Monday, November 29, 1999

Bharwads amend their laws to check illegal practices

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Ban child marriage, exchange of cash during weddings; will penalise violatorsThe Motabhai Bharwad community having a population of over 10 lakh people in the state, most of whom are illiterate, has amended its 42-year-old community "constitution" to crack down on those members who indulge "evil practices".Bharwad men traditionally pay large amounts of money to get wives, and in the process, ruin family finances. Child marriages are rampant too in thecommunity. The fourth edition of the community's "constitution" drafted by its educated members and sanctioned by the community heads has banned all such practices, adding clausesfor heavy penalties and public humiliation for violators.The community, which breeds cattle and is mostly into milk selling activity, has one of the lowest literacy rates in the country, at less than 10 per cent. The community members hold their "constitution" sacred and strictly abide by it. Currently, an average Bharwad groom's family gives at least 350 gm gold to the bride's family (this gold is not given to the girl) besides other gifts worth at least Rs 50,000."Often, the groom's family would get into heavy debt to get their son married off. And, since the girl is then married off to such a financially weak family, she too never gets a comfortable life. The tradition has spread like cancer in our community and if it is not curbed, it will kill the community financially," said Raju Junja, one of the drafters of the amendment to the community "constitution".According to the amendment, now families cannot demand more than 80 gm gold and gifts beyond Rs 10,000. The exchange of cash has been totally banned. Also, the families cannot exchange gifts. One more clause that has been introduced is the total ban on child marriage. It quotes government rules in this regard.The latest amendment is the realisation about the effects of the harmful practices observed by the illiterate members of the community.Rajkot-based Junja, who runs an advertisement agency, said the amendments have been approved by Narbhepuri Bapu, the leader of the Bharwad community. "As it has Bapu's approval, no one would defy the amendments," said a reformist spiritual chief, Khimji Makwana Bapu. Makwana heads the community's main Dwarikadhees ashram at Thara village in Jajavada taluka of Sabarkantha district.Since 1968, this is the fourth edition of the Motabhai Bharwad constitution. Each amendment had tried to bring in reforms but what makes the fourth edition special is the prescription of heavy penalties. "In case of disputes or complaints, our community court at Macchu Mata Mandir located at Diwanpara in Rajkot will hear the case and the violators will have to pay heavy penalty for their offences. It could be in the range of Rs 50,000," said Junja. The community has formed a team of volunteers authorised to lodge complaints in case no one comes forward to do so in the case.

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