Indian PM candidate Narendra Modi’s in-laws laud acceptance of teen bride after decades

Published: May 7, 2014
Narendra Modi

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime ministerial candidate and Gujarat state Chief Minister Narendra Modi has never commented on numerous media reports he wed Jashodaben, 62, now a retired school teacher, in a traditional arranged marriage when she was 17. SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images

KETAKI GOKHALE And NATALIE OBIKO PEARSON 
BLOOMBERG NEWS

Outside a two-room shanty littered with onions, Narendra Modi’s in-laws recalled the look on his wife’s face last month after the frontrunner to be India’s next leader acknowledged her for the first time in decades.

“She was very happy on that day,” Jai Modi, the nephew of Jashoda Modi, Narendra Modi’s bride, said on April 28 outside the family’s soot-streaked home in Gujarat state, adding that she’s not expecting anything if he becomes prime minister. “You can imagine, after 45 years, he finally accepted her.”

Narendra Modi, 63, has long fostered an image as a bachelor who gave up a traditional home life to serve his country, even telling an audience as recently as three months ago that he has no family ties. His mention of a wife last month on a campaign form captured public attention and put a spotlight on a common practice that women’s rights advocates have sought to end.

The ancient custom of childhood engagements followed by arranged marriage poses a challenge to politicians, who risk alienating rural voters should they criticize the practice. Modi has declined to respond publicly to an attack by Rahul Gandhi, the ruling Congress party’s campaign chief, over failing to mention his wife earlier.

“There are people who don’t see it as a backward custom — and you don’t want to lose that vote,” said Sumit Ganguly, the Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations at Indiana University in Bloomington, who has written or edited more than 20 books on South Asia. At the same time, he said, “there is a certain social stigma attached to walking away, particularly to a man walking away from a marriage.”

Jashodaben Modi, wife of Gujarat Chief Minister and Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) Prime ministeral Candidate Narendra Modi. AFP/Getty Images

Young Brides

Almost half of Indian women aged 20 to 24 say they were wedded before age 18, according to the most recent data from the United Nations Population Fund, one of the highest percentages in the world. The organization wants to end the practice, which it says can involve a formal marriage or informal union.

Growing up in rural Gujarat, Narendra and Jashoda were engaged as children in a ceremony arranged by their parents, according to Ashok Modi, one of Jashoda’s two brothers. They married a month before Jashoda’s 17th birthday in a traditional Hindu Vedic ceremony on May 10, 1968, he said, recalling the date from memory.

Jashoda told The Indian Express in an interview earlier this year that the couple stayed in contact for about three years before losing touch. Her family members said she wasn’t available for an interview in a visit to her village last month.

‘No Communication’

“In three years, we may have been together for all of three months,” she told the newspaper in an article published on Feb. 1, referring to Narendra Modi. “There has been no communication from his end to this day.”

Most polls show Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party winning the most seats in elections ending May 16. He’s focused his campaign on his record in Gujarat, the state he’s run since 2001, and the biography posted on his party’s website doesn’t mention his wife.

“I have no family ties — who will I be corrupt for?” Modi told a campaign rally in northern Himachal Pradesh state in February.

In previous elections, Modi had left his marital status blank when filling out registration forms. A court order in September required all election affidavits to be completed in full, putting Modi at risk of having his nomination rejected if he failed to comply.

Opponents Attack

In a form to run in this election, Modi wrote “Jashodaben” in the row marked “spouse,” adding a suffix often tagged to female names in the state, according to a copy of the document. Details of her income, bank accounts, jewelry and property investments were “not known,” he stated.

His opponents pounced on the disclosure, saying it was evidence that the BJP wouldn’t make good on campaign promises to improve the status of women. In its campaign manifesto, the party pledged to remove gender disparities in property, marital and cohabitation rights, and to take steps to stem female foeticide, child marriage and rape.

“We don’t know how many elections he has fought, but it’s the first time he has written that he is married — the first time,” Gandhi, Modi’s biggest rival for prime minister, said at an April 11 rally in Jammu and Kashmir state. “They talk about women’s honor, but his wife’s name never found its way into the affidavit.”

‘Let People Judge’

BJP spokeswoman Nirmala Sitharaman called the attacks “laughable,” saying that Modi wasn’t trying to hide anything in previous election affidavits and that he didn’t mention the marriage to protect his wife’s privacy. Modi never accepted the child marriage and didn’t spend a day with his wife, she said.

“In Indian family and society, these things are assumed null and void societally, though not legally,” Sitharaman said. “It’s never thought of as an issue.”

Modi shrugged off the criticism from opponents over his marital status in a televised interview last month.

“Why should I think so much about the criticism?” he told ABP News, according to a transcript of his remarks posted on its website. “Let people judge.”

Prahalad Modi, Narendra’s younger brother, said he left his wife in the village to join the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist group whose full-time volunteers are expected to be celibate and unmarried. Narendra was an RSS campaigner in his 20s and 30s until he joined the BJP.

‘Not One Rupee’

“Buddha left his wife too,” Prahalad said in an interview at his shop along an Ahmedabad highway, where he sells truck and car tires. “Narendrabhai never wanted to have a family,” Prahalad said, using an honorific for his brother. “His thinking was totally different. He wanted to give himself to the nation. He left Jashodaben for the country.”

