With women fast becoming an endangered species in rural Maharashtra, it’s hard to find a bride here.
When 30-year-old Chinmay Thombare set out to marry, he thought finding a wife would be a cakewalk. After all, he had a Rs 9 lakh annual pay package and a ‘well maintained’ body. It has been five years since, and Thombare is still searching for a bride. He has met about 40 girls, but none of them want to marry him. “I may not ever find one,” he says candidly.
Twenty-eight-year-old Atul Kulkarni wanted a “well qualified, good looking, fair Brahmin girl who is either an engineer or an IT professional”. That was two years ago. After meeting 25 girls who refused him, his specifications have changed. Expectations in the looks department have gone down a couple of shades—complexion is no longer an issue. “Earlier I was looking for girls who were engineers or IT professionals.
But now I am looking at other careers too,” says Kulkarni, speaking a little like a job aspirant.
Thombare and Kulkarni’s are not isolated instances. They are consequences of the declining sex ratio in Maharashtra. Women are rapidly becoming scarce. The latest data of Maharashtra’s health management information system reveals that in March 2009 there were 877 girls for 1,000 boys; one year later, in March this year, the number had dipped to 869 per 1,000. The skew in the sex ratio has numerous causes. A major factor is the practice of prenatal sex selection, which results in the abortion of female foetuses. Maharashtra was one of the first states to implement female-friendly laws, but it is also the state where loopholes in the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act are exploited in large numbers. Worse, when cases are filed against offenders, progress in securing convictions is very slow. A number of doctors are willing to help couples abort a female foetus, and the starting price for a sex determination test is Rs 5,000. Dr Ashok Anand, unit head of the Gynaecology and Obstetrics department at the Sir J J Group of Hospitals, says there has been an increase in the number of patients asking him for sex determination tests. “I know that they will go elsewhere and get it done. Despite awareness, it goes on,” says Anand. So critical is the issue that the state’s Home Minister RR Patil has called for emergency measures to meet the shortfall of girls.
Raj Thackeray may scream himself hoarse about sons of the soil, but he should be more concerned about daughters of the soil. Also, for Marathi girls, a Marathi groom does not hold much appeal anymore. “They are very narrow-minded. A Marathi man will go out looking for a working girl but will start laying down terms and conditions after marriage. I earn an annual salary of Rs 15 lakh. I have my own flat and live alone. Why should I spoil my peace of mind by getting married? I am yet to find a man who can give me anything more. A Marathi man, never,” says Sayali Ghare, an architect.
Girls reject men for random reasons. What Chinmay Thombare thought was his asset—his muscles—did him in. “The girls I met rejected me because I am too beefy. Even getting to meet these girls is not easy as they have ample choices today,” says Thombare. Girls are also not shy of interrogating their suitors. Atul Kulkarni was asked whether he had to travel a lot in his sales and marketing job. “Girls question you outright on how much personal space you will give them in a marriage. They are more aggressive in their questioning (of male suitors) as they have many choices. They have now become the decision makers,” observes Kulkarni.
Compromises are also being made by conservative families of Marathi bachelors. Revati Shringarpure had warned her 26-year-old son Chetan that she would never accept a love marriage. It was the family’s prerogative to select a bride for him. So she first told all her relatives that she was looking out for a bahu, then released advertisements in matrimonial columns, and finally approached a marriage bureau. Soon she was telling her son to find a bride for himself. “I have realised that it is difficult to get a girl for my 12th pass son. Even girls within the larger family are not keen. I am exhausted by the search. I will willingly accept anyone my son finds,” says Revati. Chetan, meanwhile, has enrolled in college to pursue a degree. “Education has made a huge difference. You can’t find girls and the ones you find do not want to marry you,” he says.
Sonali Bhatte, 22, has so far received ten marriage proposals one after the other. Her parents are willing to wait till she decides. “I am enjoying it all. My friends and I laugh over it. This is poetic justice at last,” says Sonali. “One chap told my parents that he has taken a mannat that he will visit all the Siddhivinayak Ganpati idols across Maharashtra if I decide to marry him.”
A Dadar-based marriage bureau owner says that until five years ago, it was the girls’ parents who harassed her when there was a delay in finding a match. “It is the reverse now. One woman who enrolled her son accused me of not being serious about finding him a wife. It is amazing how parents of boys are scaling down their expectations. Few girls are registering with bureaus now. They can get good husbands and a luxurious lifestyle without much trouble,” she says.
Besides brides, the other lot happy with the state of affairs are astrologers. Their male clientele has increased manifold. “Whatever I tell a man in search of a bride, he will do it. After all, every man needs his ardhangini (better half),” says Pandit Atre, a second generation palm reader.