It was a quiet night of the year 2007 in Madhosinghana village in Haryana. Kuldeep Raja Jandu, a 10th grader was studying for his exams. In the silence of the night, Kuldeep suddenly heard a loud noise coming from outside of his room’s window.
He ran towards the window and saw huge flames in the neighbour’s balcony. When he looked closely, he realised, a woman had caught fire. He ran to that house, and quickly put off the fire and sent her to the hospital.
That lady was Kuldeep’s newly married
This incident deeply affected Kuldeep’s young mind. He decided to do something about the evil practice of dowry in his village.
“I thought that if I wanted to bring a change, I had to start from my own house. So when my sister got married, I convinced my father to organise just a small ceremony with close relatives only instead of a lavish function,” Kuldeep said.
Kuldeep’s family told the groom’s family about their plans of organising an intimate small function rather than a lavish wedding ceremony. The groom, who works with Indian Army, happily agreed to this simple marriage.
“It was easy for me to convince my parents because my father has always been against dowry. Even he did not take anything from my mother’s family when they got married,” Kuldeep recalled.
Kuldeep then kept spreading the message of an inexpensive wedding ceremony throughout his teenage and young years.
Change starts at home
When he turned 25, it was time for him to get married. He found this as a perfect opportunity to replicate what he preached all his life.
Kuldeep’s wedding was a unique affair. There was no baraat, no lavish setting, no gifts, and no show off. About 15 close family members from Kuldeep’s family went to the bride’s home and solemnised the wedding.
“A lot of the relatives got offended due to this. For about two years my grandfather did not speak to me and my parents. Even other relatives and neighbours boycotted us. They stopped inviting us to the gatherings and functions,” Kuldeep said.
This was just the beginning of a long journey that Kuldeep had embarked upon and he was not ready to get affected by the negativity around him.
Targeting the youth
His efforts to eliminate the practice of dowry got more rigorous and organised with time. He started visiting schools and organised sessions to spread awareness about the cause.
Every Saturday, Kuldeep visits a different school and engages with the students. The students are asked to write a paragraph on what they think about the dowry system and what they learned in the session. They are then asked to take that essay to their homes and convey the message to their family.
Kuldeep also distributed his phone number to the children, so that they can contact him immediately in case of an emergency.
“If we want to abolish this practice from its roots, we have to target the kids and make them aware from a very young age,” said Kuldeep.
Since, the youth of the village on the brink of getting married have the biggest power to make the immediate change, Kuldeep started targeting the young individuals.
He spoke to the men of the village and asked them to make a pledge against dowry. About 30 individuals committed to not take dowry. In addition, with timely intervention, Kuldeep managed to conduct about 20 marriages without dowry in his village.
In a village where dowry was a norm, even small victories like this required huge efforts.
Recently, Radhika*, a young girl from Madhosinghana was about to get married. The groom and the baraat had come from Gwalior. The family of the groom had planned to take dowry from the bride’s family. However, Kuldeep intervened at the right time. He spoke to the groom and convinced him to not take any dowry.
There are many examples like this that showcase the impact Kuldeep’s efforts have created in his village.
Gradually, Kuldeep built an army of like-minded people who started supporting him in his cause. Today, he has a team of about 50 volunteers who work at different locations to make sure no family indulges in this evil practice.
“There has been an overall behavioural change. Earlier people would get about Rs 25 lakhs or land in dowry. Today, they agree to not just avoid taking dowry but are also open to the idea of not spending a lot of money on a marriage function,” said Kuldeep.
He also spoke out against the superstitions in his village and created an overall shift in the orthodox mindset of the people.
An engineer by profession, Kuldeep runs a business of selling tubewells. His good financial position and a stable job helps him to go a step further and engage with more people each day. In future, he wants to engage with families across Haryana. He further plans to start a campaign against female foeticide.