All of Narendra’s four brothers were married at a young age, Prahalad said, adding that Jashoda still stopped by the house of Narendra’s family even after he left town. Prahalad dismissed criticism that Narendra didn’t support her, saying he was focused on the country.

“Narendrabhai has never helped anyone in the family financially,” Prahalad said. “None of us. Not one rupee.”

Jashoda retired several years ago from her job as a school teacher and lives on a pension of 14,000 rupees ($233) a month, according to Ashok, her brother. She has no home of her own and splits time between the deteriorating hovels of her two brothers, one a factory worker who also trades onions and the other a shop owner who sells chewing tobacco and potato chips.

Jashoda accepts the fact that Narendra wed her because of his father’s wishes, according to Daksha Modi, the wife of Jashoda’s nephew. Even though Jashoda’s dad was a teacher and Narendra’s father ran a tea stall, the marriage was arranged because the children were from the same community, she said.

“Even today, people respect marriage promises made by their parents,” Daksha said as she tended to her one-year-old baby in the house where Jashoda spends some of her time. “When he declared her as his wife, we were all very happy. Moving around in life as a single lady is very difficult to explain.”

–With assistance from Paresh Jatakia, Abhishek Shanker and Bhuma Shrivastava in Mumbai and Andrew MacAskill in New Delhi.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,





Featured

10336715_10152221434949315_4707600074607000802_n

Sikhs bring campaign against violence to Vancouver

LARISSA CAHUTE VANCOUVER DESI Sikhs from around the globe are bringing their efforts to “end the silence on violence” to Vancouver this weekend. U.K.-based organization…
Continue Reading »

attack on Parliament Hill

Ottawa shooter kicked out of Burnaby mosque two years ago

Zehaf-Bibeau was asked to leave the mosque, because he had “gotten a hold of keys and stuff from the mosque, and when he got out…
Continue Reading »

gambling-civic elections

Majority of Surrey mayoral candidates flat-out opposed to more casinos in the city

CHRISTOPHER POON SURREY NOW SURREY — Looking back at late 2012 and early 2013, the hot topic in Surrey was a controversial casino and entertainment…
Continue Reading »

LOCAL NEWS

10336715_10152221434949315_4707600074607000802_n

Sikhs bring campaign against violence to Vancouver

LARISSA CAHUTE VANCOUVER DESI Sikhs from around the globe are bringing their efforts to “end the silence on violence” to Vancouver this weekend. U.K.-based organization…
Continue Reading »

attack on Parliament Hill

Ottawa shooter kicked out of Burnaby mosque two years ago

Zehaf-Bibeau was asked to leave the mosque, because he had “gotten a hold of keys and stuff from the mosque, and when he got out…
Continue Reading »

OTTAWA ATTACK-TERRORISM

Canadian Muslim groups denounce violence, brace for backlash following Ottawa rampage

ISHMAEL N. DARO CANADA.COM Representatives of major Canadian Muslim groups gathered in Ottawa today to reiterate their denunciation of terrorism in the name of Islam…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...

Stephen Harper

Stephen Harper: Attack by ‘terrorist’ on Parliament Hill won’t weaken Canada’s resolve

JOAN BRYDEN THE CANADIAN PRESS OTTAWA – The gunman who staged a deadly attack Wednesday on Parliament Hill was a terrorist whose despicable crime will…
Continue Reading »

SURREY-FIELD HOCKEY

Barinder Rasode announces plan to develop field hockey pitch in Surrey

Third field at Tamanawis Park would cost approximately $3 million KYLE BENNING SURREY NOW NEWTON – Barinder Rasode and the One Surrey team were at…
Continue Reading »

Vancouver-Surrey-Festival-India

Diwali celebrations in Vancouver and Surrey

DiwaliFest celebrates its 11th anniversary from Oct. 17 to 26 at various sites in Surrey and Vancouver. Diwali Celebration Friday, Oct. 24 at Firehall Centre…
Continue Reading »

India-weird news

Rudaali: India’s professional ‘weeping women’ demand higher pay

CEN AGENCY Professional mourners who are hired to turn up at people’s funerals in India, beat their breasts and wail, are going on strike for…
Continue Reading »

Abbotsford

Jag Khosa: Families pay the ultimate price of gang wars

DET. JAG KHOSA SPECIAL TO VANCOUVER DESI Late into the night, the parents of a young man struggled to sleep. The mother kept tossing and…
Continue Reading »


Bollywood Latest

Salman Khan-Bollywood

Narendra Modi to attend Salman Khan’s sister Arpita Khan’s wedding?

HINDUSTAN TIMES If all goes as per plan, then Prime Minister Narendra Modi just might be attending the wedding of Salman Khan’s sister, Arpita Khan….
Continue Reading »

Bollywood kiss

Bollywood’s king of kisses Emraan Hashmi refuses to dance with the queen of sex Sunny Leone

VANCOUVER DESI Bollywood’s serial kisser Emraan Hashmi has refused to share screen space with porn star-turned Bollywood-actress Sunny Leone, Indian tabloid Mid-Day reported. Hashmi, who…
Continue Reading »

Jackie Chan

First India-China joint venture film starring Jackie Chan launched

HINDUSTAN TIMES Chinese action star Jackie Chan will star in the first Sino-India joint film production slated to go on the floors in the coming…
Continue Reading »