Are there virgin girls in India?

Delhi - The night was waiting. Silent, lonely waiting. Sleep was out of the question. She held her hands over her head for hours, painted with henna and spread out to dry. So she lay there. That looked ridiculous. But they all lay there before the big day, their mother, their grandmother, their aunts, their friends - it was the night before Nisha Sharma's first wedding. It was a terrible night.

The father Devdutt Sharma meanwhile went through everything in the living room. Gold chains, bracelets, saris, cash, two washing machines, two refrigerators, two hi-fi systems, an electric stove, a flat screen TV, lots of branded companies, a lot twice, one for the mother-in-law. In front of the house was the gold-colored Maruti Esteem, a four-door, as requested by the future husband. For the father the night was pure joy. He had done what to do: "She is my only daughter."

The day after was relief. The henna crumbled from Nisha Sharma's hands and revealed filigree patterns, women fluttered around them, painted their lips, giggled, put on their bracelets, which jingled softly, put their sweets in their mouths that stuck to the roof of their mouths, whispered encouragement in their ears . There she was, Nisha Sharma, 21 years old, in her parents' house, wrapped in a red, gold-interwoven sari, an Indian bride, adorned and beautifully, as was her duty. It was May 11, 2003.

A ruinous deal

Nisha Sharma did not come out of her parents' house that day. It was eight o'clock in the evening when she picked up her cell phone, called the police, and had her future husband arrested. She had just wanted to leave her parents' house, in the direction of the nearby festival area, when relatives came running up and told them that the father was being threatened and spat at in the wedding tent. The groom and mother-in-law asked for $ 25,000. Additionally. To all the refrigerators, the car, the party, the girl. The father refused, the daughter called the police - something like this had rarely happened in India. A woman must be happy when she is taken. And the parents pay.

They call this Dowry, dowry. Marriage - in India it is a gigantic market. The price depends on the men's appearance, skin color, upbringing, income, caste and future prospects. That is the basis for the negotiation. The rest is a matter of honor. A good father of the bride pays a lot. This is called gifts. The law has banned dowry in India since 1961. The truth is, it's one of the easiest ways to get money. If you have a son, you get cash. Whoever wants to get rid of a daughter has to pay. And whoever has more pays more. In the past it was cows that were given to the bride, today it is cameras, televisions, video recorders, double beds, mopeds, cars, houses and money, hard cash. Between five and twenty percent of the family income. A ruinous deal.

The wedding without a bride

It was months ago now. Nisha Sharma is still sitting with her parents in Noida, a suburb of Delhi. Middle class area, relatively rich, the father has a small business. The wedding video is running in the background. Shaky images from the "most famous party in the world", as Nisha Sharma calls it, the broken wedding. She's seen the video a hundred times. The magnificent robes of the guards on the entrance doors of the tent, the drivers for parking the cars, the children throwing roses at the guests. The mother-in-law, a teacher, in a blue sari. "Like a dragon," says Nisha Sharma. She only has the video. Because she didn't come there for her own wedding party. 1500 guests were invited. 1500 people who continued to eat when the bridegroom and his mother had already been taken away. "It was fine with me, the buffet was already paid for," says the father, staring into the television. The festival cost him a fortune. "It was going to be the greatest moment in Nisha's life," he says. It turned out to be.

A grateful nation

On May 11th, Nisha Sharma became famous. The shame has now turned into a heroic act. The whole house is filled with thanks from the nation. Rotary club, women's organizations, politicians. On the wall are certificates awarded to Nisha Sharma for "her outstanding and exemplary service to the nation in the fight against dowry and social injustice". Cups on the shelf. On the couch glossy magazines, Cosmopolitan, The Week, People magazine. She is now called "iron lady", "anti-dowry girl", "heroine of the nation". In addition to the magazines, two folders. The yellow one is full of newspaper articles. The blue one full of marriage proposals, more than 50.

