
Banita’s case has been extensively reported but she has got little benefit. Says B. Behera, a social activist working in the Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput region, "It’s all because of the lack of political will and failure of administrative machinery. There are hundreds of such cases and poverty continues to stalk these poor souls. They are forced to sell everything, including their children, to eke out a living." But the government officials do not agree that any child has been sold. The much touted KBK (Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput) project launched by the government of India in 1996 has failed to take off and bring about the all-round progress envisaged for the poor and poverty stricken people of the region. Says an official of the Bongomunda block, "Actually the funds for KBK were released almost four years after the programme was announced and then the administrative set up was not there. So it will take time. " However there have been constant allegations of corruption and siphoning off of funds which politicians like Bishwabhushan Harichandan, revenue minister of Orissa and B. K. Deo, MP from Kalahandi, deny.
Some years back Banita had to support her parents-in-law, too. But now they have died and along with them have died her hopes. All household things have been sold off and her life is a daily struggle against poverty and privation. Life has nothing much to offer her. Much like the promises of the district administration. Poverty alleviation is a topic that figures only in government meetings.
Banita is worse off than
her sister-in-law Phanus who still lives in Anlapali. She has at least
got an Indira Awas Yojana house to find shelter in. Even that has not
come to Banita who in her search for food has unwittingly become food
ONE aspect of education which is often neglected by parents is helping the child with his studies at home. Coaching the child at home is not only important but also essential for his steady progress at school. Education, to be really meaningful and rewarding, ought to be carried on both at home and at school.
Parents who help the child regularly and persistently in doing his homework, in fact help the child not only with his studies but also help him in forming the valuable habits of persistent labour, perseverance and regularity in life.
Hours spent in helping the child are perhaps the wisest investment of time and energy which ensures rich dividends in life. Unfortunately, even though parents are aware of this fact, many of them don’t really help the child in learning his lessons. Some parents, of course, won’t teach because they simply can’t. They are either not educated enough or they are not conversant with the new courses. Maybe some among them have little time to spare or are too tired to be bothered at the end of the day. This is especially true in homes where both the parents go to work. Not only can they not find time to teach the child, they also can’t spare enough time to give company to the child.
Some parents find it difficult to understand why the child needs to be helped with his studies at home. These parents say that they themselves were never coached at home when they were children. In many cases they declare that their parents never even bothered to find out how they were doing at school or even in which class they were studying. And yet they could manage to do well in studies.
What they fail to realise is that things have undergone a sea change since their times. They cannot compare their times to the present-day situation. Such comparisons would not be fair. The school-going child of today faces much more stress than his parents did at his age.
The burden of books even for small children is so crippling that in many cases the satchel is heavier than the child and has to be carried to the school bus either by the mother or the father or, in some cases, by the servant. This spine-chilling sight is quite common on our roads every morning.
Increase in the syllabi followed in schools has naturally resulted in more pressure on the child. It is not surprising that he finds it difficult to cope with his studies unaided. He needs parental attention, guidance and assistance. He needs regular help in doing his homework. Unless he works daily for a certain number of hours he cannot keep pace with the classroom teaching. And once he lags behind, the chances are that he’ll always lag behind unless special efforts are made to help him reach the right level. Parents need to realise (and I believe all modern parents do realise) that it’s a competitive world and the competition begins from the first day of the child’s schooling, perhaps even earlier. At home the best help in coaching the child can come from the parents themselves. But if due to any reason the parents are not able to teach the child, they should arrange help from outside.
But the unfortunate part is that even when the parents believe as a matter of principle that the child needs extra coaching at home, they allow themselves to be misguided by certain wrong notions. As a result their perception of the whole issue gets distorted. Instead of engaging a proper and suitable tutor, many among such parents insist on hiring one from among the teachers in the child’s school. There wouldn’t be anything wrong in doing this if they did it keeping in mind the competence of the teachers. Such an arrangement then would really be ideal. But in most cases of this kind parents have dubious aims. They are guided by other considerations. The overriding consideration (or rather the sole consideration) is that the teacher being a part and parcel of the school machinery, will prove helpful in getting the child promoted to the next class.
In most such cases the teacher also clearly understands the parents’ motive in engaging him. Thus, instead of being a tuition for the child, the arrangement becomes a commercial contract between the parents and the teacher. They look only to the immediate gain. The real objective of providing purposeful and effective extra coaching to the child gets defeated. The transaction proves disastrous for the child’s education. He becomes a passive, unsuspecting, innocent victim of this negative approach to private coaching.
Generally the entire blame for such unbecoming ‘deals’ is heaped on the teachers. This is erroneous. Parents are not only equal partners in perpetrating this evil but must also share a major portion of the blame because being the tempters they are the real initiators of the agreement. Not many teachers succumb to the temptation.
Parents should keep in mind their long-term responsibility towards the child. Short-term gains in the form of successes in school exams are illusory and can prove damaging to the moral and academic growth of the child in the long run. While it is necessary for the child to have regular hours of coaching at home, it is even more important to engage a teacher who, apart from being professionally competent, possesses a reputation of being a person of integrity, honesty and dedication.
Countless private coaching agencies have sprung up every where these days. Most of them claim that they can provide capable, qualified, competent and experienced tutors in almost every subject for any standard. Often there is no way to verify the credentials of these teachers. Parents have to be careful while choosing a teacher from a private coaching agency.
The best arrangement, unless the parents can themselves discharge this responsibility, would be to engage a ‘known’ teacher. The older the teacher, the better will he prove for the job, for in no other profession does experience count so much as in teaching. No matter what, be careful not to enter into a commercial contract. That is what a good teacher never does and which a good parent must never do.