Marriage is an extremely critical social institution in the Indian context. For a majority of country it is traditionally viewed as the only way to continue the family and thereby repay one’s debt to his/her ancestors.
Unfortunately, over time it is invariably the bride’s family that carries the material burden that the reparation of these debts entail. Consequently, marriage has come to be symbolized as such a burden upon the girl’s family that it determines the "de-valuation" of girls over their lifetime.
The tremendous social and financial burden of an impending marriage of a daughter 18 years later is enough compulsion for many to kill infant girls if they do not already have the wherewithal to selectively terminate pregnancies on the basis of the sex of the fetus. Dowry at the time of marriage and throughout marriage and the gender imbalance in nurture and care of children all eventually play itself out even in this social institution and gets manifested in the manner in which marriage is symbolized as a burden for the girl’s parents and a money-minting enterprise for the boy’s parents.
A rather peculiar and alarming practice that locates itself in certain parts of the country exhibits this same gender imbalance in a frighteningly unique manner. Poverty and the inability to muster a "decent" dowry for the daughter’s marriage; the scandalous possibility of an unmarried daughter at home and the social stigma attached to it has led to desperate measures in certain parts of the country. A recent government survey shows 209 men were kidnapped in the country last year. They were forced into marriage. The age group of these prospective grooms varied from 10 to 50 years.
This is a trend that is more common in the less prosperous and backward state of Bihar in eastern India. Evidenced here for decades – it is a state where the kidnappings of men are at par with women, in fact even higher, according to the report, "Crime in India – 2007" of the National Crime Records Bureau of India. Though still more young girls than boys are kidnapped for marriage, there are parts of India where kidnappings of boys for marriage occur more frequently than for ransom.
The proof of the prevalence of this practice is in the fear that grips parents of "eligible" bachelors in certain parts of Bihar (which are known for this) as the wedding season approaches every year. One has personal memories tied to train journeys through this region when co-passengers secured doors of the train coaches when transiting here, less out of the fear of being robbed but more out of the fear of pakadua shaadis or the kidnappings of young men for forced marriages.
From what once sounded more legend, less fact, it is a menace that has assumed alarming proportions in recent years and spread to the neighboring districts too. The massive pressure of increasing dowry demands and the inability of most parents to fulfill them has resulted in families seeking the services of criminal gangs that kidnap unmarried men and force them into wedlock. Even as cases might appear rampant in certain areas many go unreported out of fear of these local criminals.
According to the police, over the years it has turned into a high-profit, low-risk business that many gangs thrive on as they earn a sizeable commission from these marriage-related kidnappings. And by stretching the saying of "honor among thieves" a little further, their responsibility does not end with the abduction alone. They ensure that the marriage is solemnized and the girl sent to the boy’s home.
Forced marriages in India tread a very thin line between approved and coerced because marriages are often arranged by the parents and the community with the couples hardly having a say in the matter. In fact, 40 percent of the world’s child marriages take place in India. And traditions and social mores ensure that a marriage once solemnized within the parameters of traditional requirements is considered legitimate. Over the years wherever this practice of abduction-for-marriage has been prevalent, even the village community has been known to have extended support to the girl’s side. And with the advent of modern technology, practices such as these have moved to the next level as the ceremony is videographed so that the tape can be used as evidence subsequently in a dispute between both parties.
With 15 percent of girls in rural areas across the country married before 13, the pressure to find grooms for them in a country with a imbalanced sex ratio begins very early. Subsequently, the first pregnancy for a majority 52 percent is between 15 and 19. But what happens to the girls who have been forced into such marriages on the basis of deceit – in this case deceiving the boy’s family? What happens to them once they leave their maternal homes and are sent to their matrimonial homes? It is hardly surprising that in most cases they are not accepted by the groom’s side of the family. But with a greater social stigma attached to abandonment many of these girls do not even return to their native villages. The physical and mental torture inflicted at the matrimonial homes becomes more acceptable than having to carry the label of an abandoned woman. Many of the grooms actually go on to marry again with these girls reduced to the status of labor hands. Their vulnerability is heightened by the fact that they are a mere commodity in this coerced social contract, with physical and sexual exploitation, the punishment they bear for a crime committed elsewhere. And with "fate" being the compelling argument in the kind of groom they get, the fate of their lives too get relegated to the realms of a dark, mute corners of a fake domesticity that even their families rarely hear about.