"There, there the wall wobbles, you see, that's where you hit my father," says Nisha Sharma. Pauses the video. There is little to see, a little scramble. "I didn't know what I was doing, I just knew that I had to call the police now," she says, playing the tape forwards, backwards, forwards, and sings along with the song that underlines the horror: "You got me, my luck rises up. " Then the mother hands her a second video. In front of her are the pictures of the engagement, the women decorating the bride, necklaces, bracelets, laughter, gold, their lips blood-red. Then comes the future husband, Munish Dalal, feeds her, puts the ring on her finger, everyone claps. She was beautiful, the bride, with her shy smile. The engagement also cost the father quite a bit. Gifts to everyone, money and clothes and saris and sweets. He looks, laughs: "Another wedding, it will be very expensive."

Lies floating around

Nisha Sharma looks at the man in the video as he puts candy in her mouth, types something into her cell phone, smiles: "I haven't had time to think about everything yet. But if I can do that, why not them other? " There were also bad times after the broken wedding when a college colleague claimed he was already married to her when they called the newspapers, which had first cheered her, a liar. The father was said to have had a relationship with the mother-in-law. The fight against tradition, without the support of the parents, it would not be fought. "It's kind of weird to have a price as a girl," says Nisha Sharma. Suddenly a postman stands in the room, among all the trophies and certificates, brings a letter - without an address. "Nisha Sharma", it says, "who refused the dowry".

Deadly Discrimination

Letters come every day. Letters in which parents advertise their sons, as in the marriage supplements in Indian newspapers. Page by page they offer their children, divided into the different boxes: "Beautiful, thin, light-skinned Brahmin girl" - "Domestic Bansal girl" - "Punjabi Arora girl from a respectable and educated business family" - "Virgin bachelor, 39 years old, sees like 30, 180 centimeters tall, bright, very handsome, vegetarian, non-smoker, abstainer, MA psychology, enrolled for a doctorate, author of books, was in the USA ... will most certainly become famous "-" clean-shaven Sikh, own House, vegetarian, divorced, looking for a beautiful woman, caste does not matter. "

The demands of the mothers-in-law

Nisha Sharma flips through the applications in the blue folder, calculates annual earnings with the calculator, smiles, reads aloud. Gimmicks, the father has already chosen a new one. "I trust him," she says. He had placed an advertisement in the newspaper for the search for the first bridegroom. Munish Dalal's mother called him six times afterwards. They negotiated, agreed, set the day. The children met once. They had no objection. "Munish's mother was in a hurry, probably because she retired shortly afterwards," said the father. He also says there were no pre-wedding claims, all the gadgets, the car gifts.

But the $ 25,000 was illegal, dowry. The father calls Munish "the greedy bridegroom". He is cautious, he knows the laws, like most of them in India, it is now known that whoever pays the dowry as well as whoever takes it can end up in prison. So nobody talks about it in the negotiations. The demands usually come after the wedding, increase immeasurably over the years. Until something happens.

Girls die more often than boys

For Ranjana Kumari the matter is clear. She is at war, speaks of battles that must be fought and of her most effective weapon: Nisha. "We immediately gave her a medal. With what she did, she achieved more than we did in ten years." But the battle is far from over. "It's hell, you have no idea how backward we are. Daughters are still seen as an economic burden in this country," says Ranjana Kumari, women's rights activist and director of the Center for Social Research in Delhi. An angry woman. The British Medical Journal published a study confirming that female babies die more often than males in India. The death rate of girls is almost a third higher, which is due to the fact that they are less welcome than boys and are treated worse, including medically. Girls, according to the researchers, are repeatedly killed by their parents. Deadly discrimination, which resulted in India having only 933 females for every 1,000 male newborns in 2001. In most countries it is the other way round. And more and more pregnant women are aborting girls. No more problem with the cheap methods of sex determination before birth. Ultrasound, a killer for the female sex.

