Shafiq R Khan


Draupadis bloom in rural Punjab

Fraternal polyandry. If it takes a minute for the term to sink in, you're probably not affected by agrarian crisis the way farmers in Malwa region of Punjab are. Bizzare as it may sound, there is a connection. The problem of fragmentation of land holdings has led to unusual social developments. One being wife-sharing among brothers. 

It may be the world's rarest forms of marriages in anthropological terms, but in Mansa district of the state, this is a reality that stares you in the face. Visit any village of Boha area — Gandu Kalan, Gandu Khurd, Reond Khurd, Bhakhrial, Aan-diawali or Khandkalan — there are families of up to seven brothers married to one woman. 

The reasons are purely materialistic. It prevents the division of the family farm, thus facilitating all of the family to achieve a higher standard of living. It ensures there is one set of heirs per generation
Deogarh Pandava
"Polyandry helps in preventing division of land," says Dr Kuldeep Singh Deep, a noted Punjabi playwright, based in Boha town of Mansa. 

He adds that publicly the woman is married to one of the brothers, but within four walls of the house there is "mutual understanding" because of which other brothers do not marry and the division of land is prevented. So far as day-to-day family decisions go, there is one brother — usually the eldest —who exercises authority respected by others. The woman, too, agrees to the practice for the well-being of her children 

The concept is not new. It has been written about, depicted in plays and generally found acceptance among the farmer fraternity. 

Another reason advanced for its prevalence is the importance given to landholdings in the Jat Sikh community, where marriages are settled on the basis of the land one possesses. Preference is always for a groom who has a good landholding or is in government service. With fragmentation of landholdings and high unemployment rate, it is really a Herculean task for a farmer having 2.5 acres land to find a bride for his son. 

This is the reason for steady increase in the number of aging unwed boys in rural areas of Mansa, Bathinda, Faridkot, Muktsar and Sangrur districts

This is also the reason for many landless/small land holders here marrying Dalit women or bringing women from West Bengal and Bihar after making a payment. 

Famous Punjabi writer and Jnanpith awardee professor Gurdial Singh says even before Independence, this practice existed in this part of Punjab, though at that time the reason was not the landholding, but the poor income from it due to absence of proper irrigation facilities 

"Now the small landholdings and skewed sex ratio have abetted the problem," he says, adding, "In Punjab, on an average every farmer family has 3.5 acres land, so the problem is obvious in the absence of major employment avenues." 

Mansa deputy commissioner Raj Kamal Chaudhary says since these marriages are never solemnised in a proper way, they attract no punishment under the Hindu Marriage Act or Indian Penal Code. "Moreover, since such types of relations exist only within the house, no one is raising any objection."

Published in Times of India, Jul 16, 2005 
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