Reet/Rit System in Himachal Pradesh – HPAS Mains

By | May 22, 2020

In the Shimla Hill States and many adjoining countries such as Mandi, Kullu and Kangra, an obnoxious custom namely Reet was prevalent since time immemorial.

Definition of Reet Marriage: 

It is difficult to give any precise definition of Reet. To some it was a form of marriage but to others, it was the payment usually made on the occasion. Therefore, Reet may be defined as a form of marriage without any ritual or ceremony and was contracted by paying a price.

What is Reet Money? 

Under this custom, girls and young women were allowed to go for sums usually ranging from Rs. 100 to Rs.500 but sometimes going up to Rs.2,000 by the parents or other guardians in the case of unmarried girls and by husbands in the case of married ones. Thus, the amount paid was known as “Reet’ money.

After the payment of this money, the first marriage was, ipso facto annulled and concubinage with the second man became a marriage. There was no limit to the number of women, that one might get under Reet nor any restriction as to leave any of them again, and in this they might change hands any number of times. Therefore, the marriage under “Reet’ could be dissolved as easily as it was contracted. From this it is clear that woman was treated as a chattel, a commodity to be brought and sold time and again.

Among which communities Reet marriage was prevalent? 

The Reet was prevalent among the Kolis, Chanals, Chamars, and other tribes which formed the lowest rung in social stratification. In most of the Hill States, if not at all, it was also prevalent among the Kanets. However, Reet was not observed among the high caste Brahmins and Rajputs.

Evil results of Reet Custom:

There were many evil results of “Reet” custom; domestic ties became loose and marriage came to have a very insignificant position in the stability of society. Indiscriminate relations of a woman with many men often resulted in her catching syphilis and in return, she transmitted the disease to many persons.

Perhaps that is why these contagious diseases became widespread in the hill states. Further, the institution of “Reet’ also resulted in the laxity of sexual relations and the total disregard of the laws of chastity. The girls were often used for immoral purposes and this led to notorious traffic in them, which finally swelled the ranks of prostitutes.

While highlighting the bad results of the custom, the “Bombay Chronicle’ commented: The effects of such lax relationship, whether on the character of sex-relationship or on racial advancement were disastrous. Since marriage is purely mechanical, being based on a money bargain, it is not regarded as a sacred human relationship with the result that the conditions which obtain there are hardly distinguishable from general promiscuity.

Divorce is not obtained on some rational grounds such as cruelty or vice or insanity of a mate or even an irreconcilable incompatibility of temperament between the couple, but simply on that of lust backed by economic means. The result is the degradation of the status of women, which, after all the test of morality and steady racial degeneration among the hill tribes.

How Reet money is fixed? 

According to this system, a father fixed a price for each of his daughters. The person, after paying the amount, was allowed to take the daughter as his wife. Even if the woman’s father had not
received any equivalent for his daughter from his husbands, the latter by the act of bestowed Kanyadan considered himself the proprietor of the woman. The husband further fixed his own price upon her. Thus, the sum originally fixed, either by the father or the first husband, was the woman’s price or market value for the remainder of her life and in the numerous transfers from one man to another to which she might be subjected. The amount of money was thus fixed and paid in
Reet system.

Although Reet was nominally considered to be a sum incurred on account of the marriage ceremony, it was, in reality, the price of the woman who was by purchase reduced to the position of a slave, the poverty of her husband for the time being and reckoned by him as forming a portion of his available assets, in the same manner as his bullocks, his crops or at her disposable property.

By this system the second person could get rid of his wife after arranging with any person desirous of having her, for the payment of the amount of Reet.

What if a woman wants to marry another person? 

If a woman was desirous of eloping from her husband and cohabiting with another. She had to arrange with her paramour for the payment to her.

Reet Custom and Prostitution: 

When a person was in need of money, he regarded his wife as forming a portion of his indisposable property, and could always raise a sum by inducing some person to take her off his hands and to pay to him the sum fixed as Reet. This was generally an easy matter, as, from the demand for females in these hills, woman, until she lost her charm from age or disease, was always a valuable and marketable commodity.

