‘Our society deserves this. This is karma hitting us back for aborting our girl children,’ says a father-in-law who was served poisoned tea by a ‘looteri dulhan’..

By Sagrika Kissu

Bachelors from Haryana, who have been buying wives from other states, due to the shortage of eligible girls in their own state—are discovering that brides are only interested in looting them!

The women and men of Pilu Khera village in Haryana’s Jind district are no longer drinking their favourite sweet milk tea. This tea boycott started when Ved Singh and his family were poisoned and scammed by their daughter-in-law — a ‘loot and scoot’ bride.
Looteri Dulhans, as they are known colloquially, have become a much-feared force in the hinterlands of Haryana. They are the unexpected fallout in a state with such a skewed sex ratio that young men started ‘buying’ brides from other parts of India. It’s a thriving industry with brokers hammering out all the pesky details so that young women from poor families in Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and even Kerala can be ‘sold’ for as little as Rs 10,000.
Now, the tables have turned. The agency-bought brides are targeting Haryanvi men who are desperate to marry. They go through the trappings of wedding ceremonies, play the shy bride, become the dutiful bahu, obey their husbands, and then bam! They flee with all their money.
Some operate in gangs, while a few go it solo. A majority of the brides are between 19 and 21 years, but a few like Ved Singh’s daughter-in-law, Geeta, 26, are older.
Ved Singh is relieved that he, his wife Khujani (78), and their son Suresh (45), survived a looteri dulhan. And he has his daughter and neighbours to thank. On 9 February, they lost consciousness after drinking the tea that their new daughter-in-law Geeta had dutifully prepared. But before she could scoot with their jewellery including gold necklace, bangles and earrings. She also wanted to flee with cash but was caught red-handed by the villagers who called the police. Geeta was arrested. But the experience has soured the taste of tea.
On a chilly Friday morning, Pilu Khera hums with activity. It’s a small village with around 700 households. Men carry manure through the winding alleyways. Women feed hay to the cows and buffaloes tethered to trees. But they no longer gather to sip on cups of hot sweet chai at the end of the work day or during breaks.
It is a collective lament of a tragedy that befell their neighbour Ved Singh, and the fear that it could have happened to any of them. At least a dozen families in Pilu Khera village have procured wives from other states. And in Mayar village, which is an hour’s ride away, three families were plundered by their new brides around the same time.
Ved Singh occasionally glances at his wife resting in the living room of their pucca house. She hasn’t quite recovered from the poisoned tea, and the police are yet to determine what Geeta laced the beverage with.
When visitors came to the house to congratulate the newlywed couple, Geeta would welcome them with a cup of traditional strong ginger milk tea.
“Geeta stayed with us for one week. We were very happy that our family was finally complete,” he said. But the bliss was built on a lie. And it evaporated before their tea turned cold.

The ‘perfect’ bride
Geeta is actually Meena from Uttar Pradesh. During investigation, the police learned that the woman who posed as Meena’s mother was her mother-in-law. The broker was probably in on the scam.
They discovered hidden layers behind Meena’s carefully constructed alias. Not only was she married, but she had three children. She was a key member of a well-oiled gang of looteri dulhans. which she started with her husband’s blessing and her mother-in-law’s aid.
For Suresh, this was his second marriage and ‘Geeta’ seemed like the perfect bride who would clean their house, prepare tea, cook food, and bear his children. They married in a small ceremony in their house on 3 February.
Khujani distributed sweets to everyone in the neighbourhood. Suresh had first married when he was 20, but the union was short-lived. After a bitter separation followed by a 12-year-long court case, Suresh was single again. By now he was 32 years old and there were few young single women in Pilu Khera or neighbouring villages.
Data from the 2011 Census report shows that the sex ratio in Haryana is 879 women for 1000 males, which is much below the national average of 940. Government initiatives like ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ have had some impact. As per the 2022 sex ratio at birth (SRB), Haryana recorded 917 female births per 1,000 males in 2022. But this trend is not uniform. Five of the 22 districts in Haryana — Hisar, Rewari, Kurukshetra, Faridabad, and Karnal — saw a dip in SRB in comparison to 2021.
“Something is seriously amiss in the four worst performing districts,” an official who was part of the ‘Beti Bachao’ programme told Hindustan Times when the data was released In January this year.
When Suresh couldn’t find a bride for himself, villagers who had sourced brides from other states suggested he take this route. Suresh contacted a broker— and ‘Geeta’ entered their lives.
She would learn the Haryanvi language from Khujani and keep her veil intact.
“She would not let me and my husband work. She would cook, make us tea and take charge of the house. We felt blessed,” Khujani said, echoing her son’s sentiments.
As the first week of married life was drawing to a close, Geeta (Meena) told her in-laws that her ‘mother’ and brother were coming to meet her. In Khujani’s eyes, the young woman could do no wrong, and so she agreed to host them. They were due to arrive late at night on 9 February. But the daughter Monica felt something was amiss.
That evening, after preparing and serving dinner, Geeta insisted that everyone have a cup of tea while they waited for the guests to arrive. Monica refused and left home to visit a neighbour.
Khujani recalls Geeta holding a cup of tea but not sipping from it. “I didn’t pay much attention to it. The tea wasn’t bitter and didn’t feel like there was something mixed in it,” she says, scratching her head.
Half an hour later, all three of them—Ved Singh, Khujani and Suresh—fell unconscious. Geeta’s mother-in-law and brother were waiting for her call. The two arrived and together, they started emptying the cupboards of all the gold and cash.
But before they could flee, Monica returned home, realised what had happened and started shouting for help. Geeta’s mother-in-law, later identified as Omwati, was arrested as well, but her ‘brother’ managed to escape.
Suresh refuses to talk to the media about this.

