Over the years, Tehelka has made a name for its investigative journalism and sting operations. Its odyssey with sting began with the expose of cricket match-fixing scandal and then came the bigger undercover “Operation West End” that nailed corruption in defence deals. This triggered a national debate and led to the resignation of the then Defence Minister, senior members of the ruling coalition, and later the denouement came in the form of a Special CBI Court convicting a Major General, who had retired by then. For Tehelka, it was the journalism of public interest that won it the International Press Institute (IPI) Award for Excellence in Journalism twice. There were many other important sting operations carried out by Tehelka in subsequent years, ensuring that it was a turning point in journalism.
In keeping with the lofty ideals set by Tehelka, we have come with another exposure in this issue of the magazine with our cover story “Nata Pratha or Live-in Relationship”. Unknown to many, the old custom is still practiced in tribal belts of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat. This practice was in vogue initially to empower women, mostly widows and victims of child marriage to remarry, but has now gone awry. However, this is still being misused by men as a licence to enter into extra-marital relationships. The hapless women are sold, auctioned and the booty is used by their husbands to buy new women for them. Also traditionally, both the man and the woman were supposed to be married or widowed, but the custom has so evolved that it in present times includes single people as well.
Marriage is and has always been considered sacrosanct but as the word, “Nata” suggests just a relationship, under this custom the prospective husband does not need to perform any marriage rituals but just requires the man to pay some amount either to the woman with whom he wants Nata or to her husband. As it is not a legal marriage the women under Nata Pratha can neither claim maintenance, nor she or her children born out of this arrangement have any inheritance rights. The custom is akin to modern-day “Live-in Relationship” but sans any rights. Actually, under Nata Pratha lives of women and children born out of this arrangement mostly get ruined and fall apart. Children face verbal and physical abuse at schools if their mothers have gone to other men under this ancient practice, different studies have found.
Tehelka has done its job and now it is up to the Centre and States to come to the aid of women victims and the children born out of this arrangement under this custom. Perhaps the root cause is poverty, illiteracy, and lack of awareness about the Rights. These hapless women and children need their Fundamental rights as enshrined under Article 14 of the Constitution viz Right to equality, Right against exploitation, Right to life and personal liberty, and Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act. For children, the authorities need to work on other aspects too – such as emotional and skill development – for holistic development of the children.
Is someone listening?