SHOCKING: Women are forced to Sleep with Brothers due to shortage of Brides in North-India

6 mins read

by Joe Wallen

She has now given birth to two children but is unsure which of the brothers is the father. 

Raani* quivers as she describes the hell she has endured since her wedding day.

At just 17 she was married off to a lorry driver living in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

Little did she know that barely a month into her marriage she would also be expected to act as a wife for two of her husband’s other brothers and, when she refused, would be raped and assaulted.

“They come on different days, they have their turns, they have their days,” the slight young woman told the Telegraph

The district of Baghpat where she lives is widely considered to be the epicentre of the Indian gender imbalance crisis that the United Nations warned in 2014 had reached “emergency proportions”.

A preference for sons over daughters meant there were only 856 females to 1,000 males in Baghpat, according to the 2011 Indian government census. 

The district of Baghpat in Uttar Pradesh
The district of Baghpat is widely considered to be the epicentre of the Indian gender imbalance crisis  CREDIT: JACK TAYLOR/THE TELEGRAPH

Dr Neelam Singh – who runs Vatsalya, an NGO combating female foeticide in Uttar Pradesh – warns the gap has widened significantly since those figures were published. 

“When the 2021 census is published we believe [it will show] sex ratios have declined further and fast.”

“In our region, especially in middle and lower-class families, if you go to houses you’ll notice that you don’t see any girls there,” says Devendra Dhama, who heads another NGO Navodya Lok Chetna Kalyan Samiti.

His research has found that in Baghpat there are now just 700 women to 1,000 men of all ages. 

Under Indian law the sex selection of foetuses and abortion of babies because of their gender is illegal.

However, these practices have become so commonplace that men from the poorest and least educated families in Baghpat now cannot find brides to marry.

Instead brides are purchased from destitute families outside of Uttar Pradesh. And while they are officially married to one brother they are expected to act as a wife to several others in a practice known as polyandry.

Around 2,100 women in Baghpat district alone are thought to be in polyandrous marriages, the majority enduring horrific physical and sexual abuse
Around 2,100 women in Baghpat district alone are thought to be in polyandrous marriages, the majority enduring horrific physical and sexual abuse CREDIT: JACK TAYLOR/THE TELEGRAPH

Mr Dhama believes polyandry has skyrocketed over the last eight years because sex ratios have dramatically widened. 

He says he is aware of around 2,100 women in Baghpat district alone in such unions and the majority are enduring horrific physical and sexual abuse.

Raani was born in the neighbouring state of Uttarakhand and her parents struggled to generate enough money from selling ice-cream to feed all their children. 

They believed that by marrying her off she would enjoy a better quality of life.

Her new husband’s family could not find brides for their sons in-state due to the shortage caused by female foeticide and pooled their money to purchase Raani and, unbeknown to her and her family, she would act as bride to all three men. 

She has now given birth to two children but is unsure which of the brothers is the father. 

Raani has now given birth to two children but is unsure which of the brothers fathered them
Raani has now given birth to two children but is unsure which of the brothers fathered them CREDIT: JACK TAYLOR/THE TELEGRAPH

Her family in Uttarakhand is aware of the abuse she is suffering but they do not have the money to escalate a police report they have lodged. Because they live in a different state to where the crime took place they have to pay the police to investigate it. 

She says she knows of several other women trapped in similar situations to her in the same village.

“The practice of polyandrous marriages with brides from other states is prevalent in the western part of Uttar Pradesh,” said Khalid Chaudhry, programme manager at ActionAid India.

“The women’s condition in these marriages is one of extreme vulnerability and insecurity. Their treatment is like that of a slave, living under the real threat of rape, which as per law is not considered a crime when it happens within marriage,” he said.

Preference for sons over daughters is deeply embedded within Indian society.

When a woman marries her family must pay a substantial dowry to her in-laws meaning it can be financially beneficial to have a son.

An Indian woman walks past a closed antenatal clinic in the town of Khekra town in Baghpat district
A woman walks past a closed antenatal clinic in the town of Khekra, in Baghpat CREDIT: REBECCA CONWAY /THE TELEGRAPH

Within lower and middle income families – particularly in rural areas – the bride will also move into her husband’s home.

This is a double-edged sword.

Firstly, families can be reluctant to have daughters as they support them throughout childhood only for them to leave home to care for their in-laws.

Secondly, having a son means they are almost guaranteed a daughter-in-law who will look after them when they are old.

