This is my second post in the Violence Against Women Awareness Month series. Sadly, there’s no dearth of stories to talk about. This is a story that happened a long long time ago. And it has a more palatable end than the one I previously wrote about
The year was 1962, the place Jamshedpur, in Bihar, India. A lower middle class family was celebrating because they had successfully arranged the wedding of their second daughter. This was a huge deal, since the family had 4 daughters and one son. The father was the only wage earner and he had a job that paid him a nominal salary. He took tuitions to supplement his income. His widowed sister lived with them and he supported his mother, too, who lived in the village. His wife’s younger brothers also lived with them and they were still in college.
It was a very common story back then, one income, too many mouths to feed. However, their second daughter was being married into a good family. The boy was a graduate and held a good job. The boy’s family wanted the wedding to be conducted in Chennai and the girl’s family agreed since all of their family was in Chennai as well.
Right before the wedding was to take place the Gold Control Act went into effect. Gold jewellery could not be bought. The mother tried in vain to buy jewellery for her daughter’s wedding trousseau but she was unsuccessful. The family worried about the loss of face at the wedding. Eventually, they decided they would deal with the issue at Chennai. They would talk to the boy’s family and convince them that whatever gold was promised to them would be made up later, they’d find a way to make it up by way of cash. The wife’s older brothers all lived in Chennai and were extremely well placed. She was sure that they would help. So they made their way to Chennai.
Wedding preparations were in full swing. Soon the happy day arrived. Since she could not have her daughter get married without any jewellery, the mother took off the jewellery she was wearing – earrings, bangles, necklaces, chain, every last meager gram of gold that she owned and had not already mortgaged for the wedding, she took off and had lovingly dressed her daughter. Just as her daughter made her way into the wedding hall, commotion broke out.
The girl’s father was pleading with the boy’s father to let the wedding continue. He pleaded that he’d make up for the lack of gold with cash as soon as the wedding was solemnized. He said, he would get a loan for the amount and pay them off before they left. The boy’s father, however, was adamant. It was not just the lack of gold, they had also been promised Rs. 2500 in cash. However, there was no sign of the money now. The girl’s mother joined in with her pleas. She said, her older brothers would loan her the money. “Let the wedding continue” she pleaded. The whole community was assembled there. There would be a huge loss of face. They had two other daughters to get married. If this daughter’s wedding did not take place, they had no chance of getting the other 2 married.
All their pleas fell on deaf ears. The boy’s father wouldn’t budge. Things became worse when the girl’s uncles – the ones that the parents were counting on for a loan refused to help. In the wedding hall, they announced loudly that they would not risk loaning their sister any money since she was perennially in debt and there was no guarantee they would ever see the money again.
As soon as this announcement was made, the boy’s father started asking his side of the family to pack things up. The girl’s father fell at his feet while the girl’s mother proceeded to beg her brothers to intervene and help. This went on for some time. In the meantime, the bride, her sisters were all in tears. The boy was seated on the wedding dias, watching the drama unfold.
This would have been another sad story with a broken marriage and a defeated family if 2 things had not happened. Suddenly, the girl’s mother had had enough. She went to her husband and helped him up and said “Enough, we are not going to beg anymore. Let them walk out of here. We’ll take our kids back home. My daughter will get a job. She will learn to support herself. She will not depend on a man for her sustenance. My other daughters will also get jobs if that’s what it takes. I don’t care if this boy doesn’t marry her. If she wants to marry, we will find a better boy for her.” So saying she went to her daughter and was about to have her get up from the wedding dias when the boy intervened. He went up to the girl’s father, and right in front of the assembled crowd wrote out a cheque for Rs.2500. He had the girl’s father hand it over to his own dad and said “This is all I have in my account as of now. Please give this to my father and whatever you owe him for the jewellery, I will pay him slowly over time. Your daughter is the only woman I am marrying, so will you kindly give your daughter away?”
That man was my uncle by marriage. He married my mother’s older sister. They will have been married 50 years next year. They are grandparents several times over. My grandmother, the one that displayed such courage in the face of adversity went onto successfully marry her other 2 daughters.
She remained my grandfather’s source of strength until the day she died.