Child marriages among gypsies in Tirunelveli district continue, despite awareness campaigns and threats of legal action.
Gypsy population is spread across at Pettai (242 families), Tenkasi (43 families) and Valliyoor (58 families). Marriages among gypsy children have been going on for the past several years. The most recent marriage was between 16-year-old Sarathkumar and 15-year-old Muthulakshmi at Valliyoor on November 21. In all, 20 such weddings have taken place this year. Child marriages are fixed soon after the girls are born. The ‘groom’ should give about Rs. 5,000 as dowry to the parents of the ‘bride’ at the time of marriage. He should also bear his father-in-law’s ‘essential everyday expenses’, specifically on alcohol. The wedding is called off if the groom is unable to bear the expenses, and another marriage is arranged for the girl within the next few months.
Sangeetha, who was married at 14, says a few girls refused to get married, but their resistance was short-lived as their community leaders’ decision was final.
When she made arrangements for issuing ration cards to the ‘narikorava’ families last year, Sub-Collector of Cheranmahadevi, Rohini Ramdas, advised the gypsies, especially women, not to encourage child marriages. They promised Ms. Rohini that they would put an end to the practice, but soon broke the promise.
“Our teenage girls are being targeted by drunkards when we roam around to sell our products. We conduct early marriage so that her husband would take care of the girl,” says Selvarani, a gypsy from Valliyoor.
An official attached to the Social Welfare Department said the department had stopped 14 child marriages in the district in the last one year.
Social Welfare Department says 14 child marriages took place in Tirunelveli in one year