Among the Waghris, a community of denotified nomadic people who live and work in various cities across the country, dowry in reverse is a common practice. The bride’s family is paid amounts ranging from INR 25,000 to INR 5,00,000 on the basis of the bride’s social background and physical appearance.
A unique practice that originally may have been designed to secure the future of a girl’s family, ‘reverse dowry’ has gradually become a patriarchal custom that forces poverty-stricken Waghri families to marry off their daughters at a young age. A few years ago, one family asked for INR 1.5 lakh for their 16-year-old daughter, and when the price was agreed to the girl dropped out of college to get married.
Even when community members reside in metropolitan cities, these practices continue. For example, a large number of Waghri people reside in Pune for work, but here too they have their own panchayat that oversees the continuation of practices such as reverse dowry and caste intermarriage.
How does the community move beyond these practices? There are no easy answers to this question because the Waghris’ lives have been complicated by years of stigma and neglect. Trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty due to their caste-based livelihoods, the Waghris mostly make their living through door-to-door selling of old clothes, begging, and child labour. They are not allowed into people’s homes because they are seen as ‘dangerous’ and ‘untrustworthy’—an enduring legacy of the community being classified as a criminal tribe during the British era.
The Waghris struggle with malnutrition, early pregnancy, and lack of access to education—all of which have as much to do with poverty as with the casteism that the community faces. For any kind of social reform in the Waghri community, social equity will be as necessary as economic equity.
Alisha Coelho and Tarun Joshi work with Ashraya Initiative for Children, a Pune-based nonprofit.
Know more: Read about how development excludes Adivasis.