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In 2014, medieval fury over widow remarriage

The attempt of Jharkhand State Commission for Women members to help a socially shunned family in Hazaribagh on Sunday earned them the ire of villagers, who vehemently opposed the panel’s “intention to defy social doctrines”.

A women’s commission team visited Kewal village in Barhi block, to persuade people to take the family of Pritam Singh, residents of nearby Hazaridhamna, back into their fold.

Commission members, circle officer R. Pandey and a Barhi police inspector, urged residents of Kewal and Hazaridhamna villages to resolve the issue amicably. But, villagers declined.

The row dates back to 2013, when Hazaridhamna village ostracised a coolie, Pritam Singh, in his late 50s, for an unacceptable act — he had married off his elder son’s widow to his younger son against social customs.

Pritam’s daughter-in-law, Ranju, a resident of Kewal village, had been married his elder son Sudhir Singh (25).

But even before Singh could bring his daughter-in-law home after gauna (a ritual of welcoming a newlywed bride to her husband’s house for consummation of the marriage), Sudhir succumbed to cancer. Considering Ranju’s age — only 20 years old then — and the fact she and Sudhir had not lived together for even a day, Singh decided to bring her home as the bride of his younger son Satish.

However, Singh’s liberal thinking did not get any appreciation from villagers. They ostracised the family.

Villagers completely stopped talking to the family and refused to help them in times of distress.

Disturbed over their behaviour and constant ill treatment, Singh approached gram sabha members and panchayat representatives, but to no avail. Ultimately, Singh knocked on the door of the commission last year.

The women’s commission requested the villagers to make peace with Singh and his family.

A month ago, Singh again approached the commission, saying that the villagers had not yet accepted him.

On Sunday, when the commission members went to the area, the villagers initially appeared welcoming.

But they got infuriated at the team members’ proposal to have lunch with Singh. The villagers claimed Singh’s act of widow remarriage was not acceptable in their community.

Speaking to The Telegraph about the incident, Mahua Maji, chairperson of the women’s commission and a noted author, said she had never witnessed such outrage by people when requested to abolish a regressive custom.

In fact, the villagers were so agitated that the circle officer and the inspector urged the women’s commission team to leave the place immediately to avoid any untoward incident.

On her way back to the state capital, Maji said: “I will take up the matter with Hazaribagh deputy commissioner (Sunil Kumar) as Pritam Singh and his family members are living in mortal fear of their lives. Moreover, the matter is sensitive. It needs to be handled sensibly but quickly.”


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