Tribal boy marries two sisters at a time

By Shyam Pandharipande


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Zinganur (Maharashtra) : The Madia Gond community in this Maharashtra village created history of sorts by solemnizing the marriage of a young man with two girls at the same time.

In the first marriage ceremony of its kind for which proper invites went out to all families in the village, 27-year old Dharma Madavi took the hand of two sisters – Wangi (26) and Pali (22) – and exchanged nuptial vows with them as the village folk blessed the threesome. The event took place Sunday.

The solemnization climaxed a series of tribal marriage rituals and a daylong ceremony complete with the 'rela' dance in which all the guests participated with gusto.

While the instance of a boy tying the knot with two girls at the same altar simultaneously was unusual, bigamy is quite common in the Madia Gond and many other tribal communities.

How the wedding came about is quite a story.

Laccha, the elder brother of Wangi and Pali, who reared the two sisters after their father's demise 10 years ago, sought the advice of uncle Marakka Atram about marrying off the elder of the two girls.

While Dharma, the cousin of the Madavi siblings (son of their father's sister) was the obvious choice, given the tribal custom making it incumbent on a marriageable boy to seek the hand of his maternal cousin, there was a hitch. Dharma had expressed the desire to marry Pali, the younger of the two sisters.

The custom obliges a boy not wanting to marry his maternal cousin to pay the marriage expenses to his maternal uncle before marrying another girl of his choice.

"We had no objection to the proposal per se," Lachha told IANS. "But the problem was it would be inappropriate to marry off the younger sister while keeping the elder one unwed."

How about Dharma marrying both the sisters? While Dharma liked the idea mooted by a wizened man in the meeting of the village elders that deliberated on the issue, the other wags too cleared the proposal without much dithering, said the boy's father Porke Madavi, a former village chieftain.

Sayeem Khan, a social activist in Gadchiroli district, told IANS that while bigamy is not uncommon among tribal communities, the practice is a kind of problem solving mechanism, employed in situations like the first wife's illness or the second one's orphaned state.

As cool as bigamy is another practice among many tribal communities – the 'live in' system, a stray instance of which would raise eyebrows even among the urban communities in India today except perhaps the 'high society', said Sayeem Khan.

"Yet, among tribal communities in interior villages like Laheri, Bhamragarh and Binagunda on Andhra-Maharashtra border, a girl going over to the boy's home and living with him for years on end before getting formally married is common – sometimes it happens after two-three children are born," he added.

Moreover, a girl has a freedom to discard her 'live in' partner should she come to disapprove of his conduct over a period of time and choose another one.

But polyandry – a woman having two or more husbands or live-in partners – is not a done thing.

'Ghotul', a system in which marriageable boys and girls stay together for a few days in specially constructed thatched huts and select their partners after gaining familiarity and confidence is still in vogue among tribals, Sayeem said.

Reached for his reaction to the bigamous marriage, Sironcha sub divisional police officer Vinay Rathod told IANS that legal procedural rules did not empower the police to stop the marriage in the absence of a complaint from an aggrieved party, bigamy being a non-cognizable offence.