Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mass weddings unite Gujarat tribal groups

Brides and grooms, each from a tribal group different from their partner, were married in a mass wedding ceremony in the Indian state of Gujarat recently, breaking an age-old custom of marrying only within clans.
Politicians exploit tribal divisions for their own selfish ends, said Jesuit Father Stanny Jebamalai, director of Shakti Trust, a Catholic group in Gujarat that conducted the program.
The priest said the aim of the event in which 29 couple married was to unite tribal people.
“What was significant about the weddings was that the brides and bridegrooms came from different tribal groups,” he said.
A groom garlands his bride
The ceremony tool place at Songadh, a tribal-dominated region some 450 kilometers from Ahmedabad, the state’s commercial capital, on June 3.
The couples, from four clans, came from three districts of Gujarat and one district of neighboring Maharashtra state.
Father Jebamalai said it was the first time that people from different clans gave away their children in marriage to people outside their own groups.
He was initially unsure if the plan would succeed. “I was very surprised when 29 couples came forward.”
Tribal people are among the poorest in the region, said the priest, who has worked for years to preserve tribal unity and identity in the state.
A couple receives their marriage certificate
They have maintained “strict social regimentation” for centuries and this has divided them politically and regionally, obstructing their socioeconomic advancement, he added.
Politicians exploit the tribal divisions for their own selfish ends, he added.
Thousands of tribal people attended the wedding program to encourage the couples, including Tushar Chaudhary, a junior federal minister in charge of tribal affairs. The tribal minister praised the Catholic group’s efforts to strengthen social unity among his people.

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