BANGALORE: Beauty and age determine the price. " Girls below 18 years are sold for Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2 lakh. For widows or deserted women, the price is below Rs 50,000. In some instances, they’re even sold for Rs 10,000," Pankaja K Kalmath, executive director and founder trustee, Karnataka Integrated Development Services ( KIDS), Dharwad, told.
In June 11, 2010, a case was registered in Bidnal village where a 24-year-old girl was sold for Rs 60,000 to a man in Gujarat. Police sources said at least two to three such marriages take place in a village every year. In most cases, agents pay less than Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000. "We know about these cases only when there’s a problem in money-sharing between agents and parents," they said.
Women and child welfare department deputy director in Dharwad Sarojini B Kademani said 15 years ago they’d stopped a Gujjar marriage in Gadag. "There are cases being reported even now. Women are sold to men in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh and there’s a lack of awareness. We conduct awareness programmes for adolescent girls through non-governmental organizations and law departments at the taluk and district level," she said.
Middlemen and agents
While inspector Veerendra Kumar P of Mundgod taluk said agents play a key role in organizing such marriages, Pankaja said they’re based in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. "They are linked to agents in North Karnataka, who have their men in every village on the lookout for poor widows, deserted women, unmarried women and women in broken families. The agents pay money to family members and get them married overnight and she disappers the next day. The bride’s family is not invited for the wedding for which the groom bears all the expenses. No one knows what happens to the girl after that. She returns home only when her health deteriorates," she said.
Malathi S Pol, project director, Bala Vikas Academy, confirmed that cases of missing women have increased and the practice is rampant at Kalghatgi on the Goa border. "If they are married and happy, it’s good. Otherwise, it’s bad and has to be tackled," she said.
Zilla Panchayat vice-president L T Patil pointed out that impoverished women of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are targeted. "This is very prevalent among Lambanis. It’s a lucrative business in backward villages. Illiteracy and lack of awareness are the main reasons," he said.
Study confirms trafficking
That Gujjar marriages are linked to trafficking of women is clear. Pankaja said: "Of 20 villages in Dharwad where we work, this practice is prevalent in at least 10 villages. Such marriages linked to trafficking happen in other villages too but are done secretively," she said.
They first noticed this practice in 2000 in Guledkoppa village, Dharwad. Similary, Isabella S Xavier, founder member of Sadhana, women and children welfare society and district human rights centre, Dharwad also noticed it around that time.
Pankaja said during the HIV/AIDS intervention work with 1,200 lodge or dhaba or street-based commercial sex workers with the support of ICHAP in 2003-04 in Dharwad, most women were found to be victims of Gujjar marriages. "After two to three years, the husbands sell them to brothels in Mumbai or Pune," she said.
Two women of Neeralakatti village in Dharwad who were married to men in Gujarat and Rajasthan returned to their village in 2005-06. One contracted HIV and another woman suffered from skin diseases.