“Alcoholism does more havoc than three historical scourge together; famine, plague and war”

-William Gladstone

It is the third of April 2015.The wedding festivities are in full swing. People are singing, dancing and making merry. They have enjoyed the feast laid out by the parents of the bride. The priest is now guiding the bride and bridegroom to take the seven vows around the sacred fire. He is also explaining the meaning of the seven vows for a healthy, happy married life. The bride observes that the bridegroom is under the influence of alcohol, so much so that he cannot stand on his own .He is being supported by his relatives to stand and move around the sacred fire. There is no time to consult anyone, she takes a decision of her lifetime. She tells the priest to stop it and walks out. She declares that she is not going to get married to a drunkard. People are shocked and surprised-some are amused and bewildered at this bizarre turn of events. This is not the shooting of a film or television serial but a reality. Yes they say reality bites.

If you thought this could happen only in the metro cities of India, then you will be surprised that now even girls in rural India are standing up for themselves. A small tribal hamlet of Chattisgarh was a witness to this truly courageous happening. The bride who is the heroine of this story is twenty year old Urmila Sonwani of village ‘Devbhog’ about 250 kms from the capital Raipur. Urmila is a school dropout after class eight, and works as a daily wage labourer along with her father. The village is so backward that it does not even have proper roads, school or medical facilities. Urmila’s father cannot even afford a mobile phone.

Urmila

                Urmila with her parents

Urmila’s father was very happy when he came to know that his daughter’s marriage had been finalized to a boy employed in the government sector. In order to arrange for a decent marriage, he had to sell half the small piece of land that he had inherited. But Urmila who took the spontaneous decision of her lifetime to reject the drunkard bridegroom, has no regrets. She consoles her parents by saying that at least her life has been saved from being ruined. She said “if I had fallen seriously ill a lot of money would have been spent in my medical treatment” She has actually saved herself from a disastrous marriage and a drunkard husband who would have made life hell for her!

Urmila’s parents were shocked when she abruptly walked out of the marriage ritual. But she boldly told the entire gathering “what will be my future if I marry a man who cannot support himself, how will he support me?” The news of a girl refusing to marry a drunk groom spread like wild fire in the village. The local panchayat members of ‘Gada ’community met and discussed the case. They supported the brave action of Urmila. They decided to ostracize the family of the bridegroom for such an obnoxious act. The priests of the area decided not to solemnize any marriage where the bridegroom or his relatives are intoxicated.

The active role played by the media in highlighting this incident alerted the CG government. Chief Minister Dr Raman Singh praised Urmila for her courageous decision. Her parents were also presented a certificate by the District Collector Mr Niranjan Das at a special function held in their honour. The Minister for Women and Child Development Ms Ramsheela Sahu visited Urmila’s parents and touched their feet. She praised them for the bold act of their daughter. She declared that Urmila would be the brand ambassador for her Ministry, who would lead the de addiction campaign called ‘Mata Vahini’ in the state. The story of Urmila would also be included in school text books for motivation of girls. Moreover Urmila would also be honoured in State functions. The amount of awareness this incident has generated, can be gauged from the fact that a group of about 40 girls  formed ‘Urmila Vahini’ and took a pledge not to get married to alcoholics. Shankarachatya Jagatguru Swami Swarupanand Saraswati has supported Urmila saying that if the marriage rituals are performed under the influence of liquor then they are not valid.

Let’s take a look at similar incidents happening across the country.  In Ajnar, a small village near Kanpur, in the Mahoba district of Uttar Pradesh, Neha, daughter of Shripat Ahirwar, was ready for her ‘jaimal,’ a ritual in Hindu weddings. All of a sudden, she noticed that the groom, Arvind, a native of Ragauli village, was in a drunken state and was fighting with her siblings over the music. Neha’s siblings had stopped the music since it was disturbing the priest, but Arvind and his friends created a scene over this.Neha did not take any time in announcing before the gathering that she would not marry Arvind. She could not tolerate the fact that the boy who was going to be her life partner had come inebriated at their wedding ceremony and hurled abuses at her relatives. When Neha refused to budge, the ‘baraat’ had to return. “She refused to marry the man who was drunk. I did not force her to marry against her wishes,” said her father.

Puneshwari of Medha village, near Bilaspur, too took a courageous step of refusing to marry Deepak Yadav of Mendra village, who, she got to know, was drunk even before the wedding ceremonies began. Deepak’s family pleaded before Puneshwari’s family but to no avail. The villagers too wholeheartedly supported the bride’s decision.

When Dhannu Kumar took his wedding procession from Chakmusa village in Patna district to Navratanpur village in the same district, little did he think that his drunkenness will cost him a bride.  When Renu Kumari saw that the groom had not only reached the wedding venue under the influence of alcohol but was also misbehaving with several of her relatives, she took the bold step of not only ordering the marriage party out of her home but also filing a case against the groom and 25 others for assaulting the wedding guests. What’s more – the groom was arrested and sent to jail for this unacceptable behaviour!

India is now truly shining! India is truly an incredible country. At a time when we are surrounded by reports of rapes, domestic violence, honour killings and the like, these girls who have refused to accept drunkards as their life partners, have brought  pride and glory to the women fraternity. May their tribe increase!

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