Embarrassment, pride, fear
The three families in Mayar village in Hisar district, though, weren’t as lucky. The neighbours were united by boundary walls and brides from other states.
Kamla, 60, got a bahu (daughter-in-law), Preeti, 20, from Bathinda in Punjab for Rs 30,000 in March 2022 for her son Lalit. Within a week, the new bride said she wanted to visit her mother.
“I grew suspicious. I told her it’s just been a few days. Stay at least for a month. Let’s get to know each other and then you can go and spend some time at home. But she started fighting with me,” recalls Kamla.
A week later, when Kamla and Lalit were out in the fields, Preeti took Rs 1.5 lakh cash from the sandook (storage box) and fled. Kamla contacted the broker, but he refused to return the money or take any responsibility for the bahu’s actions.
Like Suresh, Lalit, too, did not want to discuss what happened. Lying on a charpoy in the drawing room, he listened to his mother narrate silently. “I said I won’t talk about it,” he muttered and turned his back.
“My son fell into depression. He was always reluctant to buy a bride, but I convinced him by telling him it was the right decision for the family,” said Kamla, staring at the charpoy, her face scrunched.

Their two neighbours had similar stories to tell.
“After the sale of woman, the middlemen or brokers don’t take responsibility if the bride loots the family,” says Santosh, a villager who recently contested for the post of Sarpanch.
In Mayar village, ‘Uski bahu bhag gayi’ (Their daughter-in-law ran away) has become a standard statement. In the past one year alone, as many as 30 families have been victims of ‘loot and scoot’ brides.
It’s a topic of much discussion at village gatherings. They try to weed out the rotten apples among brokers who work with these gangs for a commission. They list qualities of what to look for in a ‘true’ bride. “But hardly anyone files a police complaint,” said Santosh.

It pricks the heart of family pride.
Banaspati, 65, got her son Vijay, 35, married twice in a span of four years. In both instances, the brides looted them and fled. Yet, the family never approached the police.
“What will we get by filing a complaint? Society will shame us. People will say the daughter-in-law of a Jaat has fled,” said Banaspati while tossing bread on a griddle. The police are more cynical about the lack of complaints.
“It’s not limited to shame but also the fact that the brides were bought for money—human trafficking,” said Mandeep Chahal, SHO, Sadar police station, Hisar.
The police are aware of the gangs, or “syndicates” as they are called, operating in Haryana. “But we don’t receive any complaints because families are scared that they would be investigated for buying brides,” added Chahal.
The gangs target men like Lalit and Suresh—they are above marriageable age and desperate for a wife. They also target unemployed men, said human rights activist Jagmati Sangwan.
Ved Singh wants the government to keep a record of brides coming from other states. But then it would be an acknowledgement and acceptance of bride price and human trafficking.

Past promise, present worry
In Haryana, brides, or the lack of them, are linked to votes. It’s common for politicians to promise unmarried, ‘overaged’ men brides while campaigning.
Ahead of the assembly election in 2014, BJP Haryana president OP Dhankar had promised brides from Bihar.
“Making BJP strong also means that those youths in many villages who are roaming without brides will get one,” Dhankar had said while addressing a Kisan Mahasammelan (farmers’ meeting) at Narwana in Jind.
Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar had also stoked controversy in 2019 after the abrogation of Article 370 by saying, “Now some people say, Kashmir is open, they (brides) will be brought from there.”
However, people lament that the same government is not looking out for them when the brides loot them.
Khaps in Haryana want the government to streamline the process of getting brides from other states. Kandela khap panchayat chief Tek Ram Kandela wants police verification for every bride who is not from Haryana.
“We know there are fewer women in Haryana. But why buy them? They should come on their own; they won’t leave then,” Kandela says.

The search continues…
Despite being jilted and looted, Haryana’s families haven’t stopped searching for wives for their sons. With fewer women in the state and caste discrimination at play, the men, especially in the Jaat community, have limited choices. In Haryana, the status of being unmarried dents masculine pride.
Shanti from Mayar village, whose pregnant daughter-in-law fled with all their gold, is looking for another wife for her son. His right leg is paralysed and he needs someone to take care of him.
She opens boxes of fake jewellery, clothes and make-up that she had gifted to her daughter-in-law. The bride left with gold, silver and cash, leaving behind just her red and white marriage bangles.
“We gave her everything she asked for. Yet she left us. She would not eat dinner without serving us first. I still can’t believe that she was cheating on us,” Shanti says.
The events over the past few weeks have forced Ved Singh to acknowledge and accept that villagers are paying a high price for their preference of the ‘boy child’.
“Our society deserves this. This is karma hitting us back. This is the result of old patriarchal tradition of aborting the girl child and killing the foetus,” he says.
He wants grandchildren to play with. He wants his son settled. And he wants a bahu who will take care of him and his wife in old age.
Instead, his son and other men “are wandering about trying to find a partner and getting looted.”
(Edited by Prashant)

Courtesy: The Print

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