By Quaid Najmi
Solapur, Dec 22 (IANS): This was one'amarriage procession' without parallels -- some 50 young-to-middle aged single-men, clad in full glittering wedding attire, taking out a procession on horsebacks to the Solapur Collector, demanding -- of all things, brides!
The unusual march, organised by NGO Jyoti Kranti Parishad (JKP), evoked curiosity, leers and even cheers, but highlighted a major problem gnawing at the rural hinterlands of Solapur and other districts, where there is a stark 'shortage' of girls for marriage to the bachelors, in the age group of 25-40, and even older hopefuls.
All the 'single-grooms' sported the shining wedding attire of a sherwani or kurta, pyjama, a red headgear (pheta), a dangling sword, on the customary well-decked white horse, carrying placards around their necks, and single-mindedly raising slogans to draw the government's attention to their sole concern in the one-km long procession.
The placards read, "Wanted a Wife, A Wife! Anybody can give a Girl to Marry Me!", "Government, come to your senses and talk to us, You will have to take note of our plight!", and a flustered 12-year-old kid Vicky Sadigle led the procession carrying a poster "In future, Will I get married or Not?!"
JKP President Ramesh Baraskar said that all the despairing bachelors at the Wednesday procession were aged between 25-40, mostly well-educated and from respected middle-class families, including some farmers, a few working in private companies, etc.
"Owing to the skewed male:female ratio here, these healthy, earning and capable men don't get eligible girls for marriage for years. The situation is so desperate now that they are ready to 'marry today' with any girl, from any caste, religion, widows, orphans, or even challenged girls, but no luck," rued Baraskar, in a chat with IANS.
The procession terminated near the Collectorate where the 'single-grooms' squatted and narrated their heart-rending predicament, and submitted a memorandum addressed to Chief Minister Eknath Shinde to the surprised Solapur Collector Milind Shambharkar.
Pune's Dr. Ganesh Rakh, who launched the 'Beti Bachao' (Save the Girl Child) movement in January 2022, said that the official male:female ratio in India is 1,000 boys:940 girls, and in Maharashtra it is 1,000 boys:920 girls.
"Barring Kerala's 1,000 boys:1,050 girls, the figures for the rest of the country are misleading. There are huge problems in rural areas or the middle and lower-middle class boys who don't get girls. The situation will worsen if urgent remedial measures are not initiated now," Dr. Rakh cautioned.
Baraskar, a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and a former Council head of Mohol town, said the JKP studies show that all the marriageable age girls prefer government servants, armed forces, people working abroad, in big cities like Mumbai and Pune, big businessmen or wealthy families.
"Those already living in the urban centres, though they may be from not-so-wealthy families, are reluctant to come to the rural areas owing to various reasons," Baraskar explained the grim scenario.
The results are disastrous for the 'deprived' bachelors, who are getting depraved, or addicted to various ills like alcoholism, their parents develop various diseases from the worries of their unwed sons and anxiety over the continuity of their family or clan, he said.
One such wannabe groom Luv Mali, 40, told IANS that his entire family and the extended clan in Solapur and other parts of Maharashtra have been on a frantic 'bride-hunt' for a girl since over two decades, but they have failed.
Kiran Todkar, 39, said he has been uploading his photos, bio-data and family details on various social media sites for the past 20 years, but there's no "hit" from any suitable girl, besides religiously attending match-making events in Solapur and other towns.
"My family isAweary after a bride-hunt of 15 yearsa They are ready to accept any girl who is prepared to marry me. I am struggling to find one through the local priests who act as 'match-makers', on social media and in WhatsApp groups. I hope to be lucky after this solstice procession,a lamented Gorkha Hede, 36.
A frustrated 38-year old working for a private company as an officer (requesting anonymity) revealed how his parents virtually stop people on the roads, in buses, in temples or at social gatherings, begging if they have a suitable girl to marry their son..!
Baraskar said that for over a month, attempts to highlight the issue publicly met with tough resistance and ridicule from the locals, but finally the JKP took the plunge.
"There are some 100-150 unmarried men in most villages and more in towns. Now, there's a flood of support and people are asking us to have similar processions in other districtsa We are planning a state-level morcha of such bachelors in Mumbai in summer 2023," said Baraskar.