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Himachal’s migrated brides: You are cordially not invited

Hundreds of marriages made in heavenly, but economically backward, trans-Giri region of Himachal Pradesh are giving the administration reasons to pry officially into the motives. Over the years, the region in Sirmaur district has become known as a place from where men from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab — states with a skewed sex ratio (the number of girls per 1,000 boys) — have found brides.

india Updated: Nov 28, 2016 01:02 IST
Gaurav Bisht
In this 2015 file photo, artistes perform during the opening ceremony of 20th International Himalayan Festival at Mcleodganj near Dharamsala.
In this 2015 file photo, artistes perform during the opening ceremony of 20th International Himalayan Festival at Mcleodganj near Dharamsala. (HT File Photo)

Hundreds of marriages made in heavenly, but economically backward, trans-Giri region of Himachal Pradesh are giving the administration reasons to pry officially into the motives. Over the years, the region in Sirmaur district has become known as a place from where men from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab — states with a skewed sex ratio (the number of girls per 1,000 boys) — have found brides.

The recent rescue of a woman allegedly abducted for marriage forced the administration to look at a trend described as cross-regional migration of brides. Locals do not like to talk about this, but following the woman’s rescue, the administration in the region’s Shillai area, about 240 km from Shimla, conducted a survey to assess the exodus.

“The survey conducted across 140 villages revealed that in the last decade nearly 1,100 women from Shillai had married men in Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh,” said Vikas Shukla, sub-divisional magistrate (SDM), Shillai.

“The report was shocking. A majority of the women were enticed for marriage with the promise of better life,” said Shukla. “Not all the grooms were youth.” He said the Union minister for women and child development, Maneka Gandhi, had sought information on “this disturbing trend”.

Several instances of migrated brides being sent back home, allegedly after facing mental and physical abuse, have caught the administration’s eye. Many of these marriages are not registered and solemnised with the chunni-odhna tradition in which a bride and groom tie the knot under a sheet, according to a government official who did not want to be named.

Not all women who marry outside are abducted, but the survey has found the enticement is money, a big draw in the region where jobs are few and crop activities are limited to ginger and tomato. Many people from this region make up the workforce in various unorganised sectors across the state. “It is generally known that people who come bride hunting either pay her family or purchase land for them. None of the people involved speaks about it,” said the government official.

Pratap Singh Tomar, convener of the Central Haati Committee, an organisation seeking Scheduled Tribe status for nearly 250,000 people in the trans-Giri region, said, “Not all the girls marry for money. They also look for better life. There is so much hardship here.” The people in trans-Giri region make up nearly half the population in Sirmaur district.

Surinder Rana, head of Millah panchayat in the region, said, “We have heard about some families marrying their girls outside for money. I have been trying to discourage this.”

Incidentally, there have been reports of girls and women of the region being trafficked on the pretext of marriage. “Sirmaur police busted an interstate racket two years ago. Three men from Haryana were arrested. Girls had been taken to Haryana on the pretext of finding a match,” said Zahur Zaidi, inspector general of police (Law and Order).

The survey in Shillai has put the spotlight on the cross-regional migration of brides. Anuradha Thakur, secretary of the state’s women child welfare department said officials had contacted the Shillai SDM, and the social welfare department was conducting an independent inquiry. “We will do whatever is needed so that women and girls don’t have to make forced choices,” said Thakur.