Defying community customs, tribal woman chooses her man, destiny

Mumbai: Govindi Gudilu, a 30-year-old woman from the denotified tribe Vaidu and the first graduate of the community, wed a man outside her caste on Thursday. For anyone, it would be a just another ritual that happens more than a thousand times across the country in a day. But as Govindi shares her story and struggle she went through to get married is not a script for an ideal love story but the tragedy of a community.

“Choosing a partner on our own itself is a big thing according to the community. Add to that an inter-caste marriage, just imagine what a blasphemy that might be for the members,” said Govindi.  Incidentally, Govindi’s wedding comes two days after the Supreme Court had observed that any attempt by khap panchayats or other assemblies to prevent two consenting adults from marrying was illegal.

“My fate was sealed already when I was a child. But I declined since I wanted to study and get educated. And same was sadly not the case with the boy whom I was supposed to get married. He was also a boozard and wanted to do the same thing as the other members, that is, repair broken bones,” she added.

The Vaidus are a Scheduled Tribe spread across Maharashtra who traditionally used to sell herbal medicines and concoctions in both rural and urban areas. “The actual name is Vaidya or Baid (they are known to repair broken bones) but since it is a denotified tribe, people looked down upon them and eventually being started called as Vaidus — in a condescending tone,” said Govindi’s younger sister Durga.

After two years of struggle, tribal members of the Jat Panchayat imposed a fine of Rs 3 lakh and ostracized the family from the community. Like a guardian holds hand and shows the right way, Mukta Dabholkar of Andha Shradsha Nirmoolan Samiti and daughter of murdered rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, came to the fore of the family and Durga. They set out a campaign to disband the panchayat.

The council was finally disbanded in 2015. “Then there was the moment of epiphany. They realized that our way was the right way,” Durga states. Dabholkar also attended the wedding and thanked the community for ultimately supporting Govindi on her decision to marry not only of a person of her own choice, but to marry when she wants to.  “That is real women empowerment; to take decisions on your own and live life in your way, although responsibly. This decision will pave way for many other girls and women to replicate the same,” she adds.

The tribe has an estimated population of 26,000 living in Mumbai in areas like Jogeshwari, Kurla, Sion, Vikhroli, Borivali, Virar and Kalyan. In Sarvodaya Nagar, Jogeshwari East, which is home to the Gudilu family, there are 2,000 registered voters.

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