AIKS Organises Mass Adivasi Wedding in Surgana
Vijay Patil, Hemant Waghere
THE All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) unit in the Surgana tehsil of Nashik district of Maharashtra continued its three decades old tradition by organising a mass adivasi wedding of 51 couples on May 31, 2014. Over 10,000 people attended this unique function that was held in Alangun village. In recent years, the AIKS has been organising this function in association with the CPI(M) led Adarsh Samata Shikshan Prasarak Mandal, an institution that runs several schools, junior colleges and hostels for adivasi children in Nashik district. Similarly, the Adivasi Pragati Mandal runs a senior college and several junior colleges, schools and hostels for adivasi students in Thane district. The chief guest this year was the newly elected adivasi member of parliament from Tripura, Jitendra Chaudhury. The latter had been a minister in the Left Front Government of Tripura for over two decades before he was elected to the Lok Sabha last month with a massive majority from the Tripura East seat. Chaudhury is also a member of the Central Kisan Committee (CKC) of the AIKS. The function was presided over by Dr Ashok Dhawale, all-India joint secretary of the AIKS. The main organiser of this mass adivasi wedding was AIKS state vice president and six time former MLA, J P Gavit. Among the other leaders present were AIKS state general secretary Kisan Gujar, AIKC member and Lok Sabha candidate from the Dindori (ST) seat Hemant Waghere, AIKS state vice president Gunaji Gavit, Nashik CITU leader Shridhar Deshpande and many dignitaries from various political parties. It was significant that one of the 51 couples that got married in this function was J P Gavit’s younger son Indrajeet, who is the deputy chairman of the Surgana Tehsil Panchayat Samiti, and his bride Jyoti. In the huge mass meeting that was held before the actual marriage ceremony, Jitendra Chaudhury said that this was the first occasion in his life to be present for such a novel function. This unique kind of mass wedding ceremony is being held while preserving the customs and traditions of the adivasi people. Exorbitant and unnecessary expenses during weddings drive countless poor adivasis and others to bankruptcy. The ferocity of the scourge of dowry and consequent dowry deaths of brides is increasing alarmingly. In view of this social disease, he said that such mass weddings must be encouraged not only among adivasis but also in all communities throughout the country. After briefly outlining the progress achieved by adivasis in Tripura under the Left Front rule, he warmly congratulated the AIKS unit in Nashik district for having pioneered this socially progressive endeavour over three decades and gave his best wishes to the 51 newly wed couples. A LONG AND RICH TRADITION The AIKS unit in Nashik district began the tradition of holding mass adivasi marriages 33 years ago, in 1981, under the leadership of veteran leader Narendra Malusare and with the efforts of adivasi activists of Surgana tehsil – Rama Mahale, K K Pawar, J P Gavit and Hari Mahale. Surgana tehsil has a 98 percent adivasi population. Adjoining Gujarat, this hilly region, dependent only on rain-fed agriculture, is extremely backward economically and educationally. Due to dire poverty, the age old custom here was that, instead of an expensive marriage ceremony, a simple engagement ceremony called ‘pen’ used to be performed, after which the bride used to go and live at her in-laws’ place. Later on, if the economic situation improved, a wedding would be organised. But due to poverty, thousands of poor couples used to spend their entire life together without any marriage ceremony ever being performed. However, such couples and their offspring were socially looked down upon and had to face humiliation within the adivasi community. Taking all this into account, the AIKS organised the first mass marriage ceremony of 32 adivasi couples at Rakshasbhuvan village in Surgana tehsil in 1981. The chief guest at this function was the then commissioner for adivasi development, Sadashivrao Tinaikar, an IAS officer renowned for his uprightness. The expenses for lunch and for the mandap were carried out through contributions collected by the AIKS from the people of the village. The AIKS collected additional funds and presented the newly wed couples with utensils and other such necessities. Over 1000 people attended this first ever mass marriage ceremony in Surgana tehsil and Nashik district. The success of this small function gave a boost to such social efforts. The next year in 1982, a mass marriage ceremony of 351 adivasi couples was performed at Alangun village. The chief guests were the renowned Marathi poet Kusumagraj (who later won the Jnanpith Award), CPI(M) Central Committee member Ahilya Rangnekar and AIKS state general secretary Narendra Malusare. In 1995, in another huge function, 1276 couples were married. In 2002, with the then CPI(M) state secretary Prabhakar Sanzgiri and Suman Sanzgiri as chief guests, another such function was held. In this function, both the elder son and daughter of J P Gavit got married. That was, indeed, one of the specialities of this movement – that many CPI(M) and AIKS leaders and their children got married in these mass marriage functions. Other leaders who got married this way were Hemant Waghere, Savliram Pawar, Ramji Gavit etc. On May 20, 2005, a mass wedding of 501 adivasi couples was held at Alangun. The two chief guests at this function were the then chief minister of Maharashtra, Shri Vilasrao Deshmukh, and the CPI(M) state secretary and Central Committee member Dr Ashok Dhawale. After this function, J P Gavit, who was then an MLA, raised the demand in the state assembly for government help to be given to couples who got married in mass marriage functions. Since the chief minister had himself attended the function and had actually seen the unique event, the demand was conceded. A ‘Kanyadaan Yojana’ was started, wherein a cheque of Rs 10,000 is given to each such newly wed couple. Last year in 2013, 825 adivasi couples were married in another huge function held at Alangun. The chief guest was CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat and the other guests were AIKS state working president and MLA from Thane district Rajaram Ozare, and AIDWA state president Mariam Dhawale. The CPI(M) and the AIKS have also taken the lead in various other fields in Surgana tehsil. For instance, they initiated the novel Doorstep Ration Scheme. This scheme has controlled the large scale corruption in the public distribution system and has succeeded in reaching foodgrains regularly to the people. In the old age pension scheme, Surgana tehsil has taken the lead in Maharashtra, with over 14,000 old women and men getting a regular pension of Rs 500 per month, which amounts to nearly five crore rupees per year. Out of the 12,000 odd land claims made by adivasis under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 7,300 claims have been accepted by the government and a statewide AIKS struggle is on for the rest. As a result of all this work, in 2012, the CPI(M) won all the three zilla parishad seats and five out of the six panchayat samiti seats in Surgana tehsil, and also several gram panchayats. The party has been winning the Surgana tehsil panchayat samiti for over 25 years, a record that is surpassed only by the Talasari tehsil panchayat samiti in Thane district, which the party has been winning continuously for the last 50 years. The Party lost the state assembly seat here in 2009 after winning it six times earlier, mainly due to the delimitation of constituencies and the unprincipled gang-up of all political forces – communal and secular – against the CPI(M). In the year 2013, the AIKS completed a membership of 35,000 plus in Surgana tehsil alone, out of the total 72,000 plus membership in Nashik district and the 2,13,000 plus membership in the state. This has set a new record for any tehsil in Maharashtra.