Dungri Garasiya Bhil

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June 8, 2019: The Times of India

In this Gujarat tribal village, couples live-in for decades before tying the knot!

HIMMATNAGAR: It was a wedding with a difference. When Gamnabhai Solanki, a resident of Malgaon near Lambadiya in Poshina taluka of Sabarkantha, sought Banjari Devi’s hand in marriage on May 30, he was accompanied by their sons, daughters, and grandchildren!

Gamnabhai is 75 years old and Banjari Devi is 72 and they are marrying five decades after having children. Both were in a ‘live-in’ relationship in this tribal town.

Live-in relationships may be common in cosmopolitan cities, but for the tribal community of Dungri Garasiya Bhil, it’s a way of life. Weddings here are considered to be an important part of community life, but tribals do not consider it a taboo to cohabit and have children. Frequently, the wedding takes place decades after the couple is engaged with the blessings of both families. Ranjit Solanki, Gamnabhai’s eldest son, who is the father of a son and three daughters, said that he has four brothers and two sisters.

“My parents met in the community fair like many in their generation did, liked each other, and started living together,” he said. “A wedding entails an expense of Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 2 lakh. Community members, primarily manual and farm labourers, may not have the adequate amount. Thus it takes years for the couple to save money to host a grand feast and perform rituals.”

At Kalsavad near Poshina, Vejlibhai Kher excitedly shows his groom’s attire — complete with headgear, dhoti, starchedwhite shirt and trousers, jewellery, and sword. Accompanying him are his seven children: Jyotsna, 16, Kokila, 15, Sangeeta, 11, Shayri, 10, Dolly, 6, Rannadevi, 5, Adityanath, 3, and six-month-old Rudraksh. Kher, 37, married Jenkiben, 36, on May 30 after living together since 2000.

“It was a grand wedding! My children really enjoyed it and danced throughout the ceremony,” said Kher. “I am associated with farming and it was difficult to collect money for the wedding. We offer jaggery to the woman we like and if she agrees, it’s elopement time!”

Knot seldom untied

We offer jaggery to the woman we like and if she agrees, it’s elopement time! The families agree to the match and the man and the woman start living as a couple. It’s very common in these parts of Sabarkantha," says Vejlibhai Kher The tradition still prevails as even those who stay in other districts come back for the fair and choose their life partners. Elders joke that all weddings here are love marriages. Due to the strong sense of community, there are seldom any disputes leading to the cancellation of the union.

On June 4, the wedding of Ishwar Taral, 23, was under way. The groom was accompanied by his three-year-old son Raju. “The wedding season for many families arrives in May-June when we sell our farm produce,” said Taral.

“If the earning is adequate for the ceremony, the wedding is decided on the spot. Unlike other parts of Gujarat, plans don’t run into months. If the money is arranged, the families are informed five to six days in advance about the ceremony.”

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