CHANDIGARH: Declining sex ratios have compelled farmers of Punjab to “import” brides from states such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh leading to large-scale trafficking of women in the State. Usually, the girls are between 12 and 17 years of age.
“There isn’t any choice. Either you buy a bride or remain a bachelor who has no sons to inherit his property,” says Malkeet Singh (27) of Fatehgarh Sahib district. Scarcity of marriageable girls in his village, 40 km from here, compelled him to shop for a bride. He followed in the footsteps of his uncles and paid Rs.25,000 for his wife from a poverty-ridden village in Bihar.
According to the 2001 census, Punjab has a sex ratio of 793 girls for 1,000 boys. Fatehgarh Sahib has the country’s worst sex ratio of 754 girls for 1,000 boys (0-6 age bracket).
“Decades of sex-determination tests followed by female foeticide have resulted in an even more shameful sociological phenomenon wherein women have been reduced to son-producing machines. Women who fail to produce sons are sent back, sold or abandoned,” says Manvinder Kaur, Reader at the Centre for Women Studies, Punjab University.
No data is available on the number of girls trafficked into Punjab, but every village has a number of “bought brides”.
The trade is being carried on by the second and third generation victims. Malkeet’s aunt, Kusum Devi, also from Bihar, managed his alliance. “Marrying their daughters is a relief for the families, especially when they receive money instead of having to pay a dowry.”
According to Ameer Sultana of the Centre for women Studies at Punjab University: “Girls who are bought from poor homes are never considered equal. They have no rights and even after many years she knows that she is a commodity, which is used and often shared by all the men in the family.”
According to Ms. Kaur, “The females trafficked into this region will not correct the sex ratio as they are meant to produce only males. Education is not a solution as most of the foeticide cases reported are of educated women. We need a massive drive to make people aware of the ground realities because both tradition and technology have started to favour female foeticide. Going by the rate at which girls are going missing from Punjab and Haryana they would be a rare sight soon.”