Sreeja and Omna, both in their midthirties, from orthodox Hindu families of Kannur district of Kerala, are married to Birbal Berwal and Ajit Berwal, respectively. Belonging to the Jat community, Birbal is a cab driver now unemployed, while Ajit is a confectioner.
Far from their home state which is 2000 km away, Sreeja studied till class 12, while Omna is a matriculate. Sorkhi village have as many as 15 couples, where the wives belong to Kannur district in Kerala.
After a decade of marriage, today Sreeja and Omna speak Haryanvi eloquently and perform domestic chores from tendering buffaloes to working in the fields like any other Haryanavi woman. But they are still alien to the male-dominated social structure of Haryana.
Mothers of Sreeja and Omna married them off after the deaths of their respective fathers.
Other than the changed weather conditions, the biggest challenge to the duo was to go by the social customs of the land of their husbands, where women were not as privileged as their male counterparts and had little say in decision making in a family. Worst still, brides from Kerala are often targeted for their dusky complexion.
Talking to HT, Sreeja says, “Today, we speak fluent Haryanvi, do all the chores from tendering buffaloes to working in the fields, but we are still coping up with social restrictions on women.”
Expressing her concern, Omna says that it took her a lot of time to develop a taste for the northern food and cope up with scorching summers and freezing winters. “In our home state, only Muslim women stay behind veil, but, here, it is mandatory for all married women. There are also restrictions on choosing a life partner,” Omna says.
Ramesh Berwal elder brother of Ajit Berwal, who looks after farms and live in a joint family, say earlier they were apprehensive about the bride from a Southern state, but the women have earned respect for themselves through their decent behaviour and straightforward approach towards issues. On how parents in Kerala get ready to marry off their daughters to as far off a place as Haryana, Sudesh Chaudhry, Satrol Khap women wing president, says people there live abject poverty and in the hope of giving their daughters a future, such matrimonial alliances are finalised.
She says that the villages in Hisar district are the melting pot of cross-cultural marriages. “Youths who do not have government jobs especially look for matrimonial alliances outside the state,” she says.
Notably, Haryana has a child sex ratio of 830, while in contrast, Kerala has a laudable 1,084 women behind every 1,000 men, according to the 2011 census.
Once an alliance is struck, the boy’s family has to go to Kerala and bear the expenses of journey and ritual ceremony, which cost them anything between Rs 30,000 to 50,000.
According to an estimate there are 300 such men in Hansi whose wives are from Kerala. The trend of cross-cultural marriages started about 15 years ago, when a nurse from Kerala married a patient from Haryana.
Tomorrow: The dark side of inter-community marriages