Saturday, April 12, 2008

A festival of lights

It's the end of Navratra tomorrow. The nine day festival of lights and fasting. And at the end of Navratra, like every year, the search begins for young maidens. It's traditional to invite back nine of these young maidens back to the house and feed them with a nine varieties of food. After which you wash their feet and seek their blessings. And traditionally like every year, women all over India start searching for nine of these young maidens who can be fed and who will in return bless them. Only year by year, it seems to be getting tougher.

As well it might. In prosperous Haryana and Punjab where Navratara is celebrated with fervor there are only 777 women for a thousand men. The rest have been killed.The number is still lower in some of the rural areas. And least in some of the metros where urbanity it can seem can go hand in hand with some extreme barbarism. While the usual process is the ultrasound followed by the quick abortion, for many others it is a quick short burial of the baby in the backyard. The social reasons could be many. But for some of the people this killing too is traditional. Which is the scary part.

The repercussions are many. In some ways a girl has become a scarce resource, and people in power have derived their power from control of these scarce resources. Which they are attempting to do now. There are bars on marrying people of a different or lower caste, different religion or marrying people of the same 'gotr'. Honor killings are rampant, and tragically so are the suicides.

Thanks to all of this Haryana seems to be getting a few new traditions. It's called the bride trade. Where a bride is purchased from another state outside Haryana. "I couldn't find a local
girl," said Chandram, who purchased a wife last year from Bangladesh.
"So I had to go outside to get married. But it wasn't cheap."
Thousands more like Chandram exist in Haryana. And they are looking for brides. Only year by year it will get tougher.

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