The Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United) government is badly trying to take Bihar out from the ‘dark ages,’ but the state’s police is sure to give a cultural shock to those who think that situation has improved in Bihar.
The Nitish Kumar government may have succeeded in reducing murder and robbery in Bihar, but eligible bachelors continue to live under the threat of abduction for marriage. Interestingly though, most forced marriages have survived. Also in such cases, the disputes arising out of the “Pakadwa Vivah”, as forced marriages are known in Bihar, are settled at the Panchayat level, with the village elders bringing about rapprochement between the two families on grounds of the girl’s future.
In some cases, the girls’ family even agrees to give some dowry to the groom’s family to enable the couple to live happily. The reason is Bihari families with eligible sons are apt to charge excessive amounts of dowry. The girls’ families therefore resort to kidnapping. Favorite places to snatch grooms are examination centers and large social gatherings at relatives’ houses. The entire village of the girls extends support with video recordings of the marriage. The local priests obligingly marry them and issue certificates.
Nearly 3,400 youths were kidnapped for forced marriage, locally known as “Pakadwa Vivah” in Bihar in the year 2017. Earlier the statistics were not so huge but in the recent past it has become rampant.
According to the official data, about 3,070 youths were kidnapped for Pakadwa Vivah in the state in 2016, 3,000 in 2015 and 2,526 in 2014. In most of the cases, Pakadwa Vivah was solemnized at gunpoint or threats to their life and their families. Many such viral videos surfaced recently on social media. Last month, the forced marriage or Pakadwa Vivah of an engineer in a village in Patna grabbed national headlines when he refused to keep his newly-wed wife after he was abducted and forced to marry at gunpoint.
‘Pakadwa Vivah’ is an old social problem in Bihar due to the demand for dowry. Constitution may say accepting dowry is a crime but the practice is inevitable, may be this is the reason Bihar is at the top in the country when it comes to the abduction of above 18-year-old males. Marriage by abduction happens really frequently in western Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh, and it’s known as Pakadwa Vivah or Jabaria Shaadi.
The weddings take place when the grooms are selected, kidnapped and made to tie the knot by pressure tactics. Crime records indicate that while the rates of boys below the age of 18 being kidnapped, is low in Bihar, it has the highest rates of kidnaps of adult men above the age of 18. Clearly, these “marriages by abduction” have something to do with it.
The reason behind the rise of such marriages in this region is understood to be dowry. When families find themselves unable to pay exorbitant amounts of dowry to grooms, they resort to kidnapping the grooms and forcing them into marriage at gunpoint. Considering the traditional regard for the marriage sacrament, most such marriages are not annulled. Additionally, the groom may suffer criminal charges under Indian dowry law, and end up fighting lengthy legal battles.
The practice started becoming noticeable towards the late 20th century, as dowry costs became prohibitive and organised gangs came forward to carry out the abductions. In 2009, 1224 kidnappings for marriage were reported in Bihar, carried out on behalf of the families of the brides. The practice, which is a fallout of the dowry custom, first came to light in the 1980s. It has since gained social sanction among the upper castes like the Bhumihars where dowry demands are high. Demanding a dowry has been illegal in India for over 50 years, since the passage of the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961.
In the practice, potential bridegrooms, usually from well-off families are targeted. Young men who have either cleared their IAS exams or have a medical or engineering degree or have secured a government job, are targeted by families who can’t afford big dowries. These ‘grooms’ are abducted, held captive and often beaten into submission before later being forcibly married, often at gunpoint with a rope tied around their waist so they can’t run away.
Subsequently, if the groom tries to extricate himself from the marriage, he faces lengthy legal battles and even criminal charges under Indian dowry law, which is geared towards protecting the rights of women in the marriage as in most cases, the bride’s family is financially strong and politically connected. Over the years, organized criminals have become part of the practice, as they carry out abductions for a fee and also guarantee post-marriage “compliance” by the groom for an extra fee. Thus many such marriages go unreported and often continue under fear of violence from local criminals. These days due to social media, such cases are getting noticed and voiced.
As early as 1993, one noted Indian magazine reported such kidnappings by “social groups,” one of which had formed in 1982 in Bihar, to kidnap grooms who demanded heavy dowries and forcibly marry them. In some cases if the groom asks for a huge dowry or backs out of a marriage owing to dowry issues, the girl’s family resorts to such measures, having the groom abducted via criminal gangs.
The practice is yet to come to control, Bihar as one of the so-called progressed state under Nitish Kumar needs to change its mindset and greed for dowry. Ironically, bride’s father, who abducts groom for his daughter, prefers daughter-in-law with all perks and gifts. Unless and until social standards are not changed nothing much can be achieved in such states. Government needs iron hand to deal with these issues.