No feast, no mar­riage: Trib­als forced into live-ins

NGO Gets 132 Cou­ples Mar­ried In Jhark­hand

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - TIMES NATION - De­b­jani Chakraborty

Ranchi: Raju Mahli and Manki Devi of Charkat­na­gar vil­lage in Gumla dis­trict of Jhark­hand have been liv­ing to­gether for more than 20 years, but not out of choice. Neck deep in poverty, they couldn’t or­gan­ise a wed­ding feast, a must in the com­mu­nity if a mar­riage is to be recog­nised. On Mon­day, the 40year-olds fi­nally got mar­ried at a mass wed­ding for 132 other like them, all too im­pov­er­ished to feed friends and rel­a­tives as part of the wed­ding rit­ual.

The tra­di­tion of liv­ing-in among cou­ples with­out mar­riage is com­mon among Oraon, Munda and Ho tribes of Jhark­hand, where a cou­ple un­able to pay for a wed­ding sim­ply moves in to­gether and starts a fam­ily. They are called ‘Dhukua’ in lo­cal par­lance. The fe­male part­ner gets the so­ci­ety’s ap­proval to live with her cho­sen male part­ner, but in­stead of be­ing a wife, she is branded with the ti­tle of ‘Dhukni’ — a woman who has en­tered a house­hold with­out mar­riage. The wed­dings, says the NGO or­gan­is­ing it, are an at­tempt at re­dress­ing this.

“I cul­ti­vate a small plot of land and never had enough to marry my part­ner. We have a teenage son and a daugh­ter. When the NGO Nimitt told us about the mass wed­ding, I read­ily agreed,” Mahli said.

“Though Dhukua women are as much a part of the fam­ily of the man as a wife, they and their chil­dren have no rights or of­fi­cial doc­u­ments to show. We or­gan­ised mass wed­dings of 21such cou­ples in 2016 and 43 in 2017. This year, the num­bers have in­creased to 132 cou­ples,” said Nimitt sec­re­tary Nikita Sinha on Satur­day.

“In our vil­lage, chil­dren of Dhukua cou­ples can­not par­tic­i­pate in re­li­gious rit­u­als or get mar­ried. Though the fe­male part­ner is ev­ery bit like a wife, she is like a sec­ond-class cit­i­zen with her chil­dren treated as so­cial out­casts,” said Rahil Tete.

The lat­est mass wed­ding had peo­ple from var­i­ous re­li­gions — 76 cou­ples fol­lowed the tra­di­tional tribal re­li­gion of Sarna, 36 were Hindu and 20 Chris­tian — from dif­fer­ent blocks of Khunti and Gumla dis­tricts. Each cou­ple was al­lowed to bring 10 guests.

Bud­hish­war Gope, a res­i­dent of Ba­sia who of­fi­cially wed his part­ner of four years Ur­mila Devi, said, “Be it a plain feast of rice and meat or of hadiya (rice beer), the vil­lage el­ders don’t bless a wed­ding un­til a feast is held. They are not very happy with us com­ing here and get­ting mar­ried like this.”

San­gain Man­jhain, who wed her part­ner of 12 years said, “My part­ner is dis­abled and we have no money. But the vil­lage won’t let us get mar­ried un­less we in­vite them to a feast. My sec­ond child has been taken into pro­tec­tion by the au­thor­i­ties a year ago.”

How­ever, many said such mass wed­dings do not re­ally solve the prob­lem for cou­ples. Vasvi Kiro, tribal rights and so­cial ac­tivist, told TOI, “Dhukua cou­ples are ac­cepted in tribal so­ci­ety. The con­cept of live-in re­la­tion­ships is al­lowed be­cause not ev­ery­one can af­ford a grand wed­ding. They do it in their own time and it is rare that cou­ples end up never solem­nis­ing their mar­riage.”

Anil Ku­mar, Khunti co­or­di­na­tor for Nimitt, said there’s still a long way to go be­fore more cou­ple are brought in. “Sev­eral vil­lages re­fused to par­tic­i­pate say­ing a wed­ding needs to be cel­e­brated amidst fam­ily and friends,” he said.

Mukesh Ku­mar Bhatt

Cou­ples at a mass mar­riage cer­e­mony in Ranchi on Mon­day

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