Rani Tiwari had spent seven years failing to meet fat dowry demands. Then inspired by Tehelka she decided to end the greed, says Aastha Atray Banan
RANI TIWARI has been flooded with marriage proposals lately — 42 to be exact. But Rani’s sudden popularity has nothing to do with her stunning looks or charming personality. In fact all her suitors have seen of her is a blurred out photograph in the newspapers, or the small figure with a dupatta draped over her face on their TV screens. Rani is the girl who caught her would-be in laws asking for dowry on camera, and now is fighting a case against them.
The petite girl from Gorakhpur maintains a brave demeanour as she sits in her tiny Mulund home, telling her story again and again, her frame slightly stooping, and then drawing up again confidently. Her resolve is apparent, “Even if I have to fight the case for 15 years and at the end they only get to spend a month in prison, I am still going to keep at it. I didn’t do this to prove anything to anybody, just to uphold my dignity.”
Six months ago, in December, the Tiwari family was approached by a pandit, who recommended Nikhilesh Pathak as a groom for Rani. The Tiwaris have been trying to get their only daughter Rani, now in her late 20s, married for seven years now; only to be rejected each time because of their inability to give dowry. They were still optimistic that this match might work out. The Pathaks like them,were UP Brahmins. The father, Suresh, was a government officer while the groom and sisters all worked at call centres. “They looked like a decent family,” says Rani in a wry tone. Her brother Deepak, sighs, “We first did a ceremony to formalise the relationship, where we gave Rs 50,000. But the Pathaks asked for Rs 1 lakh more. And then another 2 lakh 50 thousand for the tilak ceremony. We gave it all. We also bought them clothes and jewellery.” Rani interrupts, “It was not just the money and gifts that we gave them on the ceremonies. The boy’s sister took me shopping, and actually forced me to buy her a sari for Rs 15,000. ”
But the worst was yet to come. Soon after, the father of the groom called and demanded a car. Rani’s voice cracks, “That was the first time I saw my father cry. And that’s the day I decided, that I was going to not take this anymore,” she says, modestly adding that her idea to conduct a sting was inspired by the TEHELKA Defence sting. Her family objected strongly. But Rani was adamant and finally they caved in. “We knew that this marriage was not going to happen now. Though our father had said that if they ask for a Nano, we will try and give it,” says Deepak, who reveals that the family had sold whatever ancestral land they had and borrowed money to fulfil the demands so far.
Deepak recorded all subsequent meetings on a camera pen. “In the tape, which is shot at the boy’s home, you’ll see the boy saying he wants a Swift. The mother says they had bought parking space in their compound and had been waiting to get their son married to get a car!” The Pathaks added new furniture for their daughters’ rooms to the demands.
Although the sting was successful, the days leading up to it were fraught with strife. The Tiwaris were scared of getting caught and worried about being alienated by their community. “But the police won’t register a case of dowry before marriage without proof. So we gave them the proof they wanted,” says Deepak.
The groom and his father were arrested at first, but are now out on bail. They have since made threats to Rani, saying that they would throw acid on her. “They have daughters of their own. Didn’t they ever think what would happen if grooms treated them like that?” asks Rani.
‘In the tape the boy’s mother says they had bought parking space and had been waiting for their son to get married to get a car,’ says Tiwari
Rani, had wanted to be a journalist after she graduated, but that didn’t quite work out. “My parents didn’t think I was cut out for the job of a journalist, so I worked as ground staff for an airlines company for a while. But I think I always had the drive.” Rani’s led the kind of double life that many Indian girls are familiar with. She changed her clothes in the office to neither offend her family nor stick out like a sore thumb at work. Working at a call centre for Rs 6,000 a month, she never thought love marriage was an option. “Our family has always had problems I got caught up in. Also, maybe deep inside, I knew that even if I did fall in love, it won’t be allowed.”
But her very conservative family has stood by her through this big act of rebellion. Her courageous act has also forced her to shed her shyness and face the media. One gets the feeling she does want to set an example, especially because she belongs to a community where rebellion is not welcome. “I did curse the fact that I was a UP Brahmin many times. I also thought of committing suicide. After the sting, I was sure we would have to shift to somewhere, where no one knew us. But the support of the mohalla, my colleagues, neighbours, family and now the public in general has been amazing,” she says with a hint of pride.
There might be 42 grooms vying for her attention now, but Rani is unsure of whom she wants to be with. She also seems wary, as if counting the minutes before a good thing turns bad. “I have not stepped out of the house for months now, because I am scared someone will attack me. All this has made me tired and faithless. I am not sure I will find a husband who will understand that I need to see this through. I plan to fight till they are taught a lesson. The whole ordeal has wiped my mind clean — I can’t even think of what kind of a marriage I want. I just want a happy family who will keep me happy,” she says and one suddenly sees Rani for who she really is — a hurt and frustrated middle class girl who has got a chance to make a difference, and more importantly, a chance to be heard, seen and to matter. This time, she will be the one to choose and reject — she’s earned it.