No life without wife

Over a hundred Bihari bachelors, armed with shovels and knives, began constructing a road themselves to increase their prospects in the marriage market. Their village, which squats at an agonizing height, has no electricity, water supply, hospital or school. 

With no brides around, Barwaan’s males while away the hours listening to Bollywood music on the radio. Their favourite number — Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, from the movie that celebrated the Great Indian Wedding. (Photo by Uma Kadam)

With no brides around, Barwaan’s males while away the hours listening to Bollywood music on the radio. Their favourite number — Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, from the movie that celebrated the Great Indian Wedding. (Photo by Uma Kadam)

By Mansi Choksi

Bulai Ram’s dhoti tells the story of his village’s peculiar condition. The man hasn’t changed it for a week. He’s too old to do it himself, his brother has left to pick up household supplies, and he would never dream of asking his sister-in-law to help him tie a fresh one. He would not have had this problem, he says, if he too had a wife. But that is not to be. In Barwaan Kala every second man is perforce a bachelor. It’s all a problem of access.

The villages of Barwaan Kala and Barwaan Khurd squat dizzyingly atop a peak of the Kaimur hills in the north Indian state of Bihar. The only way to reach them is to negotiate thorny fields and hazardous rocks, a tortuous expedition on foot for four hours. There is no connecting road to the rest of the district.

Some 200 tribal families live here, and among them there are over 115 bachelors, aged between 16 and 80. The hilltop’s inaccessibility has been far too daunting for the otherwise intrepid matchmakers from the foothills. The hot-blooded males of the two villages have been left high and frustrated.

Getting a bride up here is only one part of the problem. No road means no hospital and no school; the nearest hospital and police station are 45 km away. Pregnant women and the ailing are ferried in blankets, but not everyone has made it. The crèche doubles up as a shelter for cattle because even the most determined social workers have paled and run away. Only cadres of Maoists are tough enough for this terrain. But that hardly helps the case of the Barwaan villagers.

While it’s relatively easier to get the girls of the village married, baraats turning back half way is a common lament. So why can’t the 70 local girls be hooked up with the hapless guys? Simply because marrying within the same village is against tradition.

“Every girl is a sister to boys in our village,” explains Ram Dayal Singh, the village elder.

The last marriage ceremony in the village square took place half a century ago. Now, most marriages are solemnized in the foothills and in groups so that villagers only have to make one trip.

The desperation of finding brides has forced some men to take matters into their own hands. Uddhal Yadav, 30, moved in with relatives in the foothills to fool his prospective in-laws. Only after the pheras did he drop the bombshell about his real address. “If I had said I was from Barwaan, no girl’s family would have even looked in my direction. My wife was upset initially, and did not talk to me for months. But she’s got over it.”

Saraswati Devi, who was similarly tricked, continues to bear a grudge against her husband after two decades. “My parents were foolish to send me here,” she grumbles. “My brother-in-law is still unmarried, and now my elder son is 20. Where will I find a wife for him?”

So is there a way out? Only a choiceless choice: marry a girl from a lower caste or pay a heavy bride price in cash and cattle. Munna Ram, 35, who married a Barwaan girl 10 years ago, says many marriages are fixed but not solemnized. The groom’s party doesn’t want to make the difficult journey even to bring the girl back. “But I didn’t do that,” he says. “A bullock cart and around 50 family members waited at the foothills while I went up personally and got my bride down.”

Another bachelor Rajagiri Singh, now in his late 50s, says he’s thought about moving out. “But my fields are here, my ancestral property is here, how can I leave it all? What will I have if I go away? Five marriage negotiations have broken down. So have my hopes.”

When MLA Ramchandra Yadav was contesting elections from Kaimur on a Bahujan Samaj Party ticket, he visited the village on his campaign trail and promised to remain a bachelor until he had a road built here.
The villagers hailed him as Hanuman, the monkey-god who cut through a mountain. But only three months after his victory, he broke his promise. “We all swore that we would not attend his wedding, and at least we kept our word. He let us down after we had campaigned for him day and night. He says he was forced, but I don’t believe it. Now he is the father of a two year old,” says an unamused Chandradev Yadav.

Still smarting at that betrayal, the villagers called a meeting near the temple last January and decided to build a road themselves. Armed with axes, shovels and hammers, they are cutting through the hard mountain. One group pushes the boulders aside, another breaks them down into chips, and a third levels the ground. “We have flattened a 4.6-km stretch, and now a tractor can pass. We have 2 km more to go,” says Chandradev.

Soon after the men started their road, the forest department filed an FIR against 12 of them for constructing in a protected forest area. Divisional forest officer (Kaimur district) R K Ram says he didn’t have an option. “A Supreme Court ruling bars any construction work in such reserves,” he says. “I’m just doing my duty.”

But the villagers of Barwaan are determined to get their road. “When someone was murdered here five years ago, no one from the police came,” says Chandradev. “I doubt they will come to mourn the death of a couple of rocks.”

Published: The Times of India Crest; Date: Oct 03. 2009; Section: This Is India; Page: 4