Marathwada Diary: In Maharashtra's agri belt, uncertainty around income makes farmers unsuitable grooms

Editor's note: Parth MN is travelling across Maharashtra's Marathwada province on a People's Archive of Rural India fellowship to chronicle agrarian issues in the region. Firstpost will reproduce his reports as and when he files them for Pari.

Pandharinath and Kaushalya Shelke finalised their son Ranjit’s marriage in February after trying very hard for three years. “The humiliation of rejection cannot be described in words,” says 52-year-old Pandharinath. “The first question we would be asked was, ‘Is there any source of income (for the groom) apart from farming?’"

In Marathwada, farmers are unable to find a bride. Image courtesy: Parth MN/PARI

In Marathwada, farmers are unable to find a bride. Image courtesy: Parth MN/PARI

Ranjit is 26, and cultivates soyabean, gram and jowar on the family’s four acres in Khamaswadi village of Maharashtra’s Osmanabad district. Pandharinath works as a clerk at the village post office, earning Rs 10,000 per month.  For a while, Ranjit too tried looking for a job, but with no success — farming is his only source of income.

“Nobody wants their daughter to marry a farmer,” says Kaushalya, a farm labourer. “Farmers in particular are reluctant to do so. They will pay a hefty dowry by borrowing money from private moneylenders at exorbitant interest rates to get their daughters married to someone with a job. But not into a farm household.”

This means that many boys who are farmers remain unmarried even till their late 20s and early 30s, well past the usual marriage age in rural areas, says Pandharinath, though “we  start looking by 23-24".

In February this year, Pandharinath and Kaushalya finally found a bride for their son — the girl who will marry Ranjit is the fifth daughter from a farm household in a nearby village. “The father has married four daughters and that has left him in a situation where he cannot borrow even a paisa from anyone,” says Kaushalya. "We said we don’t want anything, just your daughter. We were desperate and he had no choice. It turned out to be a good match. But I wonder if my younger son will ever get married…”

"Even though we suffered, I don’t blame anyone," adds Pandharinath.

"If I had a daughter, I would have done the same. A farmer knows the life of a farm household. If the harvest is good, rates crash. If the rates go up, the monsoon deserts us. Banks treat us with contempt. Every farmer has a debt. Why would anyone want that life for their daughter?"

About 70 kilometres from Khamaswadi, in Girwli village in Beed district’s Ambejogai taluka, Digambar Jhirmile echoes the sentiment. “I have a 19-year old daughter,” he says. “I will start looking for a groom in two years for her. And I have decided it will not be a farmer.”

Digambar, 44, cultivates soyabean on his two acres and doubles up as an agricultural labourer. He has a loan of Rs 2 lakhs from a private moneylender and is willing to borrow more for dowry, if needed. “Even if it (the loan) multiplies, it hardly matters. At least my daughter will not have to bear the crisis of agriculture. Otherwise, I will save money (on dowry), and push her into misery for the rest of her life (by marrying her to a farmer). Even if her husband earns Rs 15,000 in a job, it is an assured income. You can't make such calculations if you are a farmer because the only thing certain in farming is uncertainty.”

Digambar Jhirmile, 44, a soybean cultivator, who is unable to find a bride. Image courtesy: Parth MN/PARI

Digambar Jhirmile, 44, a soybean cultivator, who is unable to find a bride. Image courtesy: Parth MN/PARI

The reluctance of families to arrange their daughters’ marriages into farm households has made it difficult for marriage brokers in Girwli, like Sanjay Apet, to find matches. “I recently fixed the wedding of a 33-year-old man after a lot of effort,” he says. “His is a story you could have written. But I cannot tell you his name. Because he is actually 37."

Apet says the subterfuge takes on many other forms.

"I have seen cases where men pretend to have a job in towns by producing fake documents until they get married,” he says. “After the marriage, the mask comes off. Fudging your age is also dishonest, but pretending to have a job can devastate the life of the woman.”

In some instances, Apet says, he has been trying to find brides for farmer grooms for more than two years. “Earlier, the discussions would start with what the dowry amount would be and what is the family like. Today, they only talk further if the groom doesn't belong to a farm household.”

Radha Shinde’s experience speaks of this. She got married three years ago into a farm household in Mudegaon village of Ambejogai taluka. "My parents looked for a groom for two years," says 26-year-old Rehka.

"The priority was to not marry a farmer. My husband’s family has an 18-acre farmland which my in-laws look after. My husband does not do farming. Just when we got married, he started a jewellery shop in Latur. My parents agreed only when he told them about his plan to start the shop."

“There are several boys in our villages who I think might never get married,” Apet adds. “And the constant rejections have contributed to their frustration, along with the agrarian crisis and debt."

Though the long search for a bride continues in many farm families in the village, not many are willing to open up, let alone be photographed. Questions about the impediments to finding a match are met with shrugs and embarrassed giggles. Sandeep Bidve, 26, who has a 20-acre farmland, says, “Nobody will tell you they are being rejected, though that is the reality.”

Sandeep Bidve (right) says, “Nobody will tell you they are being rejected, though that is the reality.

Sandeep Bidve (right) says, “Nobody will tell you they are being rejected, though that is the reality.

Bidve, himself a bachelor looking for a bride, says farming does not command any respect. “I am not shy to admit it,” he says. “People with a salary of 10,000 rupees are getting married, but those with 10 acres of farmland are struggling. The girl’s father asks: what do you do? Upon learning the answer, he says I will get back to you. If he can’t find a better match, he will respond after months. That is how confident they are of our (persisting) singlehood.”

While I am talking to Sanjay, a policeman from a nearby village comes along.  Requesting anonymity, he says his father had demanded, and received, Rs 15 lakhs as dowry when he got married three years ago. “I have a government job,” he says. “But my brother is a farmer. And we are looking for a bride (for him). You cannot imagine the difference between my father’s attitude then and now.”

Looking on, Babasaheb Jadhav, 45, says he can understand this difference in  attitude. He is a farmer with six acres of land and a 27-year-old son, Vishal. “He has been rejected several times,” he says.

“A few days back, I took him to a  gathering  in the taluka where boys and girls who want to get married gather to seek matches. Girls are asked what kind of a groom they would prefer. I left after two of them said, ‘Anyone but a farmer’.”

This article was originally published in the People's Archive of Rural India on 20 August, 2018.

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Updated Date: Aug 23, 2018 10:15:11 IST

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