Fate has decreed that the west meet the east in a nuptial knot.
The affluent Samast Patidar Samaj (SPS) in Surat is busy preparing copies of a calendar that will be distributed 1,800 km away, in the poverty-stricken districts of Odisha. Turn its pages, and you will come across photographs of 42 smiling newlyweds – Gujarati Patidar grooms and Oriya Kurmi brides – settled in Gujarat. “The calendars have been designed to encourage the Kurmi community in Orissa to take up nuptial alliances with Gujarat’s Patidars,” says SPS president and Padmashree Mathur Savani.
Plagued by a skewed sex ratio, the upper castes in Gujarat – especially the orthodox Patidars – are now looking at marital alliances that extend beyond their borders as well as social-financial status. The belief that Kurmis from Odisha have a common ancestry in the Kards, who migrated from Afghanistan around 2,000 years ago, makes them overlook all the other differences.
“Female foeticide in the past has created a huge gender gap among the Patidars. But this alliance also works to the benefit of poor Kurmi parents in Odisha who are unable to cough up a lot of dowry,” Savani says.
The huge gender gap has also forced the Patidars to go searching for brides in other states such as Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The situation is so dire that during the first-ever matchmaking ceremony of the kind arranged in October 2015, the 42 prospective brides brought by the SPS got to choose from a huge pool of 5,000 Patidar boys.
“Given the skewed gender ratio, even a Patidar girl from a mediocre family can marry into a well-off family. With no property and little income, my 10-year-long search for a bride within the community went in vain,” says Bharat Dudhapara, 30. Giving up, the M Com degree holder – who works as an accountant in a private firm in Surat – tied the knot with the 19-year-old daughter of an Oriya labourer last year.
The decades-old practice of selecting the boy over the girl-child is said to be one of the underlying reasons behind the Patidars’ recent demand for OBC quota. A degree from a good college and a government job – the main demands of agitators – would make finding a girl for middle and lower-class families considerably easy. As much as 20% of the Patidars are landowners and industrialists.
“If I had a government job or a good business, I would not have had to wait for over a decade to get married – only to get duped,” says 35-year-old Sanjay Raiyani, who claims that his wife fled with jewellery as well as a mobile phone four days after their wedding last December. “I paid Rs 1.5 lakh to her parents for the marriage, and gifted her ornaments worth Rs 1.5 lakh,” he said.
When Raiyani filed a police complaint, he learnt that he was only the 25th groom to be duped by the same family.
“We couldn’t find a match for my elder brother too, who is a farmer. None of the girls were ready to settle down in a village when they had bridegrooms from cities to choose from,” Raiyani adds.
Little wonder, then, that the SPS has tried to a build a safety net for the bridegrooms. “We scan the bio-datas of all the prospective brides. Then the girls, along with their parents, are brought down here to visit the groom’s family 10 days prior to the mass wedding function – so they get to know each other better,” says Savani.
As the girls’ parents may not be able to visit them often, the samaj arranges for foster parents in Gujarat “who look after the brides as if they are their own daughters”.
Meanwhile, the effects of the Patidar alliances are being noticed in other parts of the country. Over the last two years, temples of Patidar deity Umiya Mata have come up in Kurmi-dominated areas such as Kalehar and Badagaun in Uttar Pradesh.