The custom of Reet was atrocious as the women were made saleable property. It led to disastrous results, not only as regards the women themselves, but the people generally among whom it was prevalent. Many persons carried on with impunity scandalous traffic of women, for instance, a
person residing in the Shimla Bazar after proceeding into the hill states could arrange with a father to give him his daughters nominally in marriage on the payment of a certain specified sum of Reet which was considered as granted for marriage expenses. Then the purchaser returned with his cargo to Shimla and perhaps starved the women until they abscond to other parties, who were prepared to receive them and to pay to their original owner the sum due as Reet .

Moreover, if their owner could not dispose of the women in this manner, he was able to gain a profit by turning them into the Bazar to go in their livelihood by prostitution.

The legality of Reet Custom: 

If any party who had got possession of a woman, neglected to pay the amount fixed as her Reet, it was customary for the original owner of the woman to institute a suit in the civil court. The authorities dealt in the same manner as all other civil suits for debt. The system which had been followed might be understood from the following instance. A files a suit in the court against B for Rs. 100 on account of Reet on being asked on what account this debt was incurred.

A stated that he paid the amount to the father of the woman on account of Reet, and left his protection as woman C was allowed to cohabit with B whom he, therefore, sued for the recovery of his money expended in his marriage with C. The father of the woman on being interrogated whether A paid him this sum of money for his daughter, and if so, how he came to dispose of her by sales replied that he never sold his daughter but that certain expenses were incurred on the occasion of her marriage for which A paid him Rs. 100 as Reet according to the custom and usage of these hills.

The C being asked for the whole affair stated that when a mere child, her father disposed of her to A for Rs. 100/- that the latter had been in the habit of beating and otherwise illusing her, that she consequently deemed her life unsafe, run away and placed herself under the protection of B with whom she was now desirous of remaining B being now called upon for his reply to the claim preferred by A probably allowed its justice stating that the woman C had left her husband was living with him and consequently he awed A the amount of her Reet, but he pleaded inability due to poverty, to liquidate the amount and said that he preferred expelling the woman and would return her to former husband.

However, this was objected by the latter and in the end, a decree would be passed in favour of A for the amount with costs. This was levied by distraint from B. The whole process led to adultery. This crime was carried on to an enormous extent as the parties had no fear of being prosecuted criminally and were confident that they would have only to pay the amount of Reet.

Reet Custom as a fertile source of oppression in the hands of hill chiefs: 

The custom of Reet was a fertile source of oppression in the hands of hill chiefs. If anyone of their subjects is unable to pay any demand they made upon him, they even seized his wife among other property and disposed her to any person who would have to pay the sum specified as Reet.

The woman was afraid to return to her original husband on any future occasion, as the latter would incure the obligation of paying her Reet, he could not afford to the persons to whom the chief had disposed of her and thus man and wife, although perhaps previously living in mutual affection, as finally and completely severed from each other.

What did W. Edwards say about Reet Custom? 

W. Edwards, Superintendent Hill States further realised the need of legislative enactment against the system of Reet. He wrote on 24 July, 1851:

This system of Reet was totally opposed to all notions of humanity and to the least interest of society practically amounting to slave dealing I conceive that it is highly expedient to make its prohibition in future, a subject of legislative enactment.

An act is, in my opinion, desirable, stating that claims for Reet are not considered hereafter as cognizable in any civil court, and if any party prefers claims for marriage expenses, the plaintiff must in such case prove in detail the several items forming the sum claimed for which alone a decree would be given and that portion of the claim disallowed which might consist of money promised as purchase money for the women.

It should also be enacted that any party disposing of his child, wife, or any female, for any sum of money, should be liable to prosecution for slave dealing.

I would also recommend that the original husband of a woman and no succeeding are be permitted to sue for 98 marriage expenses.

What did J. Lawrence say about Reet Custom? 

J. Lawrence, Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab province, was of the opinion that the laws in existence if administered with care and discretion were sufficient to abolish the custom of Reet.

Lawerence did not feel the need for the legislative enactments.

The Rajas and Ranas of hill states should be made responsible for carry out the rules which might be framed and promulgated.

J. Lawrence in the minute issued on 24 August, 1851 stated that the buyer and seller under Reet system should be liable to fine and imprisonment.

