Orchards shelter Dharhara’s daughters from discrimination
Mango tree insurance
Hardly any house peeps out of the foliage of mango orchards over village Dharhara in Bihar’s Bhagalpur disrict. Bias against girls is almost non-existent here.
Unlike other parts of the state where the birth of a girl is usually greeted with grief, families in Dharhara celebrate the birth of a daughter. They rush to their backyard and plant at least 10 mango saplings as soon as a girl child is born.
Wedding expenses? No sweat
By the time the child crosses age 10, the saplings are grown trees and start bearing fruit; the mango yield fetches Rs 50,000 to Rs 1,00,000 a year. By the time the girl is old enough to be married, sufficient money is saved for her wedding. At times, the trees are cut and sold. Ten trees fetch about Rs 2 lakh.
The fixed deposits in the form of trees ensure girls are not treated as a financial liability. “We do not take loans for weddings. We have mango trees to foot expenses,” said 73-year-old Shyam Sundar Singh, a resident. Nobody in Dharhara knows when the ritual of planting mango saplings for daughters began except that it has been practised over generations. Today, the mango economy is the biggest support for the girls in Dharhara.
Subhash Singh, a farmer in the village, was busy negotiating the price of his mango yield and leasing his orchard. It was to meet a part of the expenses for the June wedding of his 19-year-old daughter Nikaah Kumari. At least 700 guests were expected and gifts had to be bought for the groom and his family.
Singh did not seem worried. Resting under a mango tree, he grinned and said, “I planted 25 mango trees on the day my daughter was born. Look at me. It is my daughter’s wedding and I am resting. In other parts of Bihar, fathers run from pillar to post to raise money for daughters’ weddings.”
Girls still don’t go to college
Dharhara, comprising 5,000 families, has over 150,000 trees. The land in the village is fertile as it is watered by the Ganga in the south and the Kosi in the north-east. Over the generations, the villagers have become adept at identifying the mango variety their farm soil can support and choose saplings accordingly.
In all, 25 varieties of mangoes are grown in the village’s orchards, including Jardalu mangoes that fetch a high premium. The villagers normally lease out the orchards to contractors who gather the yield and sell it in the market. The contractors pay the orchard owners a lump sum that is saved for wedding expenses and dowry.
Villagers said the cash amount given to the groom is fixed according to his job profile. A bank probationary officer costs Rs 6-8 lakh, clerks Rs 3-4 lakh and a teacher around Rs 2 lakh. “We cannot afford grooms who are in civil services. They are too expensive,” the villagers said. Over 500 guests generally attend weddings and the feast means another Rs 2 lakh expenditure.
Eighty-five-year-old Shatrughan Prasad, who owns 10 hectares and 500 mango trees expects to find high-status grooms for his two granddaughters Nishi and Ruchi who are still in school. “In our village no one is poor or malnourished,” said Prasad.
Notwithstanding their relative affluence, villagers still don’t encourage their daughters to study after school. Majority of them become home makers. Villagers reasoned there are no colleges in the locality. The district was a den of criminals the past 15 years. “The crime graph has declined in the past four years but there are still no roads. We will think of educating our girls when times are more conducive,” a villager said.
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