In the tribal lands of western Madhya Pradesh, marriages have become a bane for hundreds of grooms and their families as it has become prohibitively expensive.
Not only do they have to pay reverse dowry or bride price but also bear other expenses, almost to the tune of Rs 5 lakh, something which most of the poor tribal can ill afford. Not surprisingly, marriage is pushing them into debt.
Now, a group of intrepid tribal activists associated with three organizations - Khedut Mazdoor Chetana Sangath (KMCS), Adivasi Ekta Parishad and Jai Adivasi Yuva Shakti have launched a movement to cap the amount of bride price and also regulate the entire marriage so that it is affordable.
For the past four months, the group has been holding meetings in tribal districts of Jhabua, Dhar, Alirajpur and Barwani with sarpanchs, Patels who are large land owners and other influential people of the villages to push through a consensus on the issue. On April 5, the group has called for a major meeting in Bhavra town of Alirajpur district, 400 km from Bhopal, to give a fillip to the movement.
“Earlier, the amount was small, and no one used to mind, but over the years due to the influence of non-tribal and tendency to show-off, the amount has now increased. The reverse dowry has increased to Rs 3.5 lakhs, liquor served in marriages costs around Rs 1 lakh. This is apart from the other marriage expenses which cost anywhere between Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh. Most tribal families do not have this kind of money and are forced to sell their land, migrate to other places to earn or borrow from money lenders at exorbitant interest rates and thus fall into a debt trap. We are planning to change all this,” says tribal right activist Shankar Tadavla, who is a part of the movement.
Says social activist Tapan Bhattacharya, who has been working in the tribal belt, “Marriage is becoming a millstone on the neck of grooms, and it has become a sort of competition between tribal over who has the ‘most expensive bride’. This should end as it is ruining the tribal.”
Some of the proposed changes include capping the dowry to Rs 51,000 and one kg silver. According to the proposals, all branded liquor would be banned and only tadi, mahua, and country liquor made out of jaggery or sugar would be served. Disc Jockeys which have become a part of any tribal marriage nowadays is also proposed to be banned and in its place traditional tribal musicians with instruments like dhol and madal would be encouraged, with the overall thrust being on less of ostentatious display of wealth.
Rules and regulations are also being framed to discourage the practice of bigamy or eloping with someone else’s wife and punishment for these acts ranges from paying the girl’s father to paying fine of Rs 7 lakhs to the Gram Samiti.
And although it may not stand legal scrutiny, one of the proposals says marriages between tribal and non-tribal would not be recognized. There is also a proposal to impose a fine of Rs 5 lakhs and take legal action against any non-tribal molesting any tribal girl.
In a thrust to tribal education, there are also plans to impose a fine of Rs 1000 on any family that does not send their children to schools.
Rahul Banerjee one of the founders of Khedut Mazdoor Chetana Sangath (KMCS), that has fought for the rights of tribal in the area welcomed the initiative. “The crucial thing is to rope in the sarpanchs of the villages as they have the maximum influence and without their help the movement will lose its momentum as has happened in the past.”