India: Winds of change reach Haryana as Trafficked Brides evolve into survivor leaders Print E-mail

 Sunday February 24 2019

The harbingers of change in Haryana

By Gautam Dheer
: A programme to create awareness about the rights of bride trafficking victims.

As 'purchased brides', they have lived a deprived life for years. Now, they have become 'survivor leaders'. They are out in the field, making their way in the face of adversity to square the circle of bride trafficking. Not one or two, but an army of.400 survivor leaders have become harbingers of change and are helping other deprived women live a better life. Their past and the hope for a better tomorrow unite the 'purchased brides' of Haryana.

 Winds of change are blowing across the state as a greater number of these brides have become survivor leaders. Empower People, an NGO, is generating solidarity among trafficked brides living with their partners. The NGO is steadfast in providing a solution through organising these women into village communes. Such communes are currently active in the 252 villages of Haryana. Various district legal service authorities and NGOs have joined hands in achieving the objective of ensuring a self-reliant life for these unfortunate women.

Living in Multhan in Nuh, 30-year-old Sanjidha is one such survivor leader. She was relocated as a 'purchased bride' from Guwahati. "I don't know who brought me to Mewat. I was just 11 years old then," she told DH. Sanjidha is a volunteer with Empower People. an NGO, is generating solidarity among trafficked brides living with their partners. The NGO is steadfast in providing a solution through organising these women into village communes. With four children, she wants to focus on her mission to help other women like her. "I engage with other village women and make them aware of their rights. We tend to act as their support system. Our past binds us all," she said.

Police have no clue

Empower People's founder, Shafiq ur Rahman Khan, explains how sensitive the issue of 'purchased brides' is. He said it cannot be addressed at the level of police or any other enforcement agency. The police do not have statistics of bride trafficking, he said. "Many of these women have been staying with their partners without any legal validity of marriage.

Still, you cannot suddenly intervene and ask these women to walk out of the marriage. It's a complex issue he told DH. "We are attempting to create a mechanism that will address the issue," he said. "A majority of women in Haryana are trafficked for marriage and not for commercial or sexual exploitation."

These survivor leaders are trained and equipped with information to become change-makers. They hold awareness campaigns to stem the rot of bride trafficking. "One of the survivor leaders will be contesting the forthcoming assembly elections in Haryana" Khan said.

Empower People representatives engage with local government and have been able to include issues of bride trafficking with government schemes and local welfare plans. "The survivors communes are trained to act as para-legal counsellors in their areas. They connect sufferers with the appropriate mechanism," Khan said.

Selfie with Daughter Foundation, another NGO, is leaving no stone unturned to restore the dignity of these women. The foundation has launched a campaign which says: 'Pardesi Bahu, Mahri Shaan' (Outside daughter-in-law, our Pride). "According to our estimates, in wake of the skewed sex ratio in Haryana, over the past decade, nearly one lakh women have been brought from other states. Most of them have been have been purchased," the foundation's director Sunil Jaglan told DH. Campaigns and awareness drives are being held in many villages, he said.


Survivor leader Marzina, a native of Assam, talks about the 24 'purchased brides' in her village, Khedli. She now goes around video recording the experiences of such women. "We help them in every possible manner," she said.

The formation of many community-based organisations (CBOs) at the grass roots, led and managed by these brides, remains central to the success of various initiatives. These CBOs act as an eye and ear of various stakeholders and help not just as support groups for the victims but also as reliable facilitators for their rescue and rehabilitation.

"We work in tandem to support law enforcement agencies and families of the victim," Khan said, adding that the communes run skill centres for the women. Empower People also runs a helpline in Assamese, Bangla, Hindi and English to help these women in distress.

But more serious problem to deal with at the ground level is of property and land rights for these women. Empower People is working in this direction to secure a future for these women. Another problem central to the crisis of bride trafficking is the future of the children of purchased brides. They suffer from identity issues. "It's a major concern," Khan said. These children belong 'no-where' and face discrimination.

Khan says, despite all claims, it is observed that many children do not attend school or receive basic support from the society.

Haryana's poor sex ratio is one of the reasons for this regressive practice. Aditya Parihar, a former research associate at Panjab University, said lack of income or occupation and fragmentation of land leading to decreased landholdings contribute to the crisis.


