Caste continues to be the biggest factor in Bihar, more so in marriages. Despite government's announcement of special incentives, the state witnessed just 14 inter-caste marriages in 2006. In 2005, it was just a shade better, with 20 inter-caste marriages. And this is official!
Needless to say, a large chunk of the Rs 11 lakh fund meant for encouraging inter-caste wedlock remained unutilised last fiscal. Under the scheme, those going in for inter-caste marriages (upper caste boy marrying a scheduled caste/tribe girl or vice versa) received Rs 25,000. So far, the government records show 14 recipients only.
In a bid to stop dowry menace in the society, the government has decided to offer support money of Rs 25,000 to couples going for inter-caste marriages. Marriage Officer AK Jha said that nearly 500 registered marriages take place every year at the marriage registration office under the Special Marriage Act. "Though caste specifics are not required to be filled in the marriage application forms, we gather information about it through informal interaction with the applicants to ensure that they did not face any resistance due to caste factor," Jha said.
A Welfare official, Suhel Ahmad said that every year the fund lapsed in absence of valid claims. "Till now we have given incentives of Rs 3.5 lakh to only 14 couples. In 2005-2006 also, the allocation under the scheme was Rs 10 lakh, but only 20 couples received the amount," he added.
He attributed low number of beneficiaries to lack of awareness among the people. In other parts of the state, especially rural pockets, the number was abysmally low — two cases in three years in Purnia district — because people were not aware of the scheme.
In case of special marriage scheme, tradition is the biggest roadblock in the government's efforts to bridge the social divide. "Schemes like this often fail to take off, as our society is extremely conservative regarding social hierarchy and intermarriage, and rigid about customs like dowry. Many such couples, which intermarry, do not feel confident enough to come forward and claim the incentive. Far too often they are cast out of the community. The reservation system has only added to the problem," says RN Sharma, a sociologist and college teacher.
Bihar Women's Network, however, attributed the low number of beneficiaries to lack of awareness and official non-cooperation. "A number of inter-caste marriages take place year. In most of the cases the application forms are not available. The dillydallying approach of the officials works as a deterrent," said Urmila of the Network.
The Union government has now revised the amount, announcing to give Rs 50,000 as support money in 2007-08. But in Bihar, the biggest problem is in finding the eligible couples.