“Why should I elope? I will only marry the boy that my family chooses for me.”
Class X student Jolly Patel may not be old enough to fully understand the meaning of this declaration, but the deafening applause that greets it is enough to leave her elated.
The occasion is a street play organised by the Patidar Pragati Yuvak Mandal at Bechraji village in Mehsana, Gujarat, and the message is something that the Patel community wants its womenfolk to know and understand.
The Patidars, who are up in arms against the government in its quest for quotas in jobs and education, have embarked on a drive to prevent “their” women from marrying outside the community. The reason behind this is a centuries-old practice of picking the boy child over the girl, something that has now brought them face-to-face with a bad sex ratio problem.
To tackle the situation, members of the community have been reduced to searching for brides in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Bihar – going beyond caste, socio-financial status and even lingual differences. In December last year, the Samast Patidar Samaj had brought 42 Kurmi brides from Jharkhand for matrimonial alliances with eligible Patel bachelors who couldn’t find a match within the community.
Now, in another initiative to ensure that no Patidar male remains unmarried, the community has forbidden its women from tying the knot with anybody outside the caste. A multi-pronged approach — from street plays that speak against marrying outside the community to making parental signatures mandatory in wedding certificates — is being adopted to ensure this.
“Community leaders of three districts, including Mehsana, have submitted memorandums to collectorates – demanding that a marriage certificate be considered valid only if it bears the signature of the woman’s parents,” said Dr Nachiket Mukhi, secretary of the Sardar Patel Group. The idea will be further propagated at an employment fair held in Ahmedabad on May 29, he added.
“Our women are influenced by their peers, and they end up eloping and marrying the wrong person for immature love,” said Harshad Patel, who wrote the street play that Jolly featured in. “Every community has its unwritten constitution. Patidar women should understand the sex ratio problem we face and not marry outsiders.”
The community is all set to come up with matrimonial and employment portals of its own on May 1, so Patidar men can find brides and jobs of their liking. This move will also end a practice that prohibits two Patel sub-castes – the Leuvas and Karvas – from allying with each other.