No feast, no marriage: Tribals forced into live-ins
NGO Gets 132 Couples Married In Jharkhand
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.
Couples at a mass marriage ceremony in Ranchi on Monday