May 25 was meant to be a memorable day for Julie, a 19-year-old girl in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district, 70 km north of the state capital Patna. A beautician had visited her for makeup and Julie was sparkling in her bridal attire.
Her house was all decked up, the pandit (priest) was there to chant sacred mantra and Abhinay Kumar, a 22-year-old youth she was to tie the nuptial knot, was ready, though under duress. But, just when the marriage mantras were over, the police arrived; searching for the kidnapped groom after his parents registered a case to this effect. But as usual, the cops arrived late, and by the time the marriage was already over.
They still wanted to rescue the groom but the bride and her family – backed with relatives and villagers – put up a tough fight, forcing the cops to beat a hasty retreat. The cops returned an hour later, angrier than before; and in greater number. They swung their batons with such ferocity that it left nearly two dozen men and women, including Julie injured.
Now, a week later, with injuries all over her body, Julie is still struggling to walk straight. The Muzaffarpur senior superintendent of police Vivek Kumar has suspended Gayghat police station in-charge Rajesh Choudhary, holding him responsible for excesses. The only positive outcome for Julie in the entire drama was that her husband who was reluctant to marry her initially began to empathise, seeing her writhing in pain.
“I have accepted her as my better half. Whatever difference there is between our families, it will get over shortly. Time will heal everything,” he says.
AROUND 3,075 KIDNAPPINGS FOR MARRIAGE IN 2016
Sounds like an unusual way to get married? In Julie and Abhinay’s Bihar what is bizarre is not the manner in which the couple walked down the aisle, but the police action that followed. Surprisingly, this is nothing unusual in Bihar as the state witnesses around 3,000 couples getting hitched in the same style, almost every year. Statistics boils down to nine such marriages a day.
Known as Pakadwa Vivah (marriage by abduction), the tradition is simple: zero-in on a prospective groom, kidnap him and make him tie the nuptial knot at gunpoint. And the numbers are in fact growing. Bihar witnessed 3,075 kidnapping for marriage in 2016. It was 3,001 in 2015 and 2,533 in 2014. And a majority of these marriages survive.
Abduction for marriage appears to have remained unabated in 2017 too. According to figures available with the police, Bihar already has reported 830 kidnappings for marriage by March this year. On the other hand, only eight cases of kidnappings for ransom – which Bihar was once infamous for – have been registered during this period.
Clearly, abduction for marriage is almost like an established, acceptable trend in Bihar. The NCRB Crime in India Report, 2015 report – which is the most recent official figure available at present – also confirms that while Bihar is far below other States when it comes to abduction of boys below 18 years of age, it stands at the top in the country when it comes to abductions of above 18-year-old males. In fact, the number of abducted males from Bihar in the 18 to 30 age-group category was 1,096 in 2015. The state alone accounted for nearly 17 per cent of the national figure in the category.
“The abduction of boys for marriage is a direct consequence of social evils like dowry. It is a rearguard action from the bride’s family, which finds itself under great material load while arranging the marriage. In a traditionally patriarchal society like Bihar, marriages have become a money-minting enterprise for the boy’s parents. So, families without wherewithal to arrange a decent dowry resort to desperate measures like abducting a suitable bridegroom for their daughter’s marriage,” says Ashok Priyadarshi, a teacher in Nawada, a district infamous for such marriages.
DIRECT CONSEQUENCE OF SOCIAL EVILS LIKE DOWRY
Though illegal, dowry is an inevitable traditional marriage practice by which the groom’s family demands enormous sums of money and goods from the bride’s family as a condition for letting their son marry her.
Families resort to snatch men – often young boys- because it is easier than approaching boy’s families and cheaper than paying the standard “dowry,” which is in lakhs plus a vehicle.
Kamta Singh, Chairman of a Primary Agriculture Credit Society in Rampur, Navada claimed that almost 90 per cent marriages in the village have been solemnised by kidnapping a bridegroom. A good number of boys are kidnapped and married off during matriculation and intermediate examinations when they visit the examination centres. In March, a 17-year-old boy was kidnapped from Patna and married off to a 15-year-old girl shortly after he reached the city with a cousin who was appearing for matriculation examination. The boy, a class XII student, was whisked away by four men on two bikes after smothering him unconscious with a chloroformed cloth. By the time the boy regained his senses, he was inside a house with lots of people around, who told him that he was now married. His clothes too were changed into bridal attire.
Families often use friends and relatives, and sometimes even hire professional criminals, to carryout abductions for marriages. In May 2009, criminals assigned to kidnap 16-year-old Lalbabu for marriage, opened fire in Gaya to terrorise a group of students, who were with the victim as he came out from a coaching Centre.
Lalbabu’s friend Praveen received a gunshot and succumbed to his injuries. A shocked Lalbabu was abducted by the criminals to a temple in Jehanabad district where he was forced to marry a 13-year-old girl Babita under the shadow of a gun. The marriage, however, fell apart with the police registering murder cases against the bride’s father and brother.
SECURITY PERSONNEL TOO GET KIDNAPPED
Even security personnel themselves can be kidnapped by the criminals. Once, the bodyguard of a Bihar Cadre IPS officer Shivdeep W Lande, now on deputation to Maharashtra, was kidnapped when he was posted in Jamalpur. But the kidnappers set him free after realising that they could invite a police backlash.
Once a boy is kidnapped and taken to a bride’s home, his future in-laws try to calm him down by placing a wedding headgear onto his head. The embroidered headgear, called a Mauri, is a symbol of his submissive acceptance. Many fight fiercely, but every kidnapped boy eventually relents under duress. In almost all such cases, the villagers extend support to the girl’s family. The ceremony is videographed so that the tapes can be used as evidence later.
In fact, even priests of village temples – where marriages are solemnised, like in the case of Lalbabu – cooperate with the girl’s family and issue a certificate of marriage. Clearly, the approval from society to such marriages has emboldened the families to take the law into their hands.
The practice has technically been illegal for years, but the law rarely has been enforced. Brutal as the custom is, it is widely perceived as practical.
TALE OF THREE BROTHERS KIDNAPPED FOR MARRIAGE
“Most people don’t care it’s illegal because there is a very high possibility of reconciliation. The boy’s family frets and fumes after the marriage but only to raise a dowry demand. Assured that the boy is now theirs, the girl’s parent are also willing to settle things by offering one-fourth of the usual dowry which they would have had to offer had the boy not been married,” said Hetukar Jha a retired sociology professor at Patna University.
Rajiv Narayan of Nawada in Bihar is one of the numerous such men who has put the past behind and accepted his wife, with whom he was forcefully married in 1976. Rajiv was tricked to visit Badhaiya in Lakhisarai district where he was married under duress when he was just 14.
He was married to Madhuri Devi, who was only 12. Their families allowed the two to complete their studies before the two were formally made to live together. Today Rajiv is employed as a meter reader with Bihar Electricity Board while Madhuri is school teacher at Nawada.
Rajiv’s younger brother Ashok (40 year), a lawyer, was married at the age of 13 in a similar fashion with Annu of Pakribaswan village. The youngest brother Dhannjay was also abducted and married to Sunita of Bighawa village in 2002. Dhananjay, 25, now runs a Computer hardware shop.
All the three brothers are now happily settled with their wives. As the saying goes, “Every good marriage begins in tears.”
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