Saturday, November 22, 2008

Selling Widows in IT City's Hinterlands

Bangalore: India’s IT city may take pride in its image of India’s futuristic city. But its hinterlands seem to rest in the stone ages. In villages less than 100 km from Bangalore, widows are bought and sold.
The practice is still common among the pig -rearing Kunchalu Koracha or Handi Koracha community. The centuries old `Ruka’ practice persists among the community that dwells in taluks on the Karnataka-Andhra Pradesh border.
Women thus sold, are used as bonded labourers to rear pigs or make brooms. They are also made to run errands, wash dishes or clothes or take up baby -sitting. What is interesting is that similar rules do not apply to men who are widowed. The custom is treated as sacred and few victims protest.
What is Ruka?
It is a practice opposed to dowry. During marriage, a bunch of coins tied in a piece of cloth is given to the bride to keep for life. This is treated as a solemn promise from her that she would serve her husband and in -laws for life. This provides her parents -in -law absolute control over her life, in case of her husband’s death. They can sell her if they feel it is costly to keep her and her children in their household and feed them.
``This is a common practice. Even today, women are bought and sold,’’ Sunkappa, an elderly member of the community said. His sister Nagamma was sold by her in –laws four years ago.
When the news of this transaction broke out, it became a sensation. The state government promised to help this women and the backward community in all possible ways. A whole caravan of officers stormed on R Hosakote village in September last year. They promised them free houses, loans and pigs at subsidized prices. Over 300 applications were received. But not a single application seems to have been processed. No one got any assistance till now.

G K Karanth, director of the centre for multi disciplinary development research, feels all the stake -holders, the government, community and the civil society have a role to play.
The state government should assess why such barbaric practices persist. Questions should be raised as to what are the hindrances to ending them; whether it is ignorance, exclusion, economic opportunity, or die -hard preservationism. Solutions can be evolved based on such data, Karanth who is the joint editor of the book `Challenging Untouchability: Dalit Initiatives and Experiences from Karnataka’ said.
He also felt that evil practices should be condemned even if they are part of community or tribal customs. ``While I uphold the cultural rights of indigenous communities, I feel the need for a cultural ombudsman to look at these things and suggest what can be done, ‘’ he said.
The minister D Sudhakar said that he was shocked to hear about such practices. He said he would provide a free house, loan for self -employment and free education for her children. He said the matter would be investigated and the guilty would be brought to book. He also said educational programmes would be taken up to wean away the community from such practices. When reminded that similar assurances were made by the government four years ago, he said he would call for details on their status and take up follow up action. He may have to start from the fundamentals. The state government is yet to appoint chairpersons for the state women’s commission and the state SC/ST commission. Eom

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