Thursday, February 2, 2012
Bride-buying an old practice in north India
Bride-buying is an old practice in this region. It declined after the Green Revolution owing to the spread of literacy in this part of the country. Moreover, the male-female ratio has improved in the past 80 years. The ratio was highly skewed in 1911.
Before Partition there used to be Jind House at some distance from the railway station at Ambala. Adjacent to it was an “adda” where women were offered for sale after sunset. People from various parts of this region, especially the Malwa belt, used to flock to the “adda” to buy women or say “brides”.
Dehra Dun was another centre where poor women were offered for sale. Besides, there was sale of women in certain parts of Orissa from where people of this region used to buy brides.
Contrary to general impression and reports of female foeticide etc, the male-female ratio has been constantly improving in Punjab since 1911 when there were only 780 women against 1,000 men. From 799 in 1921, the number of women against 1,000 men jumped to 882 in 1991. However, it declined to 874 in 2001.
Bride-buying has been confined to either poor farmers or the Scheduled Castes and tribes.
Mr Sarwan Singh Bir, a historian from the Malwa region, says he visited the Ambala “adda” a few months before Partition along with a friend, Mr Kunda Singh from Katarsingh Wala village, to have first-hand information. A woman then was available for Rs 600 to Rs 1200 at the Ambala “adda”. Some agents, in fact, used to cheat poor farmers as they would replace younger girls with older women after striking deals.
However, Mr Kirpal Kazak, a Punjabi writer, says the practice of sale of women started in this region after the arrival of Mughals. Mr Mir Dad, an Arab writer, has stated about the sale of women in his book “Niami”.
Mr Kazak says during the Mughal period only women offered for sale, used to don ornaments. Ornaments were used to decorate women before sale. The wearing of ornaments became a fashion in due course of time.
Punjabi literature is replete with references of sale of women. There is a full-fledged Punjabi book “Mul di Tiveen” (A purchased woman). Then, there is Punjabi mini novel “Kudesan” (a woman from other land) dealing with this subject. Dalip Kaur Tiwana, a celebrated Punjabi Writer, devotes a chapter to the sale of “Bhano” to Sarwan in her Sahit Akademi award-winning Punjabi novel “Eh Hamara Jeewna”. Bhano revolts against polygamy, which was prevalent at that time in certain parts of the Malwa region. Money was contributed by Sarwan and his brothers to buy Bhano. However, Bhano refused to be the wife to all brothers, saying that she had been married to Sarwan and would stay only with him. Ultimately, Sarwan was killed by his brothers.
Dalip Kaur Tiwana says the ritual of bride-buying was limited to the poor sections of society.
Mr Bhupinder Singh, Head of the Sociology Department at Punjabi University, says that in poor families, only one son used to be married. Besides poverty, the other reason to get only one son married was to avoid the division of landed property. Mr Ajmer Aulakh, a playwright, has extensively dealt with this issue in his play — “Ik Hor Ramayan.”
One can find even now in almost every Punjab village women from Burma or China. Certain Punjabi soldiers, who fought World War I and World War II in Burma brought women of Burmese or Chinese origin when they came back to their villages. As they had to stay for long in Burma, Singapore and Malaya etc, they married these women. Punjabis marry off their daughters to boys, who either have landed property or other sources of income. They rarely give their daughters to “loafers” who, as a result, resort to bride-buying.