The gift that stopped giving: Bhil community’s notra tradition

Location IconBanswara district, Rajasthan

In 2019, I visited Banswara district, Rajasthan, where I learnt about the tradition of notra, or wedding gift, among the Bhil community. As part of this custom, whenever there was a wedding, all the members of the community would come together and contribute towards the festivities. The bhoj, or feast, was prepared by the whole community, with each family bringing their traditional cooking vessels and ingredients to prepare the food. Weddings taught the Bhil community to participate in each other’s happiness.

But over time, as modernity and markets took over all aspects of life, their influence spread to the wedding practices of the Bhil community. Many members now use catering services instead of relying on community cooking. Even the traditional dresses have changed to modern lehengas and sherwanis, which has increased the cost of the celebration. Weddings in the community have now become the measure of a family’s status.

A man from Tamatiya village in Anandpuri town said, “Marriage costs vary from one family to another. A migrant labourer can do it for INR 50,000, whereas it can reach INR 2 lakh for someone else in the same community in the same village.”

As with everything else, the notra tradition has undergone a sea change. While earlier people gave their time and labour and shared their resources, now they pay in cash to help with the wedding. Everyone in the community is required to chip in. However, the receiver must return twice the amount to the giver. For example, if a family has given INR 500 to help another host a marriage function, they will receive INR 1,000 back. In other words, notra has become a very high-interest loan—a loan steeped in tradition that people must follow. 

Moreover, it is no longer limited to weddings. Notra has become a way for villagers to get help from the community for big expenditures such as constructing a house. While it is up to a family to seek notra support, the community must give money when requested with the promise of it being doubled when returned.

The practice has become such an obligation that nowadays it is contributing to community migration. While some people migrate to find work to pay off the notra gift, others migrate to get away from the tradition. “We want to go to Gujarat because then we don’t have to contribute to the notra, which saves a lot of our money,” one woman told me. 

Sanjana Kaushik is Manager – Youth Hub at Village Square. This is an edited excerpt from an article that was originally published on Village Square.

Know more: Learn why marriages are a unique problem for women in the Banchhada community.

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