Saturday, June 23, 2007

Marriages of convenience
Amita MalikAmita Malik

AS the news becomes more and more murky and the presidential race more and more confused, it was exciting to come across a happy tale of national integration in a most unexpected quarter. For a long time, one has wanted to see a good sociological story on the small screen, and here was one landing up with documentation, research, good presentation, the works. And all kudos to the channel Headlines Today which packed an amazing amount of information laced with human interest into the story.

It all began with the killing of female foetuses where Haryana is one of the worst offenders—-its ratio being 800 women to 1000 men as against the national ratio of 900 women to 1000 men. So bad did it become, with few girls available as bahus, that the men of Haryana started looking for brides from Bihar, UP, West Bengal and even the North-East. Then, surprisingly, the search shifted to the South. A nurse from Kerala, who works in a city hospital, first drew the attention of a man patient, who found her an ideal woman to marry. She has since become the careful match-maker of the area, protecting the interests of brides from Kerala. Because Kerala, ironically, has a surfeit of girls and finds it equally difficult to find suitable boys.

So now a regular exchange has started. And it is done along sensible and practical lines which ensure that the brides from Kerala, who are better educated and more independent than the villagers of Haryana, are happy and integrate without worries into their new surroundings. And for this certain conditions are laid down in Kerala and strictly honoured by the Haryana bridegroom and his family.

First, there is no dowry. Second, the marriage is performed in Kerala according to local rites and customs. Most importantly, the first confinement takes place in Kerala, to avoid foeticide in case it is a girl. As a result, the male-female ratio in Haryana’s villages might improve in course of time. Also, the relatively sophisticated girls of

Kerala insist on another condition. There must be a private place, however small, for both bath and toilet—-no going to the fields. All this has made integration less difficult, and looking at some of the older brides, one can see it is working.

One of the first brides, now almost middle-aged, speaks the local language fluently and spoke on it to the camera.

She also explained that the competition between rice and rotis has been settled with the bride eating rice but making chapatis for the rest of the family. She is also taking to salwar-kameez for practical purposes and accepting sindoor gracefully from her mother-in-law. The young children seem to adore her, looking at the family album together. It was a happy and cheering sight. One of the best ways of national integration.

Indeed, with political stories and accompanying scams which are increasingly flooding the small screen, it is good that the less pushy channels are diverting their attention to stories of social importance such as these and, who knows, may send up their ratings among more discriminating viewers who are a bit tired of murky politics and the obsession with films, fashion and cricket.

The presidential race, with its twists and turns, is likely to last till the results in July. But one is glad that from the beginning the media polls have shown the overwhelming popular support for President Abdul Kalam, having given him percentages of above 90 most of the time, with one poll having given him 98 per cent a few days ago. One wonders if this kind of media research will ever have any effect on our small-minded politicians looking after their individual and party interests at the lowest possible level while ignoring the same voters they had been flattering during election time. It seems public opinion counts for little once you are voted in.