When Sukhmati went to her boyfriend Rajesh Devgam’s father, her proposal stunned the old man as well as her parents — she wanted Devgam to marry her as well as Rita.
Rita was the woman Devgam, a young man from Jharkhand’s tribal-dominated West Singhbhum district, had fallen in love with though he was in a relationship with Sukhmati.
Devgam met Sukhmati at her handia (rice beer) shop couple of years ago and instantly fell in love. He met Rita while visiting his sister’s village and was hopelessly in love, again.
But when it came to taking the vows, the 23-year-old resident of Chaibasa town chose Sukhmati.
Rita was heartbroken and angry. She started pressuring Devgam to marry her instead.
Sensing trouble, Sukhmati spoke to Devgam and told him as polygamy was accepted in their community, he could marry both of them.
She couldn’t think of a life without Devgam but also felt that taking him away from Rita would be cruel, she said.
So, Sukhmati met Devgam’s father, Ghanshyam, a retired police constable, and Rita’s father, Lal Singh Biruli, with the proposal.
Biruli’s argument was more practical. “Girls outnumber boys in our society. It would be apt to marry more than one girl to a man if they are in love,” he said.
There are 1,004 females per 1,000 males in West Singhbhum, way better than the national average of 940 women per 1,000 males. For Jharkhand, the figure is 948 women per 1,000 men.
“The husband has to submit an affidavit confirming both women are his wives and hence eligible for all government benefits, schemes and citizenship documents for married men and women.”
For the villagers, it was a unique but a pleasant experience watching two girls marrying the man they loved without any rancour or bitterness.
Hundreds of villagers watched as the groom sat in the middle with his brides on his sides, taking their wedding vows.
The special arrangement called for an added vow – the two brides promised a peaceful household and not to let personal differences affect their relationship with Devgam.
A happy bride, Rita said it was Sukhmati who made the wedding possible.