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The untouchables? No takers for prospective grooms in Bandhwari due to landfill

Bandhwari residents complain people refuse their marriage proposals due to the stench emanating from the garbage dump and the cancer scare.

gurgaon Updated: Jun 30, 2018 10:03 IST
Prayag Arora-Desai
Prayag Arora-Desai
Hindustan Times, Bandhwari, Gurugram
gurugram,bandhwari landfill,groundwater pollution
Bandhwari residents say that the landfill has become a major public health issue for the area. (Yogendra Kumar/HT PHOTO)

The residents of Bandhwari complain that outsiders treat them as ‘untouchables’, not because of their caste but due to a 37-hectare garbage dump near their village.

Local residents have a long list of complaints against the ‘khatta’, or landfill, next to which they have been living for the last ten years. Besides degrading the quality of air, water and soil in its surroundings, the dumping site has also given rise to a deeply entrenched prejudice. “Bandhwaris were known for their hospitality,” said Satpal Singh, a resident. “Nowadays, when guests visit us, they don’t even like to drink water in our homes because they fear it will give them cancer,” Singh said.

“Whatever jaat (caste) you belong to, if you are from Bandhwari, you are considered dirty,” he said.

The landfill is also fuelling a social crisis in the village. Singh said people prejudiced against their area refuse to marry their girls into the village. A significant number of men in the village between 20 to 30 years of age are facing problems in getting marriage proposals from outside the village.

“No girl would like to come and live in a village which stinks,” Singh said, crinkling his nose as a draft of wind blew past us, carrying with it the stench of several lakh tonnes of untreated municipal waste, dumped just two kilometers away.

Villagers in Bandhwari complain that the stench from the garbage at the landfill site forces them to cover their faces when they go out of their homes. (Yogendra Kumar/HT PHOTO)

Prince Bandhwari, a 22-year-old member of the dominant caste in the village, said his parents have not been able to get a single proposal for him despite efforts. “Until 30, 40 years ago, boys in our community would get married as early as 18 or 20, and receive hefty dowries. These days it takes longer to find a proposal because women don’t want to live in this dirty area,” he said. Prince explained that it will take two to three years before his parents find a bride for him.

Raja Ram, the village sarpanch, confirmed this predicament. “The problem is growing, not just in Bandhwari but also in the surrounding villages.” Chandaram Chaudhary, the sarpanch of the neighbouring Manger village, also admitted that the problem of boys not getting a match was rampant. However, he pointed out that men from the dominant Gujjar community, due to their wealth and position in the social hierarchy, are coping reasonably well.

“Somehow by god’s grace, our boys are managing to find brides without having to give dowry for them,” he said.

The practice of ‘buying’ brides has been documented across Haryana, which suffers from the lowest sex ratio in the country (877 females per 1000 males), according to the 2011 Census. The imbalance has created a ‘bride drought’ across the state, due to which the burden of dowry has shifted to men.

Amarlal Dhaniya, a resident of the harijan colony on the far eastern end of the village, paid a dowry of Rs 70,000 to get married to a girl from Jharkhand in April this year. Speaking from behind the veil, his wife, Geeta, told HT that she was not aware about the village, the landfill or the high incidence of cancer in the area. “We did not tell her,” said Vimla, Dhaniya’s mother.

Vimla added that four years ago a family broke their girl’s engagement with her son due to the stench from the landfill. “We didn’t want to take the risk again,” she said.

Dhaniya’s younger brother, 21-year-old Khemchand, was also considering marrying by offering a dowry, in case he did not get a local proposal in the next couple of years. Their neighbour, 24-year-old Kiran Pal Chander, has also been trying to fix a match in Haryana’s Mokalwas village. He said the proposal was turned down on account of the cancer scare in Bandhwari.

Men of marriagable age in Bandhwari are finding it hard to find brides owing to the pollution and stench in their village. (Yogendra Kumar/HT PHOTO)

There are others in the colony who were unwilling to engage in this relatively new custom, but are making efforts to find suitable proposals for themselves. Ravinder Kumar, 27, who also resides in the colony, said he has been searching for a bride since he was 17. “Four proposals came, but after the girls’ families realised where I live, they rescinded their offer,” he said, adding that his expiration date in the ‘marriage market’ is fast approaching.

Kumar is now renovating his home in the hopes that freshly painted walls and a western commode will fetch him a decent marriage proposal before he turns 30. “Once I hit 30, I can forget about it,” he says. Kumar is not alone in this predicament. Hari Kishan, 35, Bijender Kumar, 36, Mahesh Pyarelal, 35, have all failed to get married owing to the disrepute that the landfill has earned their village, and not for want of trying. All three have resigned themselves to remaining unmarried.

The landfill has provided some common ground to people belonging to both the higher and lower castes, who have joined hands in their protest against the landfill. Even though the removal of the garbage dump may not resolve the marriage squeeze, which is largely due to the gender imbalance across the state, the locals firmly believe that it will. In many respects, the problem of unmarried men is far more ominous for Bandhwari’s residents than the health crisis that is currently looming over the village.

First Published: Jun 30, 2018 10:03 IST