The proportions are so distorted that some speak of a wedding crisis, and Indian men are increasingly buying women from afar. On bad days, Ranjana Kumari believes it will be centuries before anything changes in India. "We have to make people feel guilty when they pay dowries. Today it's the other way around, parents feel guilty when they don't pay. Often the girls are even disappointed when they don't get enough dowry and ask for more themselves in the hope of being treated better. "

Bad future in the new family

Marriage in India begins with the lowest expectations, but what happens to women once they are in the hands of the other family? They are extradited, strangers in a community between mother and son that is sacred. India, land of men who remain munnas for life, little boys from their mothers. The wife is the hostage, pledge for an ever-flowing source of money, property of the in-laws. When a woman comes with too little, survival is at stake. There are officially 6,600 dowry deaths every year in India, says Kumari. The UN assumes twelve women are killed a day. The number of unreported cases is in the tens of thousands. "We need more Nishas, ​​otherwise even more will perish. In any case, we won't run out of work," says Ranjana Kumari.

14 years ago she wrote a book, "Brides are not there to be burned". It is a study of dowry victims in India, of hanged, burned, poisoned women, of Indian society that has ignored these dead for decades, of parents who repeatedly sent their children back to the house of their torturers Police officers who are supposed to investigate cases pocket bribes and keep finding only suicide or accidents. Case done. The man is thus free for the next bride. Not much has changed since then. "It happens ten times, once we find out about it. Very few women dare to complain when they are still alive, there is great shame," says Ranjana Kumari.

Silent daughters-in-law

Six women's centers are organized in Delhi. There they have 60 to 70 cases of dowry dispute each month. A girl tells how her husband sold her to strangers because her mother couldn't pay for the moped she was asking for. Women speak of mothers-in-law who beat and spat on them. Most of them never see the money that their parents pay, although some speak of a kind of inheritance prepayment. If they are lucky, they will be returned to their parents like faulty goods. In a culture where widowhood or divorce are often worse than death for a woman.

Ajay Agrawal sits in his office, behind a desk like a fortress. Telephones lined up like guns on the edges. The man is the director of the largest prison in Southeast Asia. Sooner or later all those cases that have been arrested land on his desk. Here the victims get at least one folder, if things go well, and at some point their rights. It's a late satisfaction. But at least.

Victim of one's own family

Ajay Agrawal is the director of Tihar Prison, master of more than 12,500 prisoners. "4000 too much," he says, playing around with his rings, rewinding numbers. He praises him, his prison, speaks of the high illiteracy rate of his prisoners, of the fact that everyone who sits here can write his name afterwards. And then he talks about the women - the perpetrators. A third is sitting for murder, a third for drugs, and a third for dowry disputes. "I always say that women are the greatest enemies of women," says Ajay Agrawal. A quick wink, the audience ends.

A little later the iron gate to prison number 6 opens, the Frauenknast, 570 inmates, 200 of them for dowry offenses, most of them mothers-in-law. Angeli Tiwari, probation officer, unlocks the doors. The dowry wives have their own wing - they call it the mother-in-law wing. They crouch on the floor behind bars, old women, young women. "Which one do you want to speak to? The one back there saying the girl set herself on fire, the one here saying the girl hanged herself." Almost no one admits murder and does not respond to the word dowry. Why was the girl buried before the parents came? No Answer. Why was the girl never allowed to visit her parents? She was stubborn. "Most of them have paid dowry for their daughters themselves, and they bring it back to their sons," says Angeli Tiwari. "It's about supply and demand. The women are victims of their own families. Both sides are perpetrators," she says and closes the doors again.

The night was waiting. Silent, lonely waiting. Nisha Sharma held her hands, painted with henna, spread out to dry above her head for hours. It was a terrible night. When she got married for the second time, 75 guests came. There were no drivers, no bouncers, no roses. The father says there was no dowry either. Since then she hasn't answered the phone. For the father, the day was pure joy. He did what to do: he married his daughter.

span class = "author"> Sz from 01/02/2003