by Yagyashree Kumar
Idar centre of Aajeevika Bureau situated in Sabarkantha district of Gujarat, is unique among all other centres, as it provides services to migrant agricultural labourers. Farming in Idar region is underpinned by a historical relationship between farmer communities and the tribal communities of Chhota Udaipur (Gujarat) and Kotda (Rajasthan), which work as migrant labourers. Under the fellowship programme, my engagement with this centre was for three months. Through my days there, I explored the various layers of share cropping arrangements of farming in this area. Moreover, I also discovered new cultures, ethnicities, customs, mores, food and so on.
My accomodation in Idar is in one of its finest colonies. Though the area is full of native Gujaratis, there are some Hindi speaking women there as well, mostly the daughter-in-laws in those households. Given that the dominant Gujarati culture here is very conservative, I always wondered and felt confused about how these non-Gujarati women were able to adjust in such a conservative environment. I thought there might be incidences of love marriages. To quench my curiosity, I asked one non-Gujarati lady named Suneeta that how come she got married in the non-Gujarati family? She told me that it was an arranged marriage. She was happy with her life as she was going to be a mother in next few months. I wasn’t fully satisfied with her answer, and I remained perplexed by such inter-caste, inter-state marriages. However, I didn’t explore it much at that time.
After few days into the wedding season, my colleagues at the Idar centre were engaged in a discussion on the new trend of inter-caste marriages in the area. As I was quite interested in this topic and had many questions on it, one of them told me a story of a family closely related to him. He told me that the family was facing difficulty in finding a bride for his cousin from their own community, despite his cousin being well qualified and earning well. When all else failed, his family got him married to a girl from the tribal community of Chhota Udaipur region of Gujarat. My colleague told me that the girl is not good looking and there are chances that the boy might not like her. Moreover, the boy’s family is very secretive about where they keep the money in the house and do not disclose it to the daughter-in-law of the tribal background. Continuing the story, my colleague told me that the girl belongs to the same tribal community that Patel farmers (such as the cousin’s family) often employ as sharecroppers. The historical relationship between these communities is of higly unuqual power, poor treatment and even bondage. The colleague shared that there is a growing trend in the area that Patels often fail to find brides within their own community and have to depend on the tribal groups to finds girls for their progeny! Typically, the tribal family demands money and a price to marry their daughters into the Patel families. So, this was not just the story of my colleague’s cousin but many boys from the Patel farmer community in Idar who are increasingly dependent on the tribal communities for farming as well as to carry forward their lineage!
Now going back to Suneeta, who I mentioned at the beginning. Suneeta was the daughter-in-law of a well educated family, in which most members were involved in business or employed in a government job (this family was not a Patel, farmer family). Let me tell you her story as well. Suneeta was from Madhya Pradesh. She was the youngest amongst her siblings (1 brother and 3 sisters). Her father refused to marry her to an unemployed Gujarati boy. But after her father died, Suneeta’s brother married her to this boy as he viewed Suneeta, his only unmarried sister as a ‘huge responsibility’. Though Suneeta told me that she is happy and seemed to be in a positive spirit, I wasn’t fully convinced of it. I continued to view her story within the larger picture frame of the conservative Guajarati community.
Both of these stories seem to be connected to the low sex ration in Gujarat, one of India’s top economic and industrially progressive state. Sex ratio has acted as a powerful indicator to examine social responses and attitudes towards girl child in recent past. (Pandya & Bhatt, 2015). The sex ratio of Gujarat has continued to decline from 952 (1951) to 918 (2011). Though, there is a noteworthy increase in literacy rate from 69.14% (2001) to 79.31% (2011). Some research shows that there is a significant negative correlation between sex ratio and literacy rate. In order words, sex ratio is indirectly proportional to literacy rates. We can say that as literacy rate increases the sex ratio decreases. If I put the stories I narrated above within the frame of this data, they validate the fact that as literacy rate increases (patel community and sub urban educated families like that of Suneeta), sex ratio in those communities decreases. On the other hand, to carry forward the lineage of their own ‘superior’ communities and fear of being extinct these ‘educated’ communities are now dependent on communities from other states or from ‘illiterate’ tribal communities.
I am concerned that is this sex ration keep declining, the situation is likely to get worse. It is the women, tribal or from other communities, who get sold into these loveless, functional marriages that are suffering due to the trends emerging from low sex ratio. The situation is even more complicated than I showed through my stories. However, an interesting change is that the traditinal dynamics between Patel farmer families and tribal communites is now changing and going beyond just employer-employee association!