Twenty-four hours after CNN IBN and IBN 7 reported how debt-ridden farmers of Bundelkhand are selling their women for money, often on stamp paper, the Mayawati government ordered an enquiry and sought an early report.
Meanwhile, instead of punishing the culprits, the police reportedly are trying to silence those who had dared to speak out on camera.
Kalicharan, the farmer Network 18 had contacted while exposing the racket, is being allegedly harrassed by the administration. "I was summoned to the police station and questioned. I told them I had spoken to the media because no one was listening to us. But they threatened me and said I was lying. My wife was also called to the police station," said Kalicharan. Kalicharan's 10-year-old daughter Vineeta was also dragged to the police station.
Distress sale: Grabs from the television report showing wives of Bundelkhand farmers who were put on sale
Political game Meanwhile, the expose has snowballed into a major political crisis, with the state Opposition parties holding the Mayawati government responsible for the situation. The Congress has set up a tree-member probe team and the Samajwadi Party is planning a day-long protest against the chief minister.
Rita Bahuguna Joshi, UP Congress president, announced to send a team to the affected region to investigate the reports. "It is a painful situation. I am a sending a team of Congress workers to help these women," said Joshi.
The BJP is also not far behind in attacking the UP government. "Both the BSP-led state government and the Congress at Centre are responsible for this. The Centre has been talking of creating a separate authority for Bundelkhand while some factions want a state. Nobody is helping is helping these farmers," said Hriday Narayan Dixit, the spokesperson for UP BJP.
Stamped and sold The debt-ridden farmers are selling their women to money lenders at rates varying between Rs 4,000 and 12,000. The prettier the face, higher the amount the woman fetches.
Interestingly, the deals are being finalised on legal stamp paper under the garb of 'marriage.' The stamp paper heading says 'Vivaha Anubandh (Marriage Contract)'.
And once the new husband has had enough of the woman, she is sold to another man.
"My husband sold me to another man for Rs 8,000 only. My buyer took me to the court at Lalitpur (a district in Bundelkhand region) to make our wedding look legal. During the trip I got a chance to escape," said Savita, who fled from the court premises.
However, not all of these women are as lucky or want to escape. Some turn to prostitution. According to the police, many of these wife-turned-prostitutes have been rescued in the last two years.
Helpless and illiterate Kunti, a 23-year-old farmer wife, is another victim. She is being sold by her husband to a money lender, Hariprasad, who is in his forties. The stamp paper of their 'marriage' agreement (a copy of which is with the CNN-IBN) makes it obvious that Kunti is illiterate and doesn't know what fate has in store for her.
"These marriages are a compromise. On a stamp paper worth Rs 10 it is written that the new husband is adult and doesn't have a wife. So, they have mutually decided to get married. But in most cases, the woman can't even read what is written in the agreement. Often, one woman is sold many times over. There are lakhs of such cases in this region," said Kalicharan, a lawyer.
Social activists allege that the police and the administration favour the more powerful money lenders. And most farmers are in their grip.
Commissioner, Jhansi, TP Pathak, denied any such case. "The region is reeling under drought and farmers have been hit hard. But they are fighting the situation with self-respect. I can't believe this. If I hear of any such case, action will be taken," said Pathak.
(All names have been changed to protect identities) Photo courtesy: CNN IBN
News source: Mid-Day