Trafficked brides in Haryana are reduced to sex objects and cheap labour.

Import of women to Haryana as brides from far-off regions outside the State is by now a known trend, but a recent study on the social status and rights of these women, usually referred as paro or molki (meaning purchased), reveals how they cut from their people, native place and culture forever, end up as “sex toys” in bed and cheap labourers in the fields. They end up with no right to property or to interfere in family and social matters, even as the police, the media and society as large turns its back to the issue.

“Though the trend of bride trafficking is mostly associated with skewed sex ratio, there are several other factors such as need for cheap labour that contribute to it. An overwhelming majority of the molki women work in fields and just a fraction of them are managing households. Because of fast decreasing landholdings and increase in labour cost, the families in Haryana bring these women from other States in the garb of marriage and keep them as bonded farm labourers. The well-off zamindars usually don’t keep these women with themselves due to social constraints and marry them off to their local labourers. The women are then sexually abused both by their husband and his employer and also double up as cheap farm labourers,” said Shafiq R. Khan, founder of Empower People that carried out the study ‘Molki: Women on Sale…’

The trend of bride trafficking is also linked to age-old custom of karewa (sexual relations of more than one male with a single woman) that has been in existence in the region for ages, but was gradually on decline due to sanskritisation. The custom is now being revived through this practice and the molki women are sexually exploited by all the males of the family. Social acceptance of karewa and its prevalence can be seen in folklore and local proverbs.

The study conducted in Haryana’s Jind and Kurukshetra districts, which are most notorious for female foeticide, reveals that 66 per cent of the families practising bride trafficking are Jats, followed by 15 per cent Sainis, though the custom is prevalent among almost all other castes. “Jats being the dominating caste, both economically and politically, play a significant role in setting social trends. On the other hand, Sainis are the only caste in Haryana to challenge Jats politically and economically and are leading the non-Jat politics in the State for several years now. So, when the molki woman was set as a standard of social dominance, the Sainis started challenging the Jats in this sphere, too,” explains Mr. Khan.

With local women having no right over land and little say in family and social matters in many areas of Haryana, the circumstances of the molki women are even worse. More than 80 per cent of the molki women interviewed as part of the study revealed that they are not registered in local ration cards or voter lists, thus denying them the status and rights of a permanent family member. These women hardly participate in local customs and do not stand a chance of visiting their parents or native place ever after the “marriage”. Though most of these trafficked women, especially those belonging to West Bengal and Assam, have non-vegetarian food habits and take rice, they are forced to adjust to vegetarian food habits prevalent in Haryana, says Mr. Khan, adding that those in nuclear families enjoy relatively more independence within the family, but not in society at large.

The lives of the molki women, who have no right to property, become more pitiable after their ‘owner’s’ death and they are either sold or handed over to others as there is no social pressure on the family to take care of their basic needs. Some of these women adopt prostitution as a means of livelihood. They, however, stand a chance to stay with the family if they have children.