 Sunday February 24 2019

Brides purchased and exploited in Haryana

By Gautam Dheer

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.
 Sunday February 24 2019

With no way to escape, victims live a miserable life

By Gautam Dheer

Families in Khedli village in Nuh district of Haryana are gearing up for the arrival of a new bride in the village around the month end. But Marzina, who lived all her life as a paro, shows no excitement. That's because she knows the new bride being brought to the village will be a paro. She knows that a price would have been paid to settle the deal. Marzina, a native of Assam, knows what it's like living a life on the fringes.

The son of her friend Salaha, she says, is physically challenged and has not been able to find a bride for himself. "Salaha and her son have gone to Bihar. They went through a contact," she confided. The new bride in the village, Marzina feared, will also live a doleful life, the one she has been living all through.

The crisis of purchasing girls for marriage looms in the state for long. The increasing acceptability and institutionalisation of sorts of this culture bestowing validity to such marriage deals is now turning to be a dangerous trend.

The process of purchasing brides through payment has long existed in Haryana. Some of these helpless women have been living in villages for over a decade. Take the case of Farida, who was 'bought' and brought from Hyderabad at the age of 25 and was made to marry a man nearly twice her age. For Farida, it was her first marriage and naturally, she had dreams of leading a happy wedded life. But that was not what destiny had in store for her. She was blinded from the fact that her husband had six children from his first marriage.

Illusions and realities

His first wife had died of tuberculosis and so the man needed a woman to take care of the kids and satisfy his sexual needs. His search for a local girl was unsuccessful which was when he came across a a middleman in Palwal in Haryana. A deal was agreed upon. Farida's family was poor and couldn't afford to meet the dowry demands of men in their area.

For them, the marriage proposal would not only help their daughter to have a better future but also brought them some monetary return. Eventually, the girl was brought to Mewat.

She had to toil like a servant at home and nurse her husband's six children for years. She was not allowed to visit her parents in Hyderabad. She came to know about their death only after a couple of years. "I was made to slog in the house like a maid and was addressed in derogatory terms. My dignity remained bruised all through," she rues. she was thrown out of the house after her husband's death. Today, Fatima struggles to meet ends without a space for living.

Stories of inhuman treatment as a fallout of such unverified, unregistered marriage deals can be heard in every corner of these villages.
A 35-year-old man in Haryana's Jhajjar could not find a bride for him despite all attempts. A 20-year-old woman was purchased from Bihar through a reference. The woman was at the mercy of the husband. She was kept as a sex slave to produce children. But she was asked to stay away from her children. While she was treated as a servant, she was not allowed to not allowed to come out of the house and interact with the villagers. She was kept under constant watch. After she gave birth to a son, the child was separated from her and given to her husband's elder brother's wife. This woman was termed mad and and worthless by her family. She still struggles to endure the pain.

Women like these, says Professor Rajesh Gill of the Department of Sociology, Panjab University, have adapted to life sans dignity. Years of enduring pain and insult have driven them to a point where they accept the violence and abuse on them and fail to resist, Prof Gill feels. In some cases, widows and abandoned 'purchased brides' are rehabilitated by social or government interventions. But those with children face enormous challenges.

Bride hunters

A report prepared by the Centers with potential excellence in particular areas, a scheme of University Grants Commission, and Department of Sociology in Panjab University, documents cases of 'purchased brides' in Haryana and Punjab. It illustrates the case of Saleem (name changed), who was married 20 years ago and has six daughters. Saleem, the report states, who purchased a bride for himself, now acts as a middleman for 'bride hunters'. The report elucidates: Saleem went to Bihar with a man who informed him that there was an eligible girl in his village whom he could get married. Saleem accompanied the man to Gaya in Bihar and stayed there for 15 days before marrying the girl. Saleem claimed that the whole expenditure on the wedding was borne by him and he also paid some amount to the middleman. Saleem said he then spent about Rs 5,000 for the marriage deal.

Saleem had four girls from his wife after which doctors told him that his wife could no longer be able to bear a child. But Saleem wanted a son, and so started to explore the possibilities of a second marriage. He went to Jharkhand and married a 30-year-old girl by spending about Rs 25,000 on the entire arrangement. Saleem, again, did not have a son from the second marriage.

The report states that his first wife was in acute depression, something which Saleem refused to acknowledge. Saleem used to badly thrash his first wife due to which she lost her mental balance, villagers were quoted in the report. The man used to hit her daughters as well, he gave talaq (divorce) to his first wife and even tried to sell her. He is now a middleman purchasing brides from Bihar and Jharkhand to the village in Haryana.

Every village in the Mewat region of Haryana has a story to share, a story of betrayal, misery and helplessness.