Traditionally, Bhil Adivasi boys and girls after reaching puberty have shown great interest in eloping with each other. Invariably such elopement leads to great upheavals in village life. The elopement becomes a matter of hot discussion in both the villages or both the hamlets if the boy and girl are from the same village and there is a great tug of war between the two families over whether to convert the elopement into a marriage or to refuse to do so. Since in both cases there are financial costs involved this leads to community sittings to resolve the matter which too are great occasions for merriment. Eventually, as per the custom the boy's family has to shell out a considerable amount. However, the Bhils do not really mind this because in the process the whole community gets huge entertainment for a considerable time. Traditionally, the Bhils have many customs that make individual families hold feasts for the community and this is a way of bonding and also levelling as surpluses get expended. All integral aspects of the anarchism of the Bhils.
Throughout the last three decades, I have enjoyed the romantic sagas of the Bhils, which become merrier the more the complications. Elopements don't only take place among unmarried boys and girls as married men and women too ditch their existing relationships and elope!!
However, things have become complicated with the penetration of modern economic and legal systems into the traditional romantic life of the Bhils and so there are many distortions. Especially the law preventing marriage before 18 years of age for girls and 21 years for boys and the strict laws against rape that become applicable if the parents of the girl decide to file a police complaint saying that she has been abducted by the boy have led in recent times to the spate of elopements being stemmed considerably as families generally warn boys not to elope with girls and negotiate their marriages instead. The market economy has also raised the bride price that has to be paid and the extra fines that have to be paid for eloping. If the case ends up with the police then the costs escalate even further and so elopements have become rarer.
But Bhil boys and girls will be Bhil boys and girls and so elopement still continues. Last year the grandson of one of our Adivasi activists passed his class ten board examinations from a rural government school in third division. His father then came to us in Indore with the boy, saying that he wanted him to study in a hostel school in Indore as otherwise given his low level of academics there was the strong possibility of his opting to marry and give up studying. So Subhadra and I went around searching for schools and did a lot of running around. However, eventually the father who was doing his own searching, rejected the schools we had short listed and instead put him in a school in a village near Indore which was close to the village of his wife where the boy would stay with his wife's family. Subhadra told him that this was not a wise decision because the danger of his son losing interest in academics and instead developing romantic attraction for a girl would be ever present. But he said something about not being able to bear the cost of his son's studying in a hostel school in Indore and that was that.
Today Subhadra came to my room doubled up in laughter and said that the boy had indeed eloped with a girl. The girl is only 16 years old, the same age as he is and is from the village of his mother where he was staying and studies in the same school as he does. There was another boy from a distant village staying in that village and studying in the same school and he too had hooked up with another girl studying in the school. Given the abysmal standard of education it is not surprising that these boys and girls decided to travel on the path of romantic knowledge instead and so the two couples eloped. Our boy convinced his grandfather, our activist friend, that he needed money for pursuing his academics and took Rs 12000 from him. On the strength of this money, he and the other boy who too had wangled some money from his parents eloped with their lady loves to a rented apartment in the city of Indore about a month back.
Immediately the romantic entertainment mill of Bhil society began working and the families and villagers began negotiating. It appears that the romantic liaisons of the young ones had been common knowledge in the village and the father of the boy had been warned by his in laws that things were going in the wrong direction and he should take his son away from the village. But that did not happen and in the end the elopement took place. For a month negotiations continued and the young couples continued to live in Indore enjoying themselves. Eventually the negotiations broke down and the girl's parents filed a complaint in the police station saying that the boy had abducted and raped their daughter. The police swung into action and very soon the young ones were brought to the police station and the whole matter was resolved by the boy's father paying Rs 70,000 to the girl's parents and the police combined.
For the time being the boy and girl have been separated but that does not mean the saga is at an end. As often happens in such cases the girl and boy may elope once again and this time they may run away to a more distant location. Thus, the huge merriment that many including Subhadra and I and I am sure the readers of this post have gained from the whole episode will continue for some time. The Rs 70,000 plus the Rs 12,000 taken by the boy earlier from his grandfather will not have gone in vain as it has provided the community with entertainment of a high order. Subhadra plans to go down to the village of our activist friend tomorrow to savour in more detail this romantic saga of which we had known nothing till today, when its news spread far and wide after it reached the police station!!