Opinion: No job, no marriage…will the army of bachelors not allow Modi's blessings?

Ronit Kawale
Ronit Kawale - Senior Editor
8 Min Read

Author: Jaideep Hardikar
A young man with a master's degree from western Vidarbha joked on himself and then burst out laughing. I asked him, 'What do you do?' He said, 'I am educated, unemployed and unmarried.' His half-dozen friends sitting at the paan shop burst out laughing as they knew the joke was on them too. They were all in their 30s; graduates or post-graduates; unemployed and unmarried. This incident took place in a small cotton-growing village in Yavatmal in the mid-1930s. He asked why a woman should marry him? Two of them argued that even if they found a bride they would not be able to marry because with such a meagre income they would not be able to maintain the family properly. He also said that he would not marry his sisters to men who depended solely on income from farming. The conversation ended with almost a consensus that there would never be a radical change in their financial situation in their lives.

These days, the first choice of potential brides are men with government jobs, who are not able to meet. After that there are those with private jobs, who are decreasing. Then there are the youth doing their own business, who have agricultural land. The biggest question is what is the groom's annual income? Overall, finding a good match has become equally difficult for prospective brides in villages.

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When I asked how many unmarried youths were there in the village, about two dozen such youths came to the shop who were of marriageable age. He told me that the number of such people is even more. At least half of them were over 35 years of age, so marriage was out of the question. Due to shame, he had stopped going to family weddings. One of them said, 'Everyone asks, when is your turn?' It is shameful.

Even when the level of wedding anxiety has reached the level of anger, young men resort to false laughter to prevent it from being expressed. In this sequence, they also make fun of each other's virginity by placing a stone on their heart. Generally, in the villages here, men or women get married by the mid-1920s.

Unemployment is not a new problem, neither is lack of skills or quality education or underemployment. But unemployment and agrarian distress in the rural areas of the prosperous state of Maharashtra are causing social upheaval, even if it is not acknowledged. Educated and unemployed men whose only source of income is farming are unable to find suitable brides for themselves. Jobs are a mirage. Farming is not profitable.

Why is this worrying and what are the factors driving this trend? This is not an easy question. One, the rural economy has been under pressure for a long time. Second, the social status of those castes and classes that own large amounts of land has declined. Third, the new generation of rural youth is more educated and better informed. It is as ambitious as the urban youth, although it lacks other skills, including social and practical.

Delay in marriage in rural areas is also not a new thing. It is common for weddings to be postponed due to crop failure. But earlier this used to happen less. Today the cases of postponement of marriage have increased. It is somewhat higher among land owning OBC communities. Good and higher education was considered a ticket to a good job. Now a good job has become the ticket to getting a bride for boys and a groom for boys.

Remember 'Toilet: Ek Prem Katha'? No toilet, no marriage. Add 'Job: Ek Prem Katha' to it. If you want to get married, you need a job. Farmer parents don't want their daughters to work in the fields and do the hard work they have endured all their lives.

Marriageable young women, who are better educated and ambitious than previous generations, are preferring men who have permanent jobs in cities and some land at home. The situation is even worse in districts with low sex ratio like Beed in Marathwada. This area rich in sugarcane production is also not untouched by this.

Actually this is a problem of the whole country. Sociologist Alka Malvade Basu and population data analyst Sneha Kumar analyzed data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) in a 2022 study. They found that changes in economic conditions, including unemployment, are forcing changes in traditional marriage practices across the country, leading men to wait longer to get married.

Such concerns can be seen in the Hindi belt, which once had a somewhat feudal atmosphere. In fact, people fed up with uncertain income from farming, rising debt and expensive higher education, as well as economic struggles in villages, have started discussing politics more. Due to this, the caste and class equation in the Lok Sabha elections may break down. As one person said, 'I was 24 years old in 2014. I am 34 years old in 2024. Nothing has changed for me. Leaving aside the results of the 2024 elections, this feeling of disappointment and resentment among working men and women is like a volcano that is about to erupt.

From the poorest eastern tip of Maharashtra to the more affluent western Chinese region, rural areas of Maharashtra are filled with young and educated men, unmarried farmers and people above marriageable age. You will find all kinds of bachelors and M degree holders who have tried their luck in the industrial belt of Mumbai-Pune-Nashik – but have failed. Some of them have worked on contract at nominal salaries, live in crowded shared rooms or dormitories, tried their luck in competitive exams to get a job or are still trying and failing.

Regional imbalances within the state are adding to this anger. Vidarbha and Marathwada have been facing an agrarian crisis for a very long time. Both are rain-fed regions and no new industry or sector has come up in the last two decades to attract educated rural youth. Marathwada is also facing a water crisis, leading to frequent droughts. Nobody wants to marry their daughter in a village where there is a shortage of water, unless the groom is working in a distant city. This has not happened all of a sudden. Nor is it limited to rural Maharashtra alone.

The author is associated with the People's Archive of Rural India.

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