This groom was held up at gunpoint and forced to marry
If you believe what you're told in the media, India is a far easier place to live for men than women. We regularly hear reports of male aggression and female oppression, of domestic violence and sexual assault, but there are also plenty of examples where the victim is male.
This was made clear when a video of a young man's harrowing abduction came to public attention this month. The horrific incident saw a young engineer, Vinod Kumar, picked up and dragged by his feet by a crowd of people, begging for his release and crying out for help the whole time. So, where were they taking him? Kumar was reportedly being kidnapped and forcibly taken to marry a stranger against his will. According to him, he was held up at gunpoint and coerced into taking part in the nuptials.
Kumar, from Khusrupur in the north-eastern Bihar State, was apparently in Patna to attend a different wedding as a guest, but claims he was approached by the bride's relatives during the event and then taken away: "After reaching Patna, I received several calls from my friend expressing his wish to meet," he told the Times of India. "I, along with my friend Prabhakar Kumar, decided to meet him in Mokama before leaving for Islampur to attend the marriage of our friend in the evening on December 3. They befriended me during the wedding and asked me to step out."
The 26-year-old continued: "They kidnapped me and took me to a home where I was forced to put vermilion in the hair of a girl. I had never seen her and I don’t know who she is. One of his family members pointed a pistol at me and ordered me to marry the girl."
During the video of the ceremony, aired on several Indian news programmes, Kumar is heard crying loudly while female wedding guests standing close to him use their saris to wipe away his tears. According to Gulf News, one relative tells him: "We are only performing your wedding, not hanging you. Why are you crying loudly? Shut up!"
Despite the allegations made by Kumar, the girl's family had another story to tell. According to the bride's brother, the groom knew his bride for a long time and the family maintain that he had agreed to marry her. He added that Kumar was so opposed to the ceremony in the video because he had been ordered not to marry the young girl at the behest of his brother.
So, what exactly was going on here, and how often does this sort of situation occur? What is described above is a practice called Pakadua Vivah, or groom kidnapping, a crime that is usually carried out in order for the bride's family to avoid heavy dowry costs. Tragically, due to traditional regard for the sanctity of marriage in India, many grooms have been unable to divorce their brides afterwards.
Surprisingly, Pakadua Vivah is actually more common than you might think, typically happening in western parts of Bihar. According to an official report, a total of 2,877 incidents of kidnapping for marriages were reported in 2016, meaning almost 3,000 people were abducted and forcibly married. In addition, there were 3,001 incidents in 2015, 2,533 in 2014 and 2,922 in 2013.
The practice first came to light back in the 1980s, a fallout from the custom of the bride's family paying the groom's family a fee for taking their daughter. As the money expected for a dowry soared to astronomical heights, less wealthy families seemingly began targeting young men who had cleared their IAS exams, had a medical or engineering degree or had secured a career in the government.
Predictably, forced marriages like these often have disastrous consequences. In December 2017, it was reported that a 15-year-old student from Bihar's Gaya district hanged himself from a tower after being forced to marry his widowed sister-in-law, Ruby Devi. According to Mahadev Das's father, Chandreshwar Das, his son was not willing to marry Devi - who was 10 years his senior and used to take care of him like one of her own children.
Over the years, organised criminals apparently became part of the practice, carrying out abductions for a fee and guaranteeing post-marriage "compliance" by the groom for extra money. As a result of this, it has been reported by Bihar newspapers that many bachelors are "terrified" and feel unable to report the illegal activity. However, Vinod Kumar refused to keep quiet. According to his story, he was held captive by the bride's parents overnight before managing to get a message to his brother who called the police.
Afterwards, the 26-year-old reportedly put in a written complaint and police ordered an investigation into the incident. "We have rescued him from there and brought him to the police station and handed him over to his family. We have asked an official to investigate and act against the guilty. Action will be taken after the probe," Patna’s senior superintendent of police Manu Maharaj said.
Kumar has reportedly stated that he has requested the court to initiate criminal proceedings against the culprits and order stringent actions so that such "evil and heinous practice" does not reoccur. His actions are the ones of a man who is on a mission to prevent others from experiencing the same thing. Whether he'll succeed remains to be seen.