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No bibi in Bibipur

priyanka kotamraju | Updated on September 12, 2014

Lonely hearts club: There are more than 30 lakh single men in Haryana. Photo: Ramesh Sharma   -  BL

Sheela Devi, 63, belongs to a 'secret'committee in Bibipur that keeps a tab on pregnant women to prevent female foeticide Photo: Ramesh Sharma

Sandeep Rana and Vijendra Kumar have joined the Avivahit Purush Sanghthan

Ritu Jaglan, 28 and unmarried, is a women's leader. Photo: Ramesh Sharma

48-year-old bachelor Ranveer Singh is now resigned to his fate. Photo: Ramesh Sharma

Sarpanch Sunil Jaglan dreams of a future all-woman panchayat. Photo: Ramesh Sharma

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Forced to be single, men in this village of Haryana band together as the Union of Unmarried Men and battle the scourge of female foeticide

Sandeep Rana’s cover image on Facebook reads: I’m not weird. I’m not a freak. There is a word for it, I am ‘unique’. Perhaps that explains why he joined 67 other men in Haryana’s Bibipur village to form the Avivahit Purush Sanghthan (the Unmarried Union) in February. The fledgling association makes only one demand — bahu dilao, vote pao (give us brides, get our votes). The few odd campaigners who stopped by this tiny hamlet, before Haryana went to vote on April 10, were forced to listen to this demand and even include it in their speeches. For the men of Bibipur, matters have come to a head. With one of the worst sex ratios in the country — 877 females to 1,000 males, according to the 2011 census — this village is running out of brides. And every single man here, like the 23-year-old Rana, is in a tearing hurry to get hitched.

At sarpanch Sunil Jaglan’s residence, on April 12, a few members of the Unmarried Union have gathered. The room is overcrowded with trophies and awards that Bibipur has won for its work to combat female foeticide. Rana checks the union’s activity on its Facebook page and the rest catch up on their WhatsApp group, where news of a newborn daughter is greeted with as much enthusiasm as pictures of Sunny Leone. The union had been busy with elections until the week before, but now it needed to chart out a strategy for the rest of the year.

“Assembly elections are due in October,” says Jaglan. “We need every party’s manifesto to make this a poll issue.” He is referring to female foeticide and not the task of finding brides. While the union’s catchy slogan attracted much attention, no political outfit other than the Aam Aadmi Party made it a poll plank. “In their manifesto, they even included that unless 80 per cent of the women in the village give sanction, the government will not open thekas (liquor shops),” says Jaglan. Just outside Bibipur, on the Bhiwani State highway, 10 km from the district headquarter Jind, are two government-run thekas.

Alcoholism is as much an issue in Bibipur as female foeticide. “Most criminals come from the single, unmarried community,” says Vijendra Kumar, a union member. “They drink, sell liquor in the market. Nikamme hain (They’re useless).” Every evening in the market area, several makeshift shops emerge, selling liquor by the glass (“Kyunki koi ₹10 ka peeta hai, koi ₹20 ka”) for much cheaper rates. Asked if any of the association’s 68 members had a criminal background, Kumar laughs and says, “Oh no, they’re mostly involved in gang wars or are college goondas (thugs).”

Bachelors everywhere

Being a single man in Bibipur is tough. Just ask 22-year-old Joginder Singh. Or 48-year-old Ranveer Singh. While the younger man is desperately looking for a bride, the older one is resigned to his fate. “The marriageable window is between 24 and 26 years now,” says Kumar, who is 28. “Above that, you’re overage and prospects are dim.” Joginder, dressed smartly in a purple shirt and fitted denims, toting a fashionable pair of shades and riding a Bullet motorbike, is a real estate dealer. Rana, a computer science graduate, heads his own infrastructure and IT firm in Hisar. Yet, they have no takers.

“Only those who can’t do anything get into property,” says Rana, whose younger brother holds a government job in Chandigarh has received many more marriage offers. Haryana families favour landowners and government employees, he says. Private-sector employees are not considered a sound bet.

But they have been to college outside Bibipur, have they not met any girls, we ask. “Itne frank nahin hai hum (We’re not that forward),” says Rana.

Love affairs are frowned upon. “Chajje chajje wala pyaar to ho jata hain,” Jaglan says. In the narrow lanes of Bibipur, love might have sprung, literally, from balcony to balcony, but parents are quick to quash such dalliances. Haryana society is ruled, unopposed, by the GGG principle of “gaon, gotra, guhaand (village, clan, cluster of villages)”. Earlier, families looked for matches separated by at least nine gotras — individual, the family, the mother, mother’s mother, mother’s uncle and so on. Now, only three gotras are considered — a paltry concession to modernity.

If the GGG principle seems outdated and rigid, the 32-year-old sarpanch offers an explanation. “See, in our culture, we like to move from place to place. The idea is that we have family wherever we go. Then we feel at home anywhere in Haryana.”

Buying a life partner

Dating is ruled out; love affairs have led to honour killings; 25-plus is a no-no; and eligibility criteria are stiff. So where does a single man find a bride in Bibipur?

