Patna: Villagers in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand have turned to kissing to save their marriages.

As part of an anti-divorce campaign, conservative tribal villagers who normally refrain from public displays of affection are holding “kissing contests”, hoping this would ultimately promote love among the married couples and sort out petty differences.

One such contest was organised in tribal-dominated Dumaria village, located under Littipara assembly constituency in Pakur district, on Saturday. Although the villagers have been organising fairs at this village every year in the memory of Sidhu-Kanhu, Santhal leaders who declared a rebellion against British colonists, this was the first time that a “kissing competition” has been held.

A total of 18 married tribal couples participated in the contest. At the event, which lasted for an hour at night, the couples embraced and kissed in public as thousands of villagers who had gathered to watch cheered them on. The organisers also gave away prizes to three couples who kissed for the longest time.

But why the need for kissing before a crowd when there could have been others ways to promote love among the married couples?

“We have a peculiar culture. Tribal villagers would suddenly bring home some girls one day and would abandon her some other day just after petty differences. They don’t understand the importance of [a] conjugal relationship. They hesitate in displaying romance in public. What I am trying here to cement the bond between the married couples by asking them to kiss in public,” said Jharkhand Mukti Morcha lawmaker Simon Marandi, whose brainchild the idea is.

Marandi, who represents Littipara seat in Jharkhand assembly, thought of the idea after he noticed a large number of couples were getting divorces. “I was terribly pained to see the family relationships cracking and the government doing just nothing to save the institution of marriage. So, I thought I being the leader of the society must do something to for [my] tribal brethrens. Thus was born the kissing contest,” he explained.

He also said kissing contests will be held regularly; the next one shall be quite soon in his constituency. “I will do whatever it is possible at my level for the welfare of the tribal people. Tribals are quite shy in nature, due to which [the] family system is weakening,” said Marandi.

Hindu Jagran Manch (HJM), a Hindu activist group affiliated to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), however, has objected to such a contest and described it as an attempt to vitiate the Indian culture. “This is an attempt to defame and mislead the tribal community. We will not tolerate such things at any cost,” warned local HJM leader Mukesh Kumar Shukla, urging the chief minister to act against the organisers of this contest.

Mineral-rich Jharkhand was carved from Bihar in November 2000 after a relentless agitation by tribal leaders. It was expected that things would improve after bifurcation but that doesn’t seem the case. Jharkhand accounts for most of the mineral resources of India but it suffers widespread poverty as 39.1 per cent of the population is below the poverty line and 19.6 per cent of the children under five years of age are malnourished. The state is primarily rural; only 24 per cent of the population resides in cities, say reports.