Bride(e)ging a social gap in Rajasthan — one mare ride at a time
Riding a mare in a procession, a day before the wedding was a man-only privilege in Rajasthan. It changed when a girl decided to ride a mare through her village a day before her wedding. That ride has heralded a major social changejaipur Updated: Mar 26, 2018 22:35 IST
Two days before her wedding in November last year, Sarita Thalor, told her elder brother, Suresh, she wanted to ride a mare through the village. Suresh didn’t think twice and agreed for this. On November 27, a day before her wedding, Sarita, 23, tied a turban, put on a saffron half-jacket and climbed atop a mare. A tractor carrying a music system belted out Rajasthani songs and a procession of dancing men and women followed Sarita as she rode the mare through Phagalwa village in Sikar, 120 km from state capital Jaipur. The procession lasted five hours.
In riding a mare that day, Sarita had ventured where no other woman in her village of 1,500 houses, or even in Sikar district where it is located, had dared to.
Till then taking out a procession on mare a day before wedding, or bindauri as it is known locally, was tradition meant only for men.
On her wedding day, a picture of Sarita astride the mare was in local newspapers. Sarita hadn’t yet realised that she had set off a chain of events that heralded a change, which was unheard of, if not unthinkable, in patriarchal Sikar in particular and Rajasthan in general.
Sikar is one of the two districts in Rajasthan where the child sex ratio (0-6 years) was under 850 (girls for every 1,000 boys) in 2011 census. In 2001 census, none of Rajasthan’s districts had reported sub-850 CSR. Sikar, along with neighbouring Jhunjhunu, is also infamous for female foeticide. One-third of the decoy operations conducted by the state pre-conception and pre-natal diagnostic test (PC-PNDT) cell to nab people involved in sex determination were held in these districts.
Such figures surely would have weighed heavy upon Sarita, who only a few months before she took out the bindauri, was elected the first woman president of SK Government College, Sikar. The college has more than 4,000 girls. It was a co-educational institute until 2016.
On December 5, when she went to college after her wedding, she was called to principal Amita Agarwal’s office. A newspaper with Sarita’s photo was Agarwal’s table. “She patted my back and said she wished all girls of the college were like me,” remembers Sarita. “She said she wanted to frame the photograph and keep it in her office to inspire other girls.”
And inspire it did.
Shishupal Bagria, who works in Jaipur, planned it for his cousin, Suman Muwal on November 29. In another village in Sikar, Suresh Kulhari, a third-year engineering student of SIIT College in Jaipur, planned it for his sister, Suman. His farmer father Raghunath Singh had no inkling of what was in store when a mare arrived at his doorstep in Tasar Badi village on December 10, a day before Suman’s wedding. Suresh had also hired a special costume for Suman’s bindauri.
Suman rode the mare through the village as a crowd of 250 people danced to the folk music. “People came from nearby villages to see a woman’s bindauri,” says Suresh Kulhari.
A local Hindi daily invited photos of girls’ taking out bindauri and carried a small column, titled ‘Badal Rahi Soch – Betiyan Hamara Abhiyan’ to honour such women.
Tara Chand, a wedding photographer, says in the season that ended in December, he covered at least 10 such processions. “There was a mad rush among the women getting married to take out bindauri. It’s an indicator of a new mindset,” he says.
The social change caught the attention of social scientists. “This shows that by using such cultural symbols, women want to have a sense of equality,” says Professor Rajiv Gupta, former head of Sociology department, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur. “Women taking out bindauri appears as a symbol of protest against the irregularities in the cultural system. This will bring about a qualitative change in the institution of family so far as the man-woman relations are concerned,” he adds.
Suresh Bagria of Students’ Federation of India (SFI) says the literacy level has risen in Sikar remarkably in last few years. People are sending their children, irrespective of gender, to schools and colleges. “It is these families of educated people who are taking a lead in bringing about a social change such as taking out bindauri procession for women. The society follows them so the message travels far and wide,” he says.
Bagria was at the fore front of Sarita’s election campaign as she contested on SFI ticket. Her elder brother, Suresh Thalor, is an elected panchayat representative. He says more daughters are being allowed to be born in villages in Sikar these days.
Health department’s report on sex ratio at birth shows that for every 1,000 boys in Sikar in 2017 (up to October), 942 girls were born. The state’s sex ratio at birth is 940. In 2016-17, Sikar’s SRB was 963 and 2015-16, it was 932.
Head of state’s PC-PNDT unit Naveen Jain says the state machinery’s tightening noose around people involved in the illegal activity has borne results.
Activists, however, aren’t excited over either the improved sex ratio or with the women’s bindauri. “It’s a cosmetic change for publicity,” says Rajan Chaudhary, an activist.
Chaudhary, who is involved with the PC-PNDT cell in conducting decoy operations, says people’s mindset will take a long time to change. He cites the number of women with more than two daughters getting pregnant to hammer home his point. “Between January and December 2017, around 300,000 women with more than two daughters went for ultrasound checks at more than 1,500 registered centres in Rajasthan. I don’t say that they want sex selection but the fact that they are pregnant the third time is an indicator of the desire for a boy,” he says.
Such cynicism apart, as the wedding season begins, there are more women planning the bindauri.