Bridal Slaves – India’s ‘Bride Buying’ Country

by Project Censored
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Bride trafficking is a new practice that has developed over the last couple of decades in India. It is the practice of selling women into marriage against their will. Bride traffickers pretend to be marriage brokers, intermediaries for families in distant areas of India. They often promise arranged marriages for socio-economically vulnerable women from poor families, but sometimes they threaten violence to convince women to leave their homes. The women mostly come from rural villages and are lured by false promises from traffickers. Once the traffickers have them, they sell the women to men willing to pay for brides. Some women say they were drugged to keep them from escaping as they were transported and sold, and often the women are sold multiple times as brides to different men.

Brides are given the derogatory name “paros,” which means purchased women. Their enslavement brings with it a loss of social status. They have no property or means of their own, and nobody wants to give them jobs. Their roles as brides do not simply include sexual slavery; many have to perform hard labor all day and suffer physical and verbal abuse from their husbands.

The Haryana province is an important destination for bride trafficking because of a gender imbalance, in some places as low as seven women for every ten men. One cause of the imbalance is technological development; middle-class families can more easily use ultrasound machines to determine the sex of their babies, and mothers abort approximately 50,000 female fetuses every month in India. In poorer families, parents sometimes kill or abandon female babies. Dowries are outlawed, but they are still common practice in India. Though the low number of women drives the demand for brides up, the cost of dowries is too high for many families to afford.

Indian NGOs attempt to combat bride trafficking, but pursuing instances of bride trafficking is difficult because the victims typically come from rural areas and are sold to distant, isolated villages. Because arranged marriages are legal, authorities must prove the women were forced into marriage in order to pursue arrests.

Sources: “Slavery: A 21st Century Evil – Bridal Slaves,” Al Jazeera, November 15, 2011
“‘All Those Little Faces’: Elizabeth Vargas Explores India’s ‘Gendercide,’” Elizabeth Vargas, ABC News, December 10,2011
“Cops Bust Bride Trafficking Ring in Haryana,” Dwaipayan Ghosh, Times of India, September 21, 2011

Student Researchers: Mallory Buth, Elaine Wiley
Faculty Instructor: Kevin Howley, Ph. D.
Evaluator: Anne Harris, Ph. D., Director of Women’s Studies Program
DePauw University