According to the report titled Tied in a Knot: Cross-region Marriages in Haryana and Rajasthan-Implications for Gender Rights and Gender Relations (click here to access) written by Reena Kukreja and Paritosh Kumar (2013) and produced by The Royal Norwegian Embassy:

Executive Summary

• In the last decade and a half, the male marriage squeeze in economically prosperous North Indian provinces such as Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Western Uttar Pradesh has led to men from these states to pay money to marry women, usually from underdeveloped or economically marginalized regions in Eastern India.

• This study, focused on Haryana and Rajasthan as receiving regions, sought to examine the everyday existence of such cross-region brides within the intimacy of the conjugal household and community. Some questions for the study included looking at intra-gender relations within the family, kin network and community; the subject of integration and assimilation of these women; whether their caste status impacted their lives; and what forms, if any, did gender subordination and gender based violence take vis-à-vis such brides.

• The research was conducted in three phases in the districts of Rohtak, Rewari and Mewat in Haryana and Alwar and Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan. 226 villages were surveyed with 1247 cross-region brides participating in the survey. Detailed qualitative research followed in 30 select villages with 54 brides participating in it. In the source region of Odisha, research was conducted on a cluster of 10 villages from Bhograi and Jaleswar blocks from Balasore district with 47 families participating in it.
Key findings

• Shortage of women is not common across all caste groups in the conjugal regions, but is endemic in dominant caste groups of Jats and Yadavs. While the well-off from these caste groups are able to marry within locally, men who are underemployed; poor; have little land; suffer from some deformity; are less educated or are old are the ones most often seeking cross-region brides. This practice, however, is slowly spreading to some lower caste groups and among Muslim communities. It is primarily a rural phenomenon where caste hierarchies and regulations governing marriage are more strictly enforced.

• Such marriages are non-customary as the women come from different ethnicity, region and sometimes, even religion. Families of these brides are extremely poor, often falling in the category of BPL (Below Poverty Line); have little or no land assets; and rely on seasonal low-paying agricultural wage work. Inability to meet the exorbitant dowry demands made by local grooms that compels them to long distance alliances is the main reason why they opt for ‘dowry-free, no wedding expenses’ offers made by Haryanvi or Rajasthani men.

• These marriages are arranged in four ways with grave consequences for the brides depending on which route they get married through. These are: (a.) Trafficking (b) Alliances through marriage brokers or Dalals; (c) Husbands of brides; and (d) Brides as marriage mediators. Though there is trafficking of women for forced marriages, it isn’t as extensive and rampant as media makes it to be. The largest number of marriages are conducted by the cross-region brides themselves, usually of their female relatives in the immediate family or kin networks. Their motivations aren’t solely monetary as they also seek companionship in a culturally alien environment through such alliances. However, most marriages through all routes involve some degree of deception about the man’s economic ability, social status or health.

• The men seek alliances only when other female family members, such as mothers, are unable to support them. The brides are ‘needed’ solely for their ability to perform free reproductive and productive labour. They are also preferred over local women as loosening of natal family connections render them vulnerable to domination and abuse. New forms of gender subordination have emerged within conjugal families as extreme demands are made on the labour time of cross-region brides.

• The most disturbing finding of our study has been the widespread intolerance exhibited by conjugal communities in Haryana and Rajasthan towards the cross-region brides. These take a number of different forms, the worst being caste discrimination. Caste councils or Khap Panchayats, though taking a tough stance on inter-caste marriages within Haryana, show a studied silence and tacit acceptance of inter-caste nature of these cross-region marriages.

• Oppression and discrimination experienced by the low caste groups and the Dalits from the dominant caste groups gets similarly reproduced within the family bringing in wives from other parts of India. They are segregated, isolated and shunned primarily because of their ‘unknown’ caste status though the families, overtly, insist otherwise.

• Furthermore, the caste-based exclusion and humiliation is experienced both in public arena and the private space of the family. Caste discrimination is further amplified by exhibition of deep racism against the women and their natal communities. They are pejoratively called ‘Biharan’: a term implying poverty, desperation, filth and savagery. Their parents and natal communities are branded as ‘thieves’, ‘sellers of daughters’ and ‘primitive savages’. The continual denigration is internalized by the brides leading to lowering of their self-esteem and self-worth. As a survival strategy, they minimize social contact with others with negative impact on their mental health.

• Most cross-region brides are victims of colourism (darker pigmentation of their skin). Dark skin leads to their rejection in the local marriage market making them more likely to be offered for long-distance alliance, resulting in dislocation from their culture, community and family. Apart from casteist and racist slurs, these brides are considered and often taunted as ugly and dull in intelligence because of their dark skin tone.

• Children of such unions face similar racial taunts from their peers and are not accepted as one of their own. These range from sidelining them in games or bullying them with name-calling. Such incidents were high in Rohtak district of Haryana and in Alwar region of Rajasthan respectively. Some older male children have faced difficulty in finding local girls because of their mother’s ‘questionable’ caste identity. More research needs to be done on this aspect to assess its long-term impact.

• The brides are subject to heightened surveillance, which varies from total confinement to restriction of their movement within the village. The degree to which this is enforced depends on the a) mode through which the bride has been sourced, i.e., whether she is trafficked, coerced or married with her parent’s approval; b) duration of the marriage; c) amount invested by the family in the marriage; and d) whether she has children or not from this marriage.


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