Paro or Molki : An abusive word
The glossary of abusive words has increased with a new entrant, ‘paro’. The word ‘paro’ is well known today in regions like Haryana, Punjab, western Uttar Pardesh and Rajasthan. As with so many derogatory words, paro comes from the degrading and disparaging attitude of men towards women: it means ‘woman who is purchased for a few bucks’, ‘paro’ are those girls who are bought and brought from eastern Uttar Pardesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and Bengal to compensate for the shortage of shortage of women of child bearing age. She is not a prostitute in open terms, but her levirate marriage today means that it is not only after the death of her husband that his younger brother takes his place, she is also obliged to have sexual relations with his brothers while her husband is still alive. How can it be appropriate to call a woman living like this a ‘wife?’
‘Paro’ is an exact and true example of Catherine McKinnon’s definition of the relation of the two major sexes, “man fucks women: subject verb object”. This kind of only example in Indian classical texts, is Draupadi (A character in the epic of Mahabharata who had pandavas— the five brothers as her husbands. The five brothers had their separate wives too.) Visit any region of Haryana and you will find Catherine’s definition to be true. In spite of this widespread and increasing practice, there is no wide or authoritative research in this field available, but scattered information and data do draw a sketchy picture of the situation. From field and animal husbandry to so called ‘women’s work’ a woman is expected to do it all as ‘her duty’, and you can imagine if women who are brought as legal wife with a huge dowry has to do all these what happens to those who are bought and brought from far away
This may not directly be a case of human trafficking but indirectly it is! And it’s very serious violation of women’s most basic human rights. Our radical organisation ‘Empower People’ is researching this situation now. Before completion of this research it will not be appropriate to say anything conclusively. But already some of the examples we have found underline the seriousness of the situation. One man who is held in very high regard in his society for being vocal against female foeticide and gender inequality, agreed to speak to me and when I got closer, I found that he has two sons and no daughter, wife and his widowed mother take care of agro & domestic chores and this man has took to social service.
Paro or Molki : Perception and Causes (An unknown face)
Our research reveals that in Jaatland of Haryana is that paro or molki owning villages become the source of spreading the practice of paro horizontally as well as vertically. In the village of Kharakramji the paro were mainly from Maharashtra and in the village Shillakhedi the paro are mainly from West Bengal. We discovered that a paro who had been imported from another village then became the contact through whom other paros would be imported from her area. The ‘husbands’ of those paro or Molki are were indulging in the heinous work of dalali (Broking system) . For example, Hari Om (name changed) from Kharakramji, who did not wanted to be interviewed, but admitted with a glory that he owns a paro. He also said that he is continuously in contact with the other dalals ( traffickers or brokers) of the city. He warned us of dire consequences if we write anything about the paro or polyandry. He told us with pride that he would be bringing more paro into the village for the other unmarried and unemployed men (people) who come to him to arrange for a paro for them. A member of Panchayat of Kharakramji village admitted this fact. He told me “they import molki to satisfy their sexual needs, all the brothers take advantage of her and for the neighbours they have a bride to show”
We found that the ‘husbands’ of the paro or molki and their relatives become the agents and they are continuously in contact with the agents in Hissar, Sonipat and Jind, which epicenter of the trafficking. The agents dwell in the village itself. Sometimes they are truck drivers or the people who are continuously out-goers. A paro is sold more than once in many cases by the agents and their ‘husbands’ and the rate varies from Rs.7, 000/- to Rs.40, 000/. The paro owners also lead their neighbours and relatives from other village to a place where they can find a paro. The person for whom the paro is being bought affords all the expenses throughout the way.
Our research in the field revealed a number of reasons why women are imported into Jaatland, including the practice of polyandry, the desire for cheap labour, the fact that small landholdings and division of property, scarcity of girls, the passing of marrying age and heavy dowry. But, the irony is that on one hand men are purchasing girls and on the other graph of dowry is touching sky.
