Why is the ‘bride-price’ giving way to the system of dowry?

This is because the woman’s status in tribal society is also changing rapidly and now, she is being treated more as a liability than an asset because of her declining economic status. Actually, the status of tribal women usually depends on the economic roles they play. The tribals in the past were usually forest dwellers and their livelihood to a great extent depended on food-gathering. More than the men, the women were sustaining the economy.

Women’s traditional roles and their declining status in a globalized economy Women, more than men, had to walk long distances to fetch wood and fodder. Besides, they also collected fruits, roots and tubers, lac, gum, tendu patta and leaves for self-consumption and sale. With large scale deforestation, building of big and small dams and power plants as well as SEZs, and other projects, there has been large-scale displacement of tribals, and the roles of women have undergone a sea change with them having to toil more to maintain the economy.
Because women are being displaced from their traditional land and forests, and have to work in brick kilns and construction sites to earn a living, they become extremely vulnerable. Contractors and middlemen sexually and economically exploit them. The men folk having migrated to cities in search of work, the burden of looking after the family falls on the women.
In many parts of the country, swidden cultivation or slash and burn cultivation or jhum cultivation, as it is called in the North-East, was in vogue. Jhum cultivation was basically a woman’s enterprise. The women were engaged in scattering and sowing the seeds, weeding and harvesting. It was they who preserved the seeds at home for the next season and took all the decisions regarding the crops to be cultivated in the new season. The men mostly guarded the crops from wild animals and hunted for meat. Thus, there was a balance between the contributions of the men and the women to keep the community going. Women were doing most were valued in the society as producers. As jhum cultivation is losing its viability and being replaced by permanent terraced wet-rice cultivation and as multi cropping practices are being replaced by mono-cropping and cash crops and horticulture are getting preference, women are the losers.
In many areas of the North-East, for example Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, migrant male labourers are being employed in place of women. From West Bengal, Santhal women migrate collectively to the southern districts for weeding and transplanting work after completing cultivation work in their own areas.

As the rural economy fails to sustain the adivasis, they look for other options. There have been several instances where Adivasi girls have been forced to work as housemaids or menial workers and have been starved and brutalized by the employers. The agencies enrolling and supplying them to employers assume no responsibility. Many such women and girls have been isolated from their families with promises of lucrative jobs and sold off to be used as sex slaves in countries of the Middle East and others.
Weaving was a traditional occupation of women in the North-East. All tribal girls used to learn weaving at home from their elders. They wove beautiful shawls, chadors, mekhelas, pekoks and pinis, phaneks and innaphis, jainsens and gamchas and other traditional attire with intricate traditional designs. They were also adept in bamboo weaving, and they made hats, baskets, bags, mats, decoration items, and many other articles of daily use. Similarly, traditional weaves and glasswork are common among tribal women in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Some NGOs and Governmental organizations are trying to help them to learn new designs, to cater to international demands, and at the same time keep their traditional crafts and weaving from dying out. These products are marketed through Governmental co-operatives. Yet, with growing commercialization, the women’s indigenous designs are not so much in vogue, as the market demands diverse options in the quality of raw material, design, colour and style. Now the Government has tied up with Snapdeal, the online shopping store, for the marketing of Tribal handicrafts. While it has now become easy to market the goods, which are also being exported abroad, the women get a very small percentage of the market price of the goods produced by them, which is quite high. Hence, they are being exploited due to lack of bargaining strategies and access to the market.
Thus the status of women in tribal society is gradually being eroded. In short male domination is growing even in tribal society and several instances of unruly behaviour due to excessive consumption of cheap liquor have been reported. Domestic violence on women has also increased, though it is less than among non-tribals. Tribal courts are often the simplest means of getting access to speedy justice and they are far less expensive. But sometimes the decisions of these courts are brutal. For example, the Birbhum gangrape on 21 January 2014, in which a 20-year-old tribal girl from Subolpur village was punished with gangrape by a Salishi Sabha for having an affair with a boy of a different community. However, the Domestic Violence Act has not banned these kangaroo courts. There are other kinds of violence against tribal women as well. For example, in tribal areas, women have been subjected to violence at the hands of the police, paramilitary and armed forces. Examples are Salwa Judum cases of sexual oppression in Bijapur, Bastar, Dantewada and Sukma etc., the torture of Soni Sori. Cases of state repression have also come to light in Narayanpatna as well as the Southern districts of Odisha and Tribal areas of Andhra Pradesh. The gang rape and killing of Thangjam Manorama in Manipur, State repression in Lalgarh, West Bengal, and several armed operations in the North East including army excesses under AFSPA have also been documented.

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