Girls for sale- The bride market of Bulgaria

Dressing up themselves, getting confused over lipstick, throwing in some boots, and posing for picture-perfect selfies- this could be the case of any young teenage girl across the globe going out for their first date. But it’s only the women from Bulgaria’s Kalaidzhi, an orthodox Christian subgroup of the Roma community that ends up with a different fate. The community that is highly discriminated against in Eastern Europe has always been famous for guarding its years-old traditions and cultures. Almost 90% of Roma live below the poverty line, and almost half of them had faced discrimination because of their ethnic background.

Welcome to the bride market of Bulgaria!

According to the European data, the Romani people in Bulgaria number 750,000 and they constitute 10.33% of the population. Even a superficial acquaintance with Bulgarian Gypsies can give us the impression of the profound variety of gypsy communities including the one that does not have a Roma identity. There are traditional communities both nomad and sedentary with preserved old language, culture, and tradition, and communities that have well integrated into the atmosphere and are relatively well-educated and socially active.

The life of the Roma community in Bulgaria is full of socio-economic discrimination and isolation. Despite having EU citizenship, these people are highly stereotyped, and they stay in isolated places on the outskirts of cities. These people have their own beliefs and traditions, especially when it comes to the females in society. Young women are forced to leave school soon after their first period and prepared for the upcoming annual festival commonly known as the bride market! Yes, that’s correct. Every year among the Roma community of Bulgaria, a fest takes place where young women are sold as brides in the town of Stara Zagora.

bride market of Bulgaria,bride market

The culture is also renowned for a “bridal market” which mostly takes place 4 times a year where young girls flock to muddy fields and parking lots around the country in red carpet gowns to meet prospective husbands. The men also dress up in gold jewels and come in luxury cars to attract girls. This could be seen as a potential offline tinder date, but here’s a twist- the young girls are sold by their parents to their prospective husbands in thousand of Bulgarian Levs. Typically, girls are bought for between $290 – $350 but the prices may go up if the girl is beautiful and has fair skin.

While some girls do feel uncomfortable about the whole event, many of them support this and are even eager to participate willingly in the festival. This is the main reason that the custom has survived despite the advancement of social media. One of the most influential factors in bidding the brides at higher rates surrounds their virginity status. If the girl is not a virgin when you sell her, they will call them whores, sluts, and disgraceful women. Non-virgin girls are either not bought or are bid at considerably lower rates. Such is the reality of this market.

Though the festival is meant to be celebrated by the women and men and find their partners, it is mostly their parents who negotiate the price. If a man likes a woman, he must tell his parents to talk with her parents and set the deal. Men and women are not the ones to set the bar! This is even scarier as women could be sold to someone, she does not even like based on the money. Though women traditionally do have the right to say no, the burden of the culture has shifted its weight on females. To provide a better dowry to her parents, many girls are bound to subdue to their family’s choice.

bride market of Bulgaria,bride market

The chronology of the Roma community

It is believed that the initial ancestors of the Roma community migrated from India back thousands of years ago. Linguistic and genetic evidence suggests that they originated in the northern regions of the Indian subcontinent; in particular, the Rajasthan and later migrated. The Romany was believed to leave India probably to escape the invasion of Afghan general Mahmud of Ghazni early in the 11th century. Mahmud’s troops likely pushed the Romani out of northern India and into the area that is now Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran.

There are also many cultural similarities between the Roma and Indian communities which includes wearing white with mourning, adorning henna on the palms of the brides, and laws surrounding purity and taboos of birth and death. The Roma communities also believe in Shiva, Kali, and Agni of the Hindu culture which is direct evidence of cultural relation.

Thus, it is highly possible that the Roma community did migrate from India or they might have some relations regardless of geographical barriers. 

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