Haryana panchayat elections: 'Molki' brides remain disenfranchised from society, governanceWritten By Sushil Manav | Published on Updated: Nov 16, 2022, 11:18 IST | 1668577698718They are brought to Haryana from their maternal homes hundreds of miles away in the name of marriage. Though 50% of seats are reserved for women, no 'Molki' bride can even dream of contesting the polls
Gurgaon, Haryana: As per the 2011 Census, Haryana had the worst gender ratio in the country, with 879 females for 1,000 males. Former state drug controller Girdhari Lal Singal, now involved with the State government’s Beti Bachao campaign as a coordinator, points out that Haryana’s shortage of brides within the State is a result of rampant female foeticide over the years.
The skewed sex ratio led to families ‘procuring’ brides for their sons from West Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Jharkhand and even southern states such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Known as 'Molki' or 'Mol Mein Lee Gayi Bahu' in local parlance, these brides were bought from impoverished families in exchange for money.
Elections to the three-tier Panchayati Raj Institutions in Haryana will be held in three phases, with the second phase scheduled for November 12 and 14. The first phase took place on October 30 and November 2. The dates of the third phase will be announced later.
This is the first time that Uttar Pradesh native Sandhya Devi (22) will be voting in Haryana; it has only been three years since she moved to Chanchak, Kaithal, to live with her husband Ram Kumar. "From drinking water to electricity, everything is a challenge here. As children can study only up to Class 5 in the local government school, many dropout of studies afterwards." She wants to talk to the candidates about these issues, but she knows she will not be entertained.
Devi says her family and her community treat her well enough though local married women are no better off than her. "I find educated women sitting at home with no opportunity to work in the village. There are no sewing and stitching skill centres where women can learn new skills and earn a livelihood," she said.
Nonetheless, she will exercise her franchise. "My husband is in touch with the contestants. I will vote for whoever he asks me to. After all, he earns my bread. How can I go against his wish," asks Devi. Another Molki woman this correspondent spoke with on the phone had no idea that the panchayat elections were under way.
“Molki as panchayat poll candidate? What are you talking about? We do not even recognise them as bahus (daughters-in-law) of the village,” a village elder in Sirsa’s Ding told 101Reporters on the condition of anonymity, when asked why women brought from other states in marriage are not fielded as candidates. This despite the fact that the village has many such women and that 50% of PRI seats are reserved for women.
While many Molki women are illiterate or have dropped out of middle or primary school, some are literate enough to compete in the elections. “However, they cannot socialise except with other Molkis in the same family or neighbourhood,” another villager explained.
Unprepared for social integration
Sunil Jaglan, former sarpanch of Bibipur village in Haryana’s Jind district who initiated 'Selfie with Daughter' campaign, said the Sarpanch Guidance and Counselling Centre has tried to persuade villagers across the State to field at least one Molki woman in the panchayat elections this time for the post of a member, if not sarpanch, but to no avail.
“According to a survey we conducted in 2019, Haryana had 1.30 lakh Molkis. The figure must now be much higher. We went from village to village persuading families, as well as village elders, to field some of these women. Our goal was to start a process that would allow the integration of isolated Molkis into the society. However, Haryana is unprepared for this,” Jaglan told 101Reporters.
According to him, the isolation of Molkis and the families to which they are “married” has become even more pronounced now that their children are of marriageable age. “Molki children struggle to find brides from within the State. No Haryanvi family wants to give their daughter to a home with a Molki, even though they have been here for 20 to 25 years,” Jaglan added.
Sold by families to strangers
Sushila (she has rejected her last name to disassociate her identity from that of any man), a Jind-based social worker who volunteered with Jaglan’s team for the campaign, said the goal behind encouraging Molki women to contest was to ensure that they create a new identity for themselves and integrate better into the community.
“During our campaign, we encouraged these women to get out of the house and do something for their families and the village, so that they can be an inspiration and motivation to others who have suffered in the same way,” Sushila told 101Reporters.
“There are a few cases where these women are treated well by their families, but for the most part, they are subjected to taunts and suspicions and are forbidden from leaving the house or interacting with anyone in the village. They are frequently mentally troubled as a result of their circumstances — imagine being literally ‘sold’ by their families and married off to a stranger so far away from home,” she added.
According to Santosh Dahiya, national president of the Sarva Jatiya Sarva Khap Mahila Mahapanchayat, it is too early to even consider Molki women as candidates in Haryana.
“I believe it will take some time before Haryanvi society, and even the families who procured wives, begin to trust them. This is because there have been several cases where ‘loot-and-scoot’ brides fled their marital homes with valuables within days or months. This is primarily why even families who bring Molkis do not allow them to interact with other family members,” Dahiya explained.
No Aadhaar cards or names in electoral rolls
According to Jagmati Sangwan, vice-president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, fielding a Molki woman in panchayat elections is a long shot because most of them may not even have the right to vote.
“People who procure brides from other states are always concerned that these women will stake their claim to a share of the family’s ancestral lands. As a result, they employ every possible ruse to deny them legitimate rights to the family's property as bahus. Even their children are never given a share of the property. This is why their marital families frequently fail to obtain Aadhaar cards for them or have their names added to voter lists,” Sangwan explained.
The women's rights activist added that it became tougher to find suitable female candidates for the PRI polls since educational qualification became an eligibility criterion. According to the Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act, 2015, the minimum educational qualification for men is Class 10 pass; for women, it is Class 8 pass; and for Dalits, it is Class 5 pass.
“In such a scenario, one would think that some Molki brides could also be nominated. However, given that they are not even treated as legitimate members of their families, fielding them in polls is a pipe dream,” Sangwan said, adding that families from the dominant caste who run for office are generally well-off and have no trouble finding brides from within their castes in Haryana or neighbouring Rajasthan and Punjab.
“Those who bring Molkis as bahus are also from the dominant caste, but their inheritance has melted down through generations. They do not own much agricultural land. Very few of these families have the resources to contest elections,” Sangwan explained.
She claimed her organisation’s demand to the State government for a white paper on the status of Molki bahus in Haryana has fallen on deaf ears.
Edited by Gia Claudette Fernandes
With inputs from Sat Singh and 101Reporters
Cover Photo - Photo Addicted/Unsplash
(The author is a freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)