Historical evolution of Paro (molki)
Social acceptance of karewa and its prevalence can be seen in folklore and local proverbs . Also this is noticed by one British administrator, observing the practice in early 20th century onward, recorded that even where there was only one married brother, the other brothers had free access to his wife. (M. L. DARLING, the famed writer and civil administrator of this region, writing in Prosperity and Debt, first edition, 1925 reprint, South Asia Books, Delhi, 1978) an oft-repeated story of those days jocularly related even now, to show what a marital association entailed in the past, concerns a new bride who had four or five jeth or dewar All of them had free sexual access to her. After fifteen or twenty days of her marriage, the bride requested her mother-in-law to identify her husband from among them. Upon this the mother-in-law came out in the gali (street) and started to howl loudly; when asked about it she replied: " It is difficult for me to live in this house any more. I have been married for forty years, yet even now I have never asked anyone to determine the identity of my husband. This fifteen-day-old bride is already asking about her's." (Prem Chowdhry “An Alternetive to the sati modal : Perceptions of a Social Reality in Folklore” )
The story gives a peep into the popular perception of sexual exploitation as it existed in those days and the extent to which it was accepted as common knowledge. Women's awareness of this exploitation is highlighted even more directly and in a very perceptive manner in a lokgeet (folk song), not commonly heard these days, sung by a young bride. While recounting her enormous work load she is made to tackle in her in-law's house every day, the bride revealingly discloses :
“Beaten and forced to live with my brother-in-law in sin, unending house work has emaciated me, oh God!”
In another ragini (song), used for enacting a swang (local folk theatre), the theme revolves around the unwelcome advances of the jeth who forces himself on his sister-in-law and refuses to take no for an answer. The proverb originates from the earlier practice, given above, which shows the brother-in-law to have sexual access to the sister-in-law. Even the father-in-law, given a chance, was not above the sexual exploitation of his daughter-in-law. That this was customarily practiced was recorded by British officials in the late 19th century. Certain villages which need not be named, have the evil reputation of deliberately getting girls older than their boy husbands in order that the father of the latter may have illicit enjoyment of them (E. Joseph, Customary Law of the Rohtak District, Lahore, 1911).
In fact, colonial Punjab and Haryana witnessed instances of the father-in-law claiming karewa marriage with the widowed daughter-in-law in
the mid-1930s (RATTIGAN, William Henry. 1966 A digest of civil law for the Punjab, 82). From the sexual point of view these attempts may very well have been to legitimize an already existing relationship which had possibly left the widowed Bahu (daughter-in-law) pregnant. An old folktale highlights these aspects:
A widowed daughter-in-law conceived from her sasura (father-in-law). She was deeply embarrassed about what the people were going to say. The father-in-law reacted to this by asking her to stitch him a quilt full of patches. This quilt he wrapped around himself and sat down in the front courtyard of the house. All the men and women who saw him laughed at the old man and commented on his heavily patched-up quilt. After a few days they stopped, having got used to him and his quilt. It was then that the old man said: " Look here, you woman, now it's all over. People take just a few days to get used to a thing."
The wide-scale social acceptance in the past of this level of sexual exploitation of women for the satisfaction of men has now been transformed into the current practice of buying women ‘paro’ or ‘Molki’ – women who are purchased from outside state - from West Bengal, Maharastra, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Pahad, Uttrakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
Where paro women are imported they work as cheap labour. They are sent to do the daily farm work while the local brides seldom go to the field. One head of a family, Ram Singh (name changed), told us, “they (the paro) do all types and all of the work, they run very fast here and there, like in the fields, home, cattle, management of water, night duty.”
He also justified paro as a result of the law on land and property ownership “the size of the land remains the same but the claimants increased generation by generation, employment is scanty, education gives nothing, then tell who will come with marriage proposals and why?”
There is no doubt that the scarcity of girls is one of the reasons behind the import of the girls from other states. However, there are mixed opinions expressed when people were interviewed. Some of them agreed that there is an obvious relationship between female foeticide and the practice of paro. As an elderly women lamented “they kill their girls and now they bring other’s here, it’s like as if our ‘Barseen’ ( a kind of green leafy weeds for cattle) supply has run out and now we are going to make sure our neighbours does too”. On the other hand, some of the people clearly denied the relationship between female foeticide and importing of Molki or paros. A social activist Deepak Chahal, told us “until now the of killing the girls has not had any effect on encouraging the practice of paro, but for the upcoming generation or in future, its worst effects will be seen”.
When we looked at the role that age may play in the paro system, we found that the owners or the ‘husbands’ are in the age group of 25 - 40 years. In the words of jeth of a paro, Suresh Kumar Kataria, “ we did not have land and employment, so the people were not coming with proposals of marriages for our son, so at last we had to bring a molki”.