Dhuku or living together, prevalent in several districts, deprives women of social recognition and legal rights
Dhuku or living together, widespread in several districts, deprives women of social recognition and legal rights
On February 26, 2022, Bimla Devi and Jai Kishen Pardhiya from Bamarja village attended a community wedding in Khunti district of Jharkhand. The Sarna (tribal) couple have three children and have lived together for decades. Similarly, on March 5, the Hindu couple of Jyoti Devi and Dipak Kumar Nag from the village of Jamhar, parents of two children, celebrated their marriage at a community wedding in the same district. Communal marriages for couples living together under the dhuku tradition took place over two days in the last week of February and two days in the first week of March 2022, during which 263 couples were married in accordance with their religious traditions.
The practice of living together or dhuku prevails not only in Khunti district but in several districts of the state. In tribal societies, men and women have equal rights, including the right to choose a life partner, and a woman can enter into a cohabiting relationship (called dhuku marriage) with her male partner without them marrying each other. A complex set of socio-legal-economic constraints lead significant numbers of poor tribal women with little or no education to live with their male partners and give birth to children without formal marriage. Generally, these women (called dhukni in Jharkhand) do not have legal rights to property and other assets due to the lack of social recognition of their relationship and the need to feed the village if they are to have it socially sanctioned.
In recent years, community marriages like that of Khunti, of couples living together under the dhuku tradition are organized in Jharkhand. These communal weddings, where couples young and old, with and without children, are organized by a non-governmental organization, Nimitta, and facilitated by various district governments as well as Coal India Limited (CIL) and its Ranchi-based subsidiary. , the Central Mine Planning and Design Institute (CMPDI).
Nikita Sinha of Nimitta, who was instrumental in organizing community weddings during dhuku women, said the biggest challenge was the silence surrounding the practice, that no one wanted to talk about it.
“A relationship of cohabitation can only work when there is social and economic equality between men and women. When the woman is financially dependent on the man, as in the case of dhuku, it becomes exploitation. Moreover, not only are women deprived of their social rights, but even the children of these marriages suffer in the long run,” Ms. Sinha said. The social activist said a man can opt out of the relationship at any time, while the wife and children cannot exercise any legal rights.
Khunti District (DC) Collector Shashi Ranjan said that with the intervention of Nimitta, communal marriages for dhuku women have become a “movement” and “now couples are waiting when there are such ceremonies, where they can participate”. Mr. Rajan said the district administration serves as a facilitator for community weddings and ensures that venues for such occasions are available without loss. “After the wedding, we ensure that they are legally registered and that the legal rights of the couple are guaranteed. The administration is taking an active role in these matters,” the DC said.
According to Ms. Sinha, she receives dhuku marriages registered since 2016 and so far more than 1,950 couples living together have married in accordance with their respective religious beliefs in Hinduism, Sarnism and Christianity. The analysis of the marriages celebrated until now reveals that 85% of the couples had children at the time of their marriage. Also, the social breakdown of couples shows that 85% of couples belonged to the Scheduled Tribes, 4% to the Scheduled Castes, and 5% to the Other Backward Castes (OBC).
Commenting on the initiative, B. Sairam, Executive Director (Corporate Social Responsibility) of Coal India, said, “We sincerely believe that economic deprivation is the root cause of social discrimination. We hope that this small contribution will bring significant changes in the lives of the women covered by the project.
The intervention does not end with marriage. In collaboration with CIL, Nimitta also offers vocational training to couples to enable their economic empowerment.