CHILD MARRIAGE AND ‘SAATAA PAATA’
Rapar in Kutch district of Gujarat is a socially and economically backward area. A low gender ratio, low education among girls, rigid traditions and social practices and the subordinate status of women were some of the salient features initially observed in the area. On delving into issues related to women, AWAG learnt about the practice of child and Saataa Paata marriages, wherein marriages are based on the ‘Saataa Paata’ practice. Saataa Paata involves the marriage between a brother-sister pair of one family with that of another. If one does fulfil the commitment, the offending party has to pay a hefty fine and is also faced with pressure from the community. The choice of the prospective bride and groom is limited. Since such marriages are arranged at a young age, education is often hindered. More often than not, a woman faced with violence is neither able to sever her marriage nor to go to her parents’ home, because by doing so, her brother’s marriage gets adversely affected.
Hence, in real terms, she has little or no choice. AWAG has addressed the issue by virtue of several meetings/gatherings with the local communities, thus bringing about a realization among them to oppose the practice.
A major turning point was after an event that was held on the 25 October 2004 at the cluster level to show solidarity and support to a victim who had dared to break the age-old Saataa Paata custom. Around 1500 women and 450 men attended a large gathering that discussed the untoward impact of the Saataa Paata custom on women. The long-standing tradition of this custom was broken by an enterprising brother-sister duo. Heads of Caste Councils that had attended the gathering, publicly acknowledged that Saataa Paata was a heinous custom and had to be discontinued. At the day’s end, a number of youth resolved to share their learning with their parents.
At present too, the tradition of Saataa Paata has significantly decreased. While there are no breakups of the Saataa Paata that have already been committed to, the count of cases of new Saataa Paata materializing is relatively low. In view of this positive move, children are now permitted to complete their education rather than getting tied down to the compulsion of Saataa Paata.