June 18, 2006, TIMES NEWS NETWORK
SURAT/VADODARA: You might have heard of rent-a-womb, but who ever heard of rent-a-wife! Certain people, especially in tribal belts of Gujarat, have smelt an irresistible business opportunity in the skewed sex ratio in the state.
If many tribal daughters are being sold in marriage, there are also reports of husbands agreeing to their wives staying with higher caste men, who are not able to find a wife in their own community, for a monthly rental.
In Netrang taluka in Bharuch, police officials quote the recent instance of Atta Prajapati allowing his wife Laxmi to stay with a Patel in Mehsana for a monthly rental of Rs 8,000.
Laxmi has two children back in Netrang, and used to work as a farm labourer at Patel's farm. The demand of brides fuelled by the dwindling number of girls in Mehsana, Patan, Rajkot, Gandhinagar and other districts has inspired many agents and poverty-struck families to capitalise on the situation and make a quick buck.
In certain pockets of Netrang, Valia, Dediapada, Sakbara, Rajpipla and Jaghadia, Tribals from Vasava community families can be witnessed entering into financial agreements with brokers, called 'Vachetias' from Banaskantha, Mehsana and Ahmedabad districts to marry off their daughters to Patels or those from the Thakur community for a price.
The broker charges anywhere between Rs 65,000 to Rs 70,000 from the Patel and then pay the Vasava families Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 for their daughters.
Many "middlemen" operate in the tribal heartland to supply tribal girls for Rs 500 and Rs 60,000, depending on how poor and desperate the girl's family is. With the demand being high, a committed agent easily makes Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 2 lakh every month.
"We cannot take action against this activity as no one comes forward to lodge a complaint. We do not rule out the possibility of minors being married off to the rich Patels," said Ankleshwar DSP, Naresh Muniya.
The business of selling brides is also going international. In Godhra, Heer Baria's marriage to Kalpesh Patel is talk of the town. Not because Heer had married an NRI from the US, but because her family was suspected to have taken Rs 1 lakh cash for the marriage.
"After the marriage, the Baria family is missing from the district. We think that they are living in Surat," says Mohan Baria, a community member.
Activist Kanu Brahmbhatt concedes that many tribal families in Chota Udepur and Devgadh Baria get more than Rs 50,000 for marrying their daughters to men from other communities, especially from North Gujarat and Saurashtra.
(With inputs from Radha Sharma in Ahmedabad)