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Bride and no prejudice
Most parents dream of hosting a lavish wedding for their daughter. Unfortunately, for millions of parents living in abject poverty, even a simple ceremony is often out of reach. But, help is on the way. A group of enterprising and well-off farmers in Sudiya Mau area of Barabanki district in Uttar Pradesh have come together to arrange weddings, resolve dowry issues and mentor couples in love. They have solemnised weddings of over 200 girls in the past five years.
One of them is Rinki in Sudiya Mau. She tied the knot with her boyfriend Saligram on April 29 this year with the help of funds generated by farmers. If left to her father, Jagdish Prasad, a dalit MNREGA labourer, Rinki would still be at home. Even though Prasad and the boy's family didn't have objections to the match, they could not proceed further because of lack of funds.
Harun, gram pradhan and a member of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, heard of Prasad's plight and put forth Rinki's case during the monthly meeting of the farmers. Their leader, Mukesh Singh, deputed a member for verification of the case and they found the details to be true. Thereafter, the farmers met the family and assured the father that they would marry off Rinki the way any responsible brother would do. And they did. Rinki's wedding was a gala affair. "They served snacks and lunch too, " says Ram Prasad, a guest at the wedding. Children were bowled over by sweets like imarti, balushahi and peda. Touched by the fantastic feedback from the guests, Rinki's mother could not contain her tears. "I could have never done this on my own, " she says.
Born to a dalit family, Rinki lived in a cramped mud-house, which she shared with a large family - parents, three brothers, paternal uncle and his family of five. Feeding hungry mouths was always a problem because after the 100 man days of work that MNREGA promises, families depend on menial jobs and charity for survival.
In such circumstances, when procuring two meals a day is difficult, hosting wedding ceremonies is out of the question. That's why the good work being carried out by the farmers is remarkable. At a time when khap panchayats and honour killings have sullied the image of India's villages, such examples of community camaraderie give hope of a better future.
To ensure their efforts don't go waste, this informal group is strict about its admission policy. For instance, the first and most important prerequisite is that the applicant should not consume alcohol. BKU does a lot of social work, but farmers who organise these 'cooperative weddings' stand out.
The farmers have developed an indigenous system to generate money for the weddings. First, a list of tangible and monetary needs is drawn;contributions are divided between these two heads. The first category consists of raw materials like rice, wheat flour, sugar, khoya (a milk product), vegetables and mustard oil. And the second slot includes catering, tent and decoration material. Who will give what is decided at a meeting organised four to five days before the wedding.
Based on their individual capacities, a final checklist is made and everyone promises to send the item to a designated place. For Rinki's wedding, the pradhan of the neighbouring Beriya village, Lalit Kumar, provided 25 kg of sugar and a farmer from Harak village, Anupam Verma, organised 16 litres of cooking oil.
And if the girl is lucky, administrative officials, who are invited as special guests, add to the collections. Farmers from about 300-odd villages are part of this group within the BKU. But all members are not expected to donate for every wedding. "For each wedding, the responsibility falls on farmers of five to six neighbouring villages, " says Singh.
The responsibility of the kisan bhai - as they are fondly called - doesn't end with the girl leaving for her sasural (husband's home). Regular follow-up is an essential part of the drill.
Sonam, daughter of a widow, was married off with the help of the BKU farmers. But a year later her husband, Raja, started demanding a TV set and a refrigerator. "When the demand became an everyday affair, I met bhaiya (Mukesh Singh). He met Raja and explained to him how these two items were of little use to him as his village did not have electricity, " says Yashoda, Sonam's mother. Singh's intervention helped.
They also intervened in the case of Sona Yadav of Keoli village and her husband. "We called them to a neutral place and heard them out. The matter was collectively resolved and they went back home happy. Sona recently had her first baby, " recalls a farmer who counselled the couple.
What do the farmers get in return? "Peace of mind, " says Harun. "Scores of rakhees on Raksha Bandhan, blessings and good wishes, " says Singh. "After having married off 204 girls in the last five years, we all feel satisfied, " says Abbas Ali, the eldest farmer in the group.
District officials, too, are full of praise for these farmers. Former district magistrate of Barabanki, K Ravindra Nayak, says: "These farmers have risen above caste lines and their feeling of unity is spilling over. A kurmi and a Muslim coming together for a dalit girl's wedding without any vested interests is surely a welcome indicator of social development. "
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