The ‘Paro’ System: How Women Are Trafficked In Northern India
On the second day of “Realising India”, we were interacting with female members of a self-help-group at Nangravaleiya Dhani (hamlet) in Piprodi GP of Ramgarh Block when suddenly one lady said to me, “Bhaiya, wo bhi Bangalan hai! Kalkatta se ayi hai!” pointing her finger at another lady.
Sitting at the corner of the circle, she was breastfeeding her 2-year-old kid. I was left wondering at the sight of a Bengali girl in that remote village of Mewat in Rajasthan. I asked her where her family lived in Kolkata, in Bengali. She tried her best to reply me in Bengali but she couldn’t, and had also forgotten her Kolkata address. The first woman interrupted, “She is here since the last eight years after getting married. That’s why she has forgotten her own language.” She also added that there were a few other women who belonged to Assam and Bihar. They were brought to this village after marriage. And they are called ‘Paro’. Paro implies ‘Yamuna ke us paar’ (from across the Yamuna).
This incident suddenly haunted me. I got lost musing about my very close friend from childhood, Buri, with whom I grew up. She was our maid’s daughter back home in Malda. She was the youngest amongst her three siblings. At the age of 14, she was forced to marry a man from Rajasthan in exchange for a few rupees!
Unable to find local brides for men because of the lower sex ratio in Rajasthan, “Paros” are brought from different parts of India – from Assam, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh to satisfy the reproduction needs of men and the need of manual labour for fieldwork.
“The Paro system is the inevitable fallout of a deadly combination of attitudes towards women and girls in these areas where female feticide, economic poverty, dwindling landholdings and increasing poverty are seen. The whole system has been created to satisfy the sexual need of men and labour needs of a family,” sums up Dr Virendra Vidrohi, who runs the Matsya Mewat Shiksha Evam Vikas Sansthan in Alwar.
He also spoke about the brief history of this evil practice. In the late 70s, driving became a lucrative profession for a huge number of males, especially from the Meo and Gujjar communities, because of the growth of several transport industries in this region. They started visiting states like Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam etc. because of their profession while building rapport with the local community.
According to Mr Ram Roop, a Police Inspector working with the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit, Alwar, this district is the hub market for cross-region brides in Rajasthan. Female trafficking rackets started ‘supplying’ brides from these states. Families of the girls are more often than not poor, and cannot afford a dowry.
Parents of child brides like my friend, Buri, are not even aware that their daughter has been taken away from them. In some cases, women themselves bring their relatives and arrange matches. Even khap panchayats seem to accept the practice of Paro – even if the bride is not from the same community, because of drastic decline in the sex ratio. Since the 90’s, around 5,000 girls have been trafficked into the region each year.
These women are often victims of a number of human rights violations, such as child marriage, trafficking, kidnapping, abuse, child labour, marital rape, rape outside marriage, day-to-day violence, lack of freedom of movement and decision-making in childbearing to name a few. They are almost treated like slaves in their families. They are also sold multiple times and even forced to get into commercial sexual exploitation (CSE). Cases, where one woman is ‘used’ to meet the sexual needs of all male members in the family, are also rampant.
This information gives me the chills whenever I think about my friend Buri. Where could she be? Is she even still alive?
Our cold-hearted indifference towards gender inequality and the objectification of women does result in these horrific human rights violations. Now I genuinely don’t feel the need for research or statistics to back this. We just need a little introspection about how we remain silent every time an incident of gender-based violence takes place around us. This will easily give us an idea of how we have normalised gender-based violence in every sphere of our collective lives.
“What would you call people who feast on fruits, wine and other exotic dishes while their fellow beings were torched to death in their presence to facilitate their luxuries?”
“I think, now we all know who Nero’s guests are.”