Friday, September 4, 2009
The startling connection between tobacco and village culture
During our stay this summer, we came across many interesting stories, which we'll soon be sharing with you one by one; however, we've concluded that the one we're about to tell you is the most shocking of all. The first time we heard this, we completely ignored it, thinking that the story was a gross exaggeration, or even a fabrication. But wherever we went, this story kept coming up from various sources. We'll narrate this story as one of the villagers. However, we cannot share the name of those involved to protect the confidentiality of the source(s). In rural India, almost all marriages are arranged. It's basically the boys' choice. The process goes something like this. Whenever there is a boy or a girl of marriageable age, it's mainly the parent's responsibility. The parents send words through friends and relatives in search of a groom or bride. Once they come to know there is an eligible match, the girl's side prays that the groom should agree to marry their daughter. Most of the time they aren't worried about what their daughter has to say. In the boy's home, it is a completely different story. This will be one of their choices. They don't even think they will be rejected. It's all up to them. If the boy says yes, the marriage will take place. If they say no, the marriage will not take place. Yet, this ISN'T the shocking part. This is where tobacco comes into play. All the farmers that grow tobacco need a license by the tobacco board to construct a processing barn and sell the processed tobacco. Everyone doesn't get this license, as one must have some economic status. Recently the issue of the tobacco license is very restricted. And the owners of these licenses have a sense of pride because having a license means that they're economically decent. In Hindu culture, most traditional families see if the boy and the girl's horoscopes match. It is very vital that the priest okay's the horoscopes. If the horoscope doesn't match, the relationship has no future (according to tradition). Interestingly, we found out from many SHG Members who have marriageable kids, they have a bigger problem than the horoscope match. The first thing the groom's side people ask is if they possess a....wait for it....tobacco license. We think that gives them a sense of assurance that the girl's parents can perform the wedding and possibly give them a dowry. As tobacco is THE crop all around Hunsur Taluk area, having a tobacco license gives the bride's side a peace of mind that they are in good shape and can be confident that they can find a suitable groom. They say they can sleep well at night knowing that they have a tobacco license. We never looked at tobacco cultivation with respect until this point. We were convinced that tobacco is the cash crop that is giving peace of mind to families who have many girls to be married. Now and then, we ask ourselves this question: if we plan on removing tobacco, what will we be doing to this aspect of the culture? Is the complete removal of tobacco a proper solution? How are we going to change a culture that is so dependent on tobacco? What do we do? We hope as we grow up we will find an answer for this question.
Apoorva and Adarsha