Himachal shocked after ICDS survey reports sale of brides in poverty-stricken Shillai region

SIRMAUR– Entire Himachal Pradesh is shocked by disturbing revelation made in the report of a survey conducted by the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) in Shillai in district Sirmaur – one of India’s remotest and backward regions. Shillai make about 50 percent of district’s population. Poverty stricken people are lured via monetary incentives to marry their girls including minors to men from neighboring states, mostly Haryana, who otherwise fails to find match due to overage, disability, low-sex ratio or are social defaulters.

As per the report, during last two decades, nearly 1,000 girls were married outside the state, mostly in Haryana. As sex ratio in Haryana is very low (879 females per 1000 males), men take to tempting parents of this poverty-stricken and isolated region of Himachal.  About 145 of these girls were reported to have been exposed to inhuman treatment and pathetic living conditions after marriage and many were forced come back to live with parents.  Number of girls married outside state reaches about 2,500 if Pachhad and Sangrah blocks also counted with Shillai, says the sources. In some cases, after marriage, trafficking were also suggested by the survey.

In these deals, village girls including minors are married to overage, physically challenged, widowers, divorcees, or socially proclaimed defaulters by luring parents with monetary offerings. Minor girls are also bearing the brunt of being daughters, born in this part of the world.

Reason: Poverty, Zero Socio-Economic Development, Illiteracy, Inaction of Administration

The reason that compelled villagers to throw their own daughters into misery was found to be zero or negligible socio-economic development of the region even after 70 years of Independence.  The survey report says that the enticement of money is a big draw in the region that lacks job opportunities and where people are dependent only on ginger and tomato as agricultural options. This is the reason that huge number of people from Shillai region make up the workforce in various unorganised sectors across the state. Not all parents sell their girls: some of them are shown dreams of a better future for their daughters.

The people are debt-ridden and majority of them take loans for marriages at very high interests from private financiers. The interest rate on these loans ranges upto 120%. The region is still inflicted with evils like polygamy, costly old-age rituals, presence of aristocratic class, and drug and alcohol abuse. The social pressure of costly rituals like distributing 25 goats and 55 tins of ‘ghee’ on a marriage push poor villagers into extreme financial distress, reported Amar Ujala.

Poor State of Education, Nearly 400 Girls Drops Out of School in 1 Year

The survey further noted that 400 girls dropped schools before class VIII in last one year only, which is an alarming number. This number included girls from all sections, namely BPL families, SC, and even general category and those who were above poverty line. The SDM informed that the people could not afford to send their daughters to school as either they are poor, illiterate or semi-literate.

About 40 girls dropped out of school either in Class IV or Class V only in the SC-dominated Timbi area.  The number of girls who manage to pass Class X is scarce.

It is shocking to know that the school principals, heads of school management committees, the panchayat pradhans etc. did not act at all despite being aware of this crucial issue.

After the report rug the bells, State Women’s Commission chairperson also rushed to Sirmaur district. However, Director General of Police (DGP) Sanjay Kumar defy any such circumstances and said that there are no such reports like trafficking or enticement of parents to sell their daughters.  On an average 20 females are married outside the state, which is normal, claimed the DGP.

In one such case, a minor girl from Jarwa village of Ronhat sub-tehsil of Sirmaur was rescued from Jhanduta in district Bilaspur who was on the verge being sold by her own relatives. The girl made shocking revelation that highlighted this grieves and unfortunate issue the region is facing. Later, rape was also confirmed with the girl. The culprits are booked under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act, 2013, informed the Sub-divisional magistrate (SDM), Shillai, Vikas Shukla.

Such cases come to my notice in routine. The behavior of parents is strange and they refuse inquiry many times even when their daughter is in pathetic condition, especially outside the state. Certainly there are compelling socio-economic reasons for this. We need to find out ways to check the phenomenon,

said the SDM, Shillai.

According to Peoples’ Action for People in Need (PAPN), an organization trying to defeat the evil of child marriage in Andheri in Sirmour, men from neighboring states like Haryana and Punjab who fail find a bride for their age, disability or status lure the parents in Shillai to marry them their daughters by shelling out money.

HP Police Department on Backfoot

However, the Director General of Police, Sanjay Kumar, reacting to the survey report contended,

No particular trend of kidnapping or abduction of girls has been witnessed from any part of Sirmaur district, adjoining Haryana and Uttarakhand, during past five years and also the reports of girls from the area being married to old people for money had not been established.

But the DGP did recall a case in which two girls were allegedly sold by their brother for Rs 50,000. The case was registered in January at Paonta police station.

Five due to marital discord while another due to death of her husband. The survey report clearly mentioned that there was no information about trafficking of girls and also no clue that they were married due to poverty or illiteracy in the area or for money,

he further informed.

The district administration claims that the issue requires action plan including awareness campaigns to prevent this inhuman trend in the Shillai and its adjoining region. `Beti Bachao, Beti Padao’ committees would be set up to inform about any such marriages being planned in the area. Marriage registrations would also be made compulsory in all such cases, said the SDM.

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