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Skewed sex ratio 'behind' ban on rural Thakor girls' mobile use, inter-caste marriage

Vav, Banaskantha, MLA Geniben Thakor
By Jharna Pathak*
On July 14, 2019, the Thakor community of 12 villages of Banaskantha district in Gujarat announced a ban on the use of mobile phones by unmarried women. Simultaneously, they imposed penalties on inter-caste marriages. The family of any girl of the community marrying without the consent of her parents would now be fined Rs 1.5 lakh while that of a boy marrying a girl from other community without his family’s consent would be penalised with a fine of Rs 2 lakh.
Obviously, there would be a tacit acceptance of this pronouncement within the community because a family not heeding to it would incur its wrath and probable ostracization. Apparently, this fatwa, and it would probably be right to call it so, is an attempt to put a stop to inter-caste marriages and dominate women; it is a manifestation of the twin problem of caste and patriarchy. It would be illuminating to understand the reasons that led to this pronouncement.
In a transforming society where education and employment are becoming increasingly important markers of the worth of grooms, parents are willing to overlook, and at times violate, caste or gotra norms and give their sanction to inter-caste marriages. Discussion with activists working in this area also suggests that, contrary to popular notion, there are not many runaway marriages reported, but there have been some love marriages (as opposed to arranged marriages) that have been inter-caste.
Such decisions of families and individuals, who are willing to break the barriers of caste, are a direct threat to the norms established by a community. Apparently, the community did not view such transgressions favourably.
However, for such an extreme reaction, there are two explanations. One lies in the skewed gender ratio in Banaskantha. The villages that implemented a diktat on the usage of mobile phones and inter-caste marriage belong to Dantiwada taluka that has a sex ratio 925 females vs 1000 males, which is worse than that of the entire Banaskantha district, where the ratio is 938 females per 1000 males (Government of Gujarat, 2011).
The skewed sex ratio reveals the ruthless practice of female foeticide and/or neglect of nutrition and healthcare for young infant girls. As always, the community is in complete denial over the practice of sex selective abortion. Yet, the debate about why young men cannot find brides is not focussing on this artificially-created shortage of women, but on large-scale unemployment of males in the community.
Also, caste forces its members to adhere to endogamy when the innumerable customary rules governing marriage, like marrying between couples with offsprings from seven or nine gotras, favour exogamy. Caste forces these rules of exogamy to be practiced within the confines of that particular caste.
It is apparent that, given the skewed sex ratio, there is a shortage of marriageable women in various communities in Gujarat, and particularly in the Thakor community. Hence, if these girls get married to boys of other castes, Thakor boys would lose out on marriage. This is seen as a threat to the community and therefore it went in for this ban.
Alpesh Thakor
Another reason for this ban on inter-caste marriages could be attributed to the fear of losing property to families of another caste, especially lower ones. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and Hindu Succession Act, 1956 recognise the legal rights of daughters to ancestral property. The fear is, women married to lower caste men would claim their share in the inherited property giving their husbands and families equal social and economic status.
With this diktat, they aimed to retain the property within a particular caste, thereby perpetuating the production relations that have been established on the basis of the caste system. The community leaders used this opportunity to regain their lost power on the community by preserving legitimate pool of marriageable girls for their boys with the help of caste-based social boycotts.
Dr BR Ambedkar had observed that superimposition of endogamy over exogamy would strengthen the caste system and the way out of the ills of caste system would be inter-caste marriages. However, this regressive ban is the very antithesis of that notion. These acts of legitimatising practices to control women and banning inter-caste marriages are central to the origin and development of caste.
Dr Ambedkar had warned that patriarchy is predicated on the caste system and is true to that; this ban is a flagrant attempt to control and subjugate women. This is as true of the Thakor community as well as all other castes and communities.
A trope circulating generally within our male-dominated society is that, a woman is incapable of understanding what is good for her and incapable of taking care of herself. That is the reason why she needs constant surveillance and protection by the male members of her family; first the father and the brother, and then the husband. If not handled with a certain amount of strictness, she would succumb to the lures of the flesh and fall into depravity.
Somehow her virginity before marriage and chastity thereafter is considered a symbol of honour for the family. Therefore, her body is a tool with which revenge could be extracted of her family. She could be raped and even killed to that purpose. Following which, she is subjected to various overt and covert ways of control and conditioning.
Without any qualms, she is confined to her home or not allowed to move freely without a constant cover provided by a male of her family. Social control works insidiously through normative constructs and subtly controls a woman without giving the appearance of restriction. At a very young age she is told to behave like a (model) girl. She is taught how a good girl behaves. She is not to raise her voice even while laughing; she is to dress modestly, and so on.
For all these things boys take liberty in doing nonchalantly, she is to be circumspect. All these norms for good girls; like being gentle, gracious, ingenuous, kind, virtuous and non-controversial are taught around gender appropriate roles in the family setting. Any divergence from the norm is ridiculed, and such a woman is labelled as a bad girl.
MLA Geniben Thakor from Vav in Banaskantha and tall community leader Alpesh Thakor endorsed the mobile ban, didn't oppose ban on inter-caste marriages
This type of behaviour is so much internalised by the girl that not only is she unable to freely communicate her ideas about mundane things let, alone her sexuality with boys or men who are friends or family, but also with women. In view of this, it comes as no surprise that girls of the Thakor community meekly accept such a decree.
But does this construct of a good girl benefit her? The answer is a big NO. She will resist breaking free from such a restrictive practice, because it is tied to the family honour, and she would be loath to disappoint her family members. However, this practice brings her nothing but misery; her mobility, freedom, degree of participation and decision making are curtailed.
She may have to let go of various opportunities, a chance to be financially independent as she sacrifices her very life at the altar of the male ego. What this does to her psyche is another matter altogether. In order to cope, she learns to smile and giggle and act all coy to get her way.
If she is a wife she bides her time till she becomes a mother-in-law and wields power with a perverse self-satisfaction. In an absolute soul crushing manner she learns to bear with domestic violence and struggles pitifully to be treated a little better than a doormat. All it does is to perpetuate the hegemony of men in the society.
From Jane Austen’s cry “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives”, to Cate Blanchett’s fervent appeal “Do you do this to the guys?”, women all over the world have been crying themselves hoarse trying to break this patriarchy.
In India, too, many voices are fighting for equal status for men and women. It would have been great if our political leaders had stood by us. Current MLA Geniben Thakor from Vav in Banaskantha endorsed the ban. Another tall leader of the community Alpesh Thakor endorsed the mobile ban and made some feeble remarks about the ban on inter-caste marriages. Though he is married to a woman outside his caste, he did not outright condemn this ban.
Regardless, women will carry on and they would not quit till this revolution is achieved. For annihilation of caste, the commandment by Dr Ambedkar that “Educate, agitate and organise” still holds true. Similarly for women, too, there has never been a true adage.
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*Faculty, Gujarat Institute of Development Research, Ahmedabad; secretary, Ahmedabad Women's Action Group, Ahmedabad. Contact: fmjharna@gmail.com, Twitter: @Just_Jharna

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