“The practice of bride-buying is rampant here,” says Jaglan. Through agents, brides are bought for upwards of one lakh rupees from UP, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Bihar and even Jharkhand. Most of these marriages are not registered. And many of these brides leave for their hometown after a month or two in Haryana. “A couple of months ago, a family had purchased a bride from Uttarakhand. She ran away. They bought another one, she too ran away.” With FIRs registered under his name in Uttarakhand, the groom is now on the run. In some cases, the boy’s families have been duped, and in others the brides find it difficult to adjust to Haryanvi customs.

Another practice that has gained currency over the years is the aatte satte ki shaadiyan, which loosely translates into exchange marriages. Families with an unmarried, 25-plus, jobless son and a younger daughter seek out other families in similar circumstances and a bargain is quickly struck. Just under a week ago, Bibipur witnessed one such aatta satta wedding. A family exchanged its 21-year-old daughter, who is studying privately, for their jobless 28-year-old son, who has passed Class X. “The women are the losers in this bargain,” says Kumar.

Ranveer Singh, the middle-aged bachelor, has not been to a wedding for as long as he can remember. “It’s difficult for older men,” says Jaglan. While not exactly shunned by society, they’re not welcomed either. Many of Ranveer’s friends are married, as are all his siblings — two brothers and a sister. “There is a difference between pita, chacha and tau,” says Ranveer, who lives in his brother’s house. “I know I don't have a companion to grow old with or children of my own,” he adds.

Girls rudely interrupted

More than two years ago, Bibipur had made headlines as the first village in Haryana, and possibly the country, to talk about female foeticide. The hamlet has since come a long way and, in fact, changed its name to ‘Bibipur the Women’s World’ earlier this year. While the name change is not on paper yet, the poster on the 24-ft-high gate at the village entrance already proclaims it .

Until January 24, 2012, Bibipur’s residents, much like those in other villages of Haryana, were largely indifferent to the horrors of female foeticide. On that day, Sunil Jaglan was blessed with his first daughter. When he went around the village distributing sweets, elders and neighbours chided him, saying the birth of a girl was no reason for celebration. “When it’s a boy, poore village main taali bajti hai (drums are sounded in the village),” says Jaglan, who has been sarpanch for more than three years now. “I was the first to bring out the drums for my daughter’s birth.” Last month, his family welcomed its second-born, another girl, with a similar show of pomp.

Sixty-three-year-old Sheela Devi was one of the first women to join Jaglan’s campaign. Now a member of the sarpanch’s ‘secret’ committee, she keeps tabs on the pregnant women in the village. “After their second month, they have to come to the healthcare centres for vaccination. If they don’t come, we know that the women have gone to Jind aur safai karwa liya (they have aborted the pregnancy),” says Sheela Devi, struggling to sit up because an ox had rammed into her in the fields the previous day. “In the village, we also know of cases where women have been pushed or tripped,” she says grimly. However, such instances have become fewer over the past year.

“Prenatal sex determination is illegal, but ultrasound scan agencies thrive in Jind and other areas,” says Jaglan, ruing that the administration has done little to counter this.

His sister, Ritu, is 28 years old, unmarried and a fierce leader of the women’s movement here. Soft-spoken but firm, she has resisted pressure from her family to marry. “I stand my ground, always. Female foeticide is a huge problem, and till a few years ago women didn’t even know that it was kanya hatya (murder),” she says. Today, thanks to the Jaglan siblings, Bibipur has a chabutra (open enclosure) where women hold gram sabhas regularly. On April 11, a day after Narendra Modi filed his nomination from Vadodara, Bibipur’s women held a gram sabha on Jashodaben. The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate had, after years of silence, admitted to having a wife in his papers. Outraged, around 50 women gathered for a spirited debate. “How can we accept someone who has neglected his wife for so long?” says Ritu on Modi. “We have been following the news; she is fasting for him and going on a pilgrimage for him. We feel he should acknowledge his wife and invite her to live in the PM’s residence if he becomes (PM).”

It’s her space

In Bibipur, a khettu shyam temple has recently come up on the women’s request. In the village centre, a three-storey choupal has been constructed. A podium and blackboard, gifts from the villagers, occupy pride of place in the main hall designated for women. Shiny new fans hang from the ceilings; the donor’s name — ‘rambhaj s/o phullu’ — painted on the blades gleam in the sunlight.

Women will decide 50 per cent of the budget in this year’s outlay of ₹1.5 crore for the village. “You know, I have a dream panchayat, one which will be run by women alone,” Jaglan confides.

As we walk out of the village, the poster on the gate catches our eye — “Netaji jaaniye Haryana main kunwaaron ka ganit (Netaji, know the number of singles in Haryana).” According to the gram panchayat’s calculation, based on the sex ratio, there are more than 30 lakh single men in Haryana. It is only fitting that here in Bibipur the Women’s World, Jaglan and his unmarried union plant the seeds of a gender revolution.

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Published on April 18, 2014
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