Indonesian officials are trying to end a controversial practice prevailing in the remote island of Sumba. This practice is the abduction of brides. After videos of abducting women have surfaced, a national debate has started to curb this activity.
Sitra* (name changed) thought that it would be just a work-related meeting. The two men, who claimed to be government officials, wanted to get information about the budget of a project run for an agency of Sitra.
At that time, 28-year-old Sitra was a little hesitant about going alone, but she also wanted to show her work. In such a situation, she walked with him, ignoring her concerns.
After an hour, those people told that the meeting is going on at another location. He asks Sitra to sit in his car. Sitra said that she will ride on her motorbike. As soon as she put the keys of her bike, suddenly another group of people came and caught Sitra.
She says, “I was kicking and slapping loudly. But, they slammed me in the car. I was helpless. Two people inside the car had knocked me down. I knew what was going on.
She was abducted for marriage.
Kidnapping of brides or kavin tangkap is a controversial practice of Sumba. There is also controversy about where this system was born. In this practice, the family or friends of the man who wants to marry women, are taken by force.
Women’s rights groups have been demanding that this practice be banned. Despite this it is still continuing in some parts of Sumba. Sumba is an island in Indonesia.
However, after the incident of kidnapping of two women captured in the video and their widespread on social media, the Indonesia government has come into action and now it is being strictly controlled.
‘It was like I was dying’
Inside the car, Sitra managed to message her boyfriend and parents. The house where Sitra was taken belonged to a distant relative of her father.
She says, “There were many people waiting there. As soon as I reached there, they started singing and wedding programs were started.”
In Sumba, apart from Christianity and Islam, Marapu, an ancient religion, is also widely practised. To keep the world in balance, the spirits are appeased through traditions and sacrifices.
Sitra says, “People in Sumba believe that you can’t leave the house when the water reaches your forehead. I knew what was going to happen, as soon as they tried to do it, I backed away at the last minute so that the water would not touch my forehead. “
The kidnappers explained to me again and again that he was doing this because of his affection and he tried his best to accept this marriage to Sitra.
She says, “I cried until my throat was dry. I fell to the floor. I hit my head on a big wooden pole. I wanted them to understand that I didn’t want to get married . I thought they would pity me. “
For the next six days, he was kept as a prisoner in that house. She says, “I used to cry all night. I didn’t sleep at all. I felt like I was dying.”
Sitra had stopped eating and drinking. She says, “If we take their food, it means that we are ready to get married.”
His sister secretly brought her water and food. On the other hand, her family, with the support of women’s rights groups, spoke to the elders of the village and the groom’s family to release the girl.
Women’s rights group Peruati has recorded seven such incidents of abduction of women in the last four years. The group believes that many more such incidents would have occurred in the remote areas of the island during this period.
Only three women, including Sitra, were so lucky that they were released. In the most recent two cases of kidnapping, one of the women whose videos were made in June, has decided to remain in the same marriage.
“They persist in weddings because they have no choice. Kavin Tangkap is often the form of an arranged marriage and women are not in a bargaining position,” says Perissa’s local head Aprisa Taranau.
She says that women who decide to break up marriage often face stigmas in their community.
Sita was also shown the fear of being stigmatized.
Three years after coming out of this difficult situation, she says, “Thank God that I am married to my boyfriend and we also have a one-year-old child.”
Local historian and elderly France Vora Hebbi says that it is not part of the rich cultural traditions of Kuriti Sumba. They say that people use it so that they can force women to marry without any ill effects.
He says that due to no action from the leaders and officials, this practice is still going on.
He says, “No law has been made for this. At times, only social punishment is received, but there is no legal or cultural provision to stop it.”
After the debate started in the country, local leaders have signed a joint declaration and talked about rejecting this practice.
Women Empowerment Minister Bintang Pushpayoga reached Sumba on this occasion from the capital Jakarta. After this event, She said, “We have heard from religious leaders that this kidnapping of abducting marriages is not part of the traditions of Sumba.”
She has promised that this announcement is the beginning of the government’s big efforts to end this activity. She considers this practice to be violence against women.
Rights groups have also welcomed the move, but they consider it as the first step towards a long journey.