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When an Indian bride died at her wedding, her groom married her sister instead. File photo: EPA

Indian bride collapses and dies at wedding, groom marries her sister

  • When bride Surabhi died at her wedding, both families decided to solemnise the marriage between the groom, Manoj Kumar, and the deceased’s younger sister, Nisha
  • The incident in Uttar Pradesh sparked strong social media response, while experts say factors including patriarchy, caste rules and financial burden probably fuelled the tragedy

In a bizarre incident that has outraged and shocked Indians in equal measure, the sister of a bride who collapsed and died in the middle of her wedding ceremony was made to marry the groom in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh last week.

A doctor who rushed to check on the bride Surabhi pronounced her dead at the scene. But instead of the ceremony coming to a halt, both families decided to solemnise the marriage between the bridegroom, Manoj Kumar, and one of Surabhi’s younger sisters, Nisha.

“We did not know what to do in the situation. Both the families sat together and someone suggested that my younger sister Nisha should be married to the groom,” Surabhi’s brother Saurabh told news agency IANS. “The families discussed the matter and both agreed.”

India’s women reject marriage in their millions, but society hasn’t caught up

The body of Surabhi was kept in a room while the marriage of Kumar with Nisha was held.

Surabhi’s uncle Ajab Singh said it was a “tough call” to make and the family had never witnessed such mixed emotions.

“The grief over her death and the happiness of the wedding has yet to sink in,” he added.

The episode made headlines nationally and went viral on social media, eliciting strong reactions from netizens.

“This is messed up. Wedding day or not … someone died. There should’ve been respect for the deceased bride. I’m horrified,” one user tweeted.

Another wrote: “Do these people not marry out of love? Or is that an outdated concept now? Has anyone cared to ask the sister?”

Most Indian marriages are arranged between families, not girl and boy whose consent is rarely factored into the equation
Kamei Aphun, sociology professor

The story also circulated on Chinese microblogging site Weibo, where users questioned if the sister’s rights had been considered and if she had consented to the marriage.

Others said Kumar should have at least waited until Surabhi’s last rites were held before proceeding with the marriage.

Some suspected that a dowry was involved and perhaps the groom’s family did not want to return it.

Sociologists say the incident is as much a reflection of India’s patriarchal and gender unequal society as of archaic marital traditions which place men above women.

“Most Indian marriages are arranged between families, not girl and boy whose consent is rarely factored into the equation,” said Kamei Aphun, a sociology professor at Delhi University.

“In Surabhi’s case too, the family elders probably thought it’s best to marry off their other daughter to the groom. But did anyone consider her feelings? Or the fact that she’ll have to forever live with the stigma of marrying her dead sister’s husband?”


Indian bride ties the knot in protective suit after testing positive for coronavirus on wedding day

Indian bride ties the knot in protective suit after testing positive for coronavirus on wedding day

Dr Ranjana Kumari, Director, Centre for Social Research, a Delhi-based think tank, said the case was a clear example of a forced marriage continuing in the name of “tradition” where the immediate stakeholders’ opinions were probably not even considered for the alliance.

“It is an exploitative system, but hardly surprising considering 95 per cent of marriages in India are arranged by families,” she said.

The activist said that studies conducted by her organisation in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan have found several cases of men marrying their wives’ sisters following their partners’ deaths.

“Such episodes occur not just in the lower strata of society but also among the upper echelons,” Kumari explained, adding that she recently came across two cases – one of a diplomat and another of a senior politician – both of whom married their respective wives’ younger sisters.

“What was even more shocking was that the marriage happened on the condition that the sisters won’t be allowed to have kids of their own lest they get ‘distracted’ from taking care of their dead sibling’s kids,” she said.

“In other words, more than ‘wives’, the sisters’ role was to be an unpaid nanny who also had to sacrifice her own ambition to be a mom.”

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In southern India, Kumari said, such a practice is very common among families who own land due to economic reasons, “because if the man marries his late wife’s sister, the property remains within the same household.”

Sociology professor Janaki Abraham said poor Indian households have been hardened by tragedies caused by the pandemic that “this family simply decided to get on with life by marrying the second daughter despite not getting enough time to grieve over the dead one”.

The Delhi University academic also highlighted the economic cost of the tragedy, saying some people take high interest loans from unscrupulous lenders to spend on wedding ceremonies to avoid getting judged by their relatives.

“Indian marriages, even among the lower classes, are expensive affairs where even the poorest of poor have to organise lavish functions in the name of ‘family honour’,” she said.

As most of the burden of wedding expenses falls on the bride’s family – which is probably also what happened in Surabhi’s case – her sister was pushed to marry the groom to optimise the costs already incurred on organising the event.

Abraham said the caste factor played a role, too, in the family’s decision.

“They [families] fear that she may run away and find a boy of her own choice who mayn’t be acceptable to them,” she said.

“The caste rules are very rigid – young boys and girls can’t marry outside caste and community – while they must marry outside the village as the latter is considered an extension of the family.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Bride dies during wedding, so groom marries her sister