Over the past year we have noted that Indian women are studying more than Indian men, getting better jobs, earning more money relative to the men and saving more (see for example: https://marcellus.in/blogs/urban-indian-women-have-more-money-than-men/).

However, as is well known, in the less affluent strata of society, Indian women continue to struggle in what remains, for the most part, a patriarchal and conservative society. Their struggle is arguably most pronounced in the northern states, where contrary to what has happened in the rest of India, the gender ratio is stacked against women i.e. for every 1000 men, there are around 900 women thanks to decades of female infanticide. As a result, men in northern India “import” women from the rest of India. However, here too in conservative north Indian society, there is positive change as reported by Sagarika Kissu. She writes about Urmila, a bride imported into Karsola village in Haryana:

“Held back by the former CM’s security and the police, Urmila kept pleading for a meeting in vain. Khattar, who delivered the public speech on his party achievements on 14 May quickly got in his car and left.

Clad in a grey salwar kameez, holding the hand of her eight-year-old daughter, Urmila sat on the road in tears. Surrounded by a dozen mics from several regional news channels, she screamed, “Why do you insult us? You bring us from outside to insult us here.”

Her question challenges the shameful secret that Haryana’s rural families would rather not discuss, let alone shout from the rooftops of an election rally. The daughters-in-law from outside are treated as lesser citizens in their villages and homes.”

What makes this situation more worrying is that inspite of the authorities’ best efforts (eg. programs like ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padao’), gender ratios continue to deteriorate in Haryana: “…even the officials are clueless about how to fight this deep-rooted son-preference culture.

In 2023, nine out of 22 districts of Haryana including Rohtak, Sirsa, Fatehabad, Sonipat, Yamuna Nagar, Jind, Charkhi Dadri, recorded a drop in the sex ratio at birth. The scarcity of women has led men to form ‘randa unions’ to push for their demands. During the 2014 Lok Sabha Election, one such union raised the slogan ‘Bahu Dilao, Vote Pao’ (bring bride, get vote)”

However, thanks to the widespread availability of cheap smartphones and even cheaper mobile data (thanks to Jio), the imported women are fighting back. Ms Kissu writes again about Urmila whose problems have been compounded by the fact that she’s now a widower: “Sitting in a cramped room in Karsola, Urmila is cleaning her phone with the loose end of her dupatta. She credits her Redmi smartphone for helping in her fight against discrimination faced by “imported brides”.

“This phone has connected me to other women. I can’t read so I watch videos on YouTube to learn about my rights,” Urmila smiled. The phone didn’t come easy. Her brother bought it for her two years ago and she’s been paying him Rs 300 every month since.

Urmila works as a daily wage labourer on farms and gets paid Rs 500 for a full day of work but on most days she earns Rs 250 as she has to leave at 2 pm to pick her daughter up from school. She also gets a widow pension of Rs 3,000, which she sets aside for her daughter’s education.

….Urmila said that she faced constant discrimination from her in-laws who would often address her as “Biharan”.

“They (in-laws) don’t even know my name,” Urmila lamented….

Another bought-in bride, four houses down from Urmila, said she was relieved when her husband died two years ago. The imported bride from Chhattisgarh said her husband would beat her every night and call her “bahar ki aurat” (woman from outside). The next morning, he would act as if nothing had happened.

“Till his last breath, he couldn’t accept me as a part of his family,” said the  31-year-old, biting her nails. Her husband died due to spurious liquor. They have two children together, a 12-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son.

She and Gudi, another widowed bought-in bride, have bonded with Urmila over the humiliation all of them face at home. They often meet in Urmila’s room to share their troubles. Although from different states, the women interact in Haryanvi with each other. They have adopted the language and even the culture of covering their heads with a veil…

“You should not act afraid. They [Haryanvi men and their families] need us to take their family forward. We should know our worth,” Urmila asserted, standing by the bedside with her arm raised in the air like a politician giving a speech….

Gudi recalled how she warned her mother-in-law that if she caused more trouble, she would leave her 12-year-old daughter in Haryana and return to Chhattisgarh.

“My mother-in-law got frightened because she doesn’t want to raise a daughter. And since then, she has been behaving a bit better,” laughed Gudi, as the other two women joined in.

The three women, who first met at the wedding of a villager eight years ago, go for strolls and buy groceries together. They often meet other brides like them in the market and exchange numbers. Urmila has emerged as the leader of the mol ki bahus in all of Julana and her room is their adda….

This would not have been possible had Urmila not stood up to her in-laws after her husband died. “Everyone faced such troubles, but no one had the courage to speak up,” she said.

The incident also gave Urmila her identity back. Before she was known in her village as “doctor ki bahu” (doctor’s daughter-in-law), now everyone knows her as Urmila, the krantikari (revolutionary) mol ki bahu.

Her newfound fame led to other such brides across Julana seeking her out discreetly to discuss their problems. She is also constantly on the lookout for those who need help.

Urmila recalled how she identified a bought-in bride from Bihar in Julana. The bride was speaking in Haryanavi to a shopkeeper, but she could tell from her facial expressions that she was not from the state.

“I introduced myself to her. And within 10 minutes, she started crying while saying that she faces a lot of humiliation at home,” she said.

She has the same advice for everyone —“Speak for yourself. I am with you. Call me, if you face any trouble.””

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