When Aarti (28) buried her husband, Purushottam, in August 2008, the entire village watched from a distance. Not one came forward to help. Purushottam was drowned in the Subarnarekha river after a life of much persecution for the couple at the hands of a tribal court.
Their ‘sin’ was that they did what tribal law prohibited. Despite belonging to the same cognate group (gotra) with a mythical ancestor, Purushottam and Aarti married. That was 13 years ago.
Ostracised by the Hinduised Bhumij tribe, to which they belong, Aarti, who can’t read or write, lives a lonely life with her four children on the outskirts of Rajdoha village in Jharkhand’s East Singhbhum district, about 170 km south-west of Ranchi. The eldest son lives with his relatives.
Tribal law says people belonging to same gotra are brothers and sisters. Marriages or love affairs among people in the same gotra are considered sin. Violation would invite severe punishment. However, Aarti and Purushottam, both of the garda gotra, fell in love. And punishment was meted out.
“We were chained in a dark, dingy room for a week and paraded in the village with faces smeared black. Our genitals were burnt,” Aarti said while trying to arrange tiles on the leaking roof of her crumbling hutment as her minor and malnourished children squatted on the muddy floor.
Subsequently the couple took the legal path and got justice. A local court in Ghatsila, 170 km south-east of Ranchi, sent to jail 24 people, including the then village headman.
“But the arrests led to the entire village turning against us; even our parents and siblings severed ties; we were debarred from entering the village.”
Then they married and settled on the village outskirts. Purushottam worked as a motor mechanic in a distant village and Aarti cleared a plot of land and made it fit for cultivation.
On August 15, 2008, Purushottam was returning from a neighbouring village with his second son, Digambar. He crossed the river with his son on the shoulder and left him there.
“Digambar went again to the other end of the river to bring back his bicycle and while crossing he got drowned,” said Aarti, tears welling up in her eyes.
Aarti works in a brick-kiln now.
Villagers refuse to speak on the matter. Her younger brother, Dhiren, said, “We have no relation with Aarti.”
“There is no way she can return,” village head Biru Sardar said.