Sixty-year-old Sheila Devi is unable to understand why her son was arrested. Sitting on a cot in her two-room hutment in Satwai village, nearly 80 km from Delhi, she is still wondering what her son’s crime was.
On March 3, her 18-year-old son Sonu Pal was arrested for allegedly buying a 14-year-old girl from Kapashera village in Delhi and then marrying her.
“Is getting married a crime? My husband is ill and we needed a bride for my son who could look after us. We were unable to find a match in the nearby villages. A relative told us about this girl, so we bought her. I can’t understand how my son can be arrested for this?”
Her family is not the only one in this village to have bought a bride. Her neighbours, another Gujjar family, have a daughter-in-law bought from Himachal Pradesh. There are many more from Nepal, Uttarakhand and Haryana. And like her, most claim they didn’t know it was illegal till Sonu Pal’s arrest.
Most such families went into hiding when HT visited the village last week. “People are scared after the police raid,” said Meh Pal, a villager. “We just don’t have enough girls. So what do we do? We can’t keep our boys unmarried,” headman Kanwar Pal echoed the other villagers.
While most villagers didn’t want to discuss why there were not enough girls in the village, and some, like Kanwar Pal, claimed “historically, there have been fewer girls born in this community”, the figures state the obvious. According to the 2001 census, the village had 860 girls for 1,000 boys in the 0- 6 years group, way below the national average of 927. Rampant foeticide has ensured there are many more men than women in this village.
“Foeticide exists although nobody talks about it openly. We have been holding meetings with village folk to make them understand it is illegal to abort a female child. But they continue to do it clandestinely,” said Dr Subhash Chandra Maheshwari, Chief Medical Officer at PL Sharma District Hospital in Meerut.
District Magistrate Kamini Chauhan Rattan even constituted a Pre-Natal Diagnostic Test (PNDT) committee last year to check the incidents of foeticide in the district. “We are trying our best to control it but villagers have to understand it is illegal to abort a female child. Social mores have to change,” Maheshwari said.