When a Bride-to-Be Is a Bride to Buy

In India, a Shortage of Women Generates Demand for Trafficked Brides

A paro from Bihar in Mewat, Haryana. She is not sure how many times she has been sold, March 14, 2014. Subrata Biswas / Hindustan Times

Nuh, a sleepy, sepia-toned town is a two-hour drive from New Delhi and borders the new-age city of Gurgaon, which sports swanky skyscrapers, luxury residential townships, and gargantuan malls. Nuh, too, is fast transforming from rural to urban: Shopping complexes and car showrooms have sprouted up next to mud huts and maize fields. And yet, that economic growth has not translated into much social change—Nuh is still very backward.

It is in Nuh that I met Shilpa, 30. (Her name has been changed to protect her identity.) She is introduced to me as “molki,” a derogatory term that translates from Hindi as “purchased.” When Shilpa was 16, her parents entrusted her to a relative who promised to arrange her marriage. He turned out to be a broker in the bride trafficking business and secretly sold her for around 7,500 rupees ($120) to a man in Nuh, in Haryana state. There, Shilpa was treated no better than a slave: Confined to the house so that she wouldn’t draw too much attention, she cooked for his family, took care of his ailing parents, was “shared” among male relatives, bore her husband four children, and then when he died in a car accident five years ago, was kicked out of her home along with her children. She was left without any savings.

A bride trafficking survivor, Razia (name changed), sits with her child. She hails from Bhagalpur in Bihar and is not sure how many times she has been sold. She now lives in Mewat, Haryana, March 14, 2014 Subrata Biswas / Hindustan Times

It is not clear how many paros (stolen brides) there are in Nuh, but over 9,000 married women out of 10,000 surveyed households in Haryana were purchased from other states, according to a field study conducted by the NGO Drishti Stree Adhyayan Prabodhan Kendra. A 2013 UN report found that the demand for girls of a marriageable age (legally, 18, but nearly 50 percent are married before then) is so high that bride trafficking has turned into a thriving business.

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