However, due to the laxity of British administration, no rule was framed against the custom of Reet and these early measures to eradicate this social evil proved to be a failure. Therefore, the Reet system continued in the latter half the nineteenth century.

Role of Hill organizations in creating public opinion against Reet Custom and abolition of Reet Custom: 

Substantial work in creating public opinion was done by organizations like the Rajput Sthania Sabha and the Himalaya Vidiya Parabandhani Sabha, Shimla, particularly the latter, which volunteered, its services for the cause of the people of the hills.

In 1907, the Himalaya Vidiya Parabandhani Sabha wrote to Colonel Douglas, the then Superintendent of the Shimla Hill States, to take measures to stop the custom. Doughlas addressed all the hill chief to do away with the social evil of Reet, and although almost all the chiefs expressed their unanimous desire to eradicate it, but no effective measures were adopted by them.

In 1910, A.B. Kettlewell, the successor to Douglas again pointed out to all the rulers of the hill states the necessity of doing away with this immoral custom.

Thakur Surat Singh, General Secretary of the Himalaya Vidiya Parabandhani Sabha, Shimla
in 1924 intensified propaganda against Reet.

Role of Hill States to ward off Reet Custom: 

Dalip Singh, the Rana of Baghat, issued an order for the “Abolition of Reet Custom’ and it was enforced with effect from 23 July 1917. However, it may be observed that in the Baghat state,
the decree against the “Reet’ custom was not enforced with strictness; the order in this respect, therefore, remained a dead letter.

Some Hill states imposed a tax on the Reet’ marriage. Sirmaur, for example, levied 5% levy on the “Reef money in 1855. Even this did not deter the would-be parties to the “Reet’ marriage and there was no mitigation in the custom.

However, in the case of the other states, the chiefs themselves exerted some money at the time of Reet marriage.

In 1859, Devi Singh Thakur of Delath, took money when a married woman deserted her husband and married another.

By 1927, in Baghat, Bushahr, and Jubbal, the custom of Reet was prohibited on paper.

Nalagarh, Mahlog and Kuthar had agreed to adopt the rules framed by the Sub-Committee of the chiefs.

Further, Baghal and Bhajji had also agreed to introduce the draft rules but they were under the minority management.

Therefore, the Governor in Council was averse to introducing the rules there. The question of introducing the rules in these states was to be postponed until their rulers attained maturity and assumed full ruling powers.

In a nutshell, the position, therefore, was that in eight of the Shimla Hill States out of twenty seven, the Reet custom was illegal, or the states were prepared to make it illegal, at any rate in theory by 1927.

After 1928, the Government ceased to take interest in the matter and the hill chiefs did not earnestly enforce the draft regulations.

However, workers of the Himalaya Vidiya Parbandhani Sabha and religious organisations such as the Arya Samaj etc. continued to preach against the Reet custom.

Thus, the result of the above precious little done by anyone was obvious: the pernicious custom of Reet with its concomitant scourge of venereal disease continued unabated.

The Reet custom had been an extremely complex is borne out by the fact that it was being practised among some backward tribes for few years after Himachal Pradesh was granted full statehood on 25 January 1971.

What is Barda Faroshi? 

In the Shimla district and the Hill States, the social evil of barda faroshi existed prior to the arrival of the British. C.P. Kennedy, Assistant Deputy Superintendent, Hill States, in July 1824 remarked that the “women of the hills until the British influence took place, were always in great request for the zananas or harems of the plains, and as slaves brought great price; the demand was probably greater than the country could supply.

It was the practice of dealing with the slaves or captives, under which barda faroshes – slave dealers, carried regular traffic in girls and boys. It was also prevalent in the hill tracts of Kangra, Hoshiarpur, and Ambala districts of Punjab.

In August 1924, the Deputy Commissioner Kangra district reported that barda faroshi was prevalent mainly in the sub-division of Hamirpur, Dehra and to some extent Nurpur. Under this, kidnapping, buying, and selling of girls for export was done by barda faroshes based in the plains.

The girls purchased in the Mandi state, on their way to the plains, often passed through the Kangra district. Some girls were taken to quite distant places such as the United Provinces and the Canal colonies in West Punjab.

Read also: ॥ Beth System in Himachal PradeshBegar System in Himachal Pradesh ॥

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