Manik, 22, lives in the village of Movikalan in Baghpat district and he told the Telegraph that he and his brothers are struggling to find brides.

“People feel it is very expensive to bring up a daughter,” he says.

“They will have to spend on their education, food, clothing and marriage and the girl will just eventually go away to another family.”

A family of brothers from a village in Baghpat say they are struggling to find wives because of a lack of women where he lives
A family of brothers from a village in Baghpat say they are struggling to find wives because of a lack of women where he lives CREDIT: JACK TAYLOR/THE TELEGRAPH

The ever increasing chasm in female-to-male sex ratios has been exacerbated by the plummeting cost of sex-selection IVF procedures and abortions in even the most remote parts of India.

Sex-selection illegal in India, says Mr Chaudhry.

“Yet, there are many ultrasound centres and fertility clinics which help individuals in determining the sex of the foetus and facilitating the subsequent elimination of the birth of girl children by aborting the female foetus.

“Availability of cheap technology but most of all complicity of the authorities has allowed this flourishing illegal practice to permeate into rural areas as well, turning this into a national crisis,” he says.

In 2015, the Indian Government did introduce the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao communication campaign which aimed to “change people’s mindsets towards the girl child.” 

A sign detailing regulations around sex-determination hangs outside a closed antenatal clinic in the town of Khekra, in Baghpat
A sign detailing regulations around sex-determination hangs outside a closed antenatal clinic in the town of Khekra, in Baghpat CREDIT: REBECCA CONWAY /THE TELEGRAPH

The policy had phenomenal success in Haryana where the state government led a push to prosecute those offering illegal abortions.

However, in Baghpat, a blind-eye has been turned to female foeticide and in turn polyandry.

“The government has not really taken the threat seriously,” said Dr Singh.

“I approached the speaker of the house and said I want to let the politicians know about the situation but they are non-responsive, they didn’t give me the time, these statutory bodies have an unwillingness to deal with the issue.”

Devendra Dhama says the local government committee which is instructed to identify and shut down illegal abortion clinics is corrupt and has stopped doing its job.

Walking through the backstreets of the city of Khekra the sheer scale of the industry is shocking.

96-year-old Maha Singh talks to Devendra Kumar Dhamma
96-year-old Maha Singh talks to Devendra Kumar Dhamma about when he used to arrange local marriages using brides brought to the area from Assam CREDIT: REBECCA CONWAY /THE TELEGRAPH

Dilapidated clinics line the streets offering illegal sex-selection and abortion procedures for as little as 1,500 rupees (£17).

Interspersed between the surgeries are pop-up pharmacies that sell instant abortion tablets, such as the “unwanted pill”, for just 100 rupees (£1.15).

“Initially it was demand driven supply but now it is supply driven demand,” explains Dr Singh.

Indian Government data found that in 132 villages in Uttarakhand state not a single girl had been born between May-July of this year, compared to 200 boys. 

According to a marriage agent the Telegraph met near the city of Meerut the police are complicit in permitting polyandrous marriages.

He is paid 20,000 rupees (£236) to find brides from Assam – some as young as 15 – for families in Baghpat for multiple sons.

Shakuntala was also forced into a polyandrous marriage with two brothers in a Baghpat village
Shakuntala was also forced into a polyandrous marriage with two brothers in a Baghpat village CREDIT: REBECCA CONWAY /THE TELEGRAPH

He says the police in Assam know what he is doing but turn a blind eye for a bribe of up to 5,000 rupees (£59).

“There is a shortage of girls here,” he explains.

“Men can only marry girls if they are educated and if they have jobs, so these extra men marry girls from outside the state.

“Polyandry is very common here, every second, third or fourth house.”

Shakuntala* was also forced into a polyandrous marriage with two brothers in a Baghpat village.

“We would fight a lot,” she recalls, “he would hit me really bad.”

“The older brother would try to make me characterless by forcing himself on me.”

She says she was only freed from the heinous arrangement nine years ago after her husband died.

She worries the next generation of girls in her village will end up in polyandrous marriages.

“It is very prevalent and it is increasing,” she warns.

“If you keep killing girls inside the wombs then where will all these unmarried boys go?”

Raani prays that her situation will change but she does not believe there is any way her parents will be able to raise the necessary funds. For her husband and her brothers in-law she just has one chilling question. “I just want to ask them why are you raping me?”

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

Additional reporting by Ambika Chopra

Article first published in Telegraph UK.

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