ALARM BELLS: Why Marriages in Kashmir Are Becoming Mean Business

Marriages in Kashmir are driven by many material factors.

“Decreasing fertility rate, abnormality in kids and miserable married lives are all a resultant of avaricious men and career-oriented women indulging in late marriages. Our focus should be on making Nikaah easy.”

 By Asma Majid

SHIREEN was jiggling her arms in ecstasy. The sparkle in her eyes and the shimmer of her bangles melded with the luminance of the German silver mirror, making her a resplendent bride-to-be.

In the heart of the Srinagar, while the jeweller, who seemed to have mastered the art of schmoozing, was busy in his causeries, praising the choker now and the bangles then, Shireen was excessively absorbed in gazing at herself in the mirror.

Lost in the process, the woman in her mid-thirties got startled as she saw the mirror reproducing the image of her recently married cousin Fiza instead of hers.

No doubting the fact that Shireen was looking beautiful but those fine lines on her face and around her eyes, those brutal signs of senescence were not visible on the face of a 24 year-old Fiza who had entered the bond, the matrimony, a month ago.

Fiza was no Helen of Troy. It was Shireen who had always been praised for her beauty. She began to feel anxious. The mirror seemed to have produced the image of a young Fiza as the ‘fairest of them all’.

“One lakh and eighty thousand only for this pair of bangles, madam. This is pure 916 gold,” the shopkeeper, a Sardar ji was proudly announcing the price. He lowered his tone to add, “None of the shopkeepers around will give you this pair in the same price. Likh ke le lo! (Get it in written from me).

Shireen’s mother who was multitasking all this while by lending an ear to the Sardar ji and stealing glimpses to look at the potential bride was now ready to bargain. “Do we always come to your shop only to be treated like other customers? My sister-in-law recently got a pair of heavier gold bangles from one of these shops in just 1 lakh rupees.”

Waheguru!” the stupefied Sardar ji uttered in a shock. “Madam, we are jewellers, not roadside vendors. And this is pure gold that we are dealing with.”

“Bhaiya ji,” Shireen’s mother was quick in her reply, “at least pronounce a reasonable rate while striking a deal with your regular customers. Why are you bent upon giving us a heart attack?”

In a more sombre tone, she said, “You should keep provisions for customers to come again and again.”

After a thorough debate on soaring gold prices and the overall market inflation in wedding season, the mother-daughter duo came out of the jewellery shop. The way Shireen’s mother clung her bag to her body indicated that after all a deal had been struck between the two parties.

A year ago, Shireen had managed to get the job of a general line teacher in the department of education after a long wait and repeated labour of seven years. All this while, she had seen her friends and batchmates entering nuptial knots and procreating their families. But matchmakers visiting her house had a categorically clear stance – like attracts like.

Thus, a well-off family looked for a similar khandani ghar (decent household) as theirs and a shareef koor (charactered girl) for their shareef ladka (charactered boy) and to find a shareef koor having a decent government job would be icing on the cake.

As such, till her employment in the government sector, Shireen’s family could hardly find a good match for her. The matchmakers would visit the family twice a week, fetch their fair share of bucks and leave with the promise of coming back with a better match. It was only after Shireen’s mother starting paying obeisance at the Makhdoom Sahab Shrine every Thursday that good luck knocked on their door and the seed of marriage between Shireen and Iqbal were sown.

Iqbal der se hi aata hai,” his friends would tease him whenever Iqbal would be late for classes as a young boy. But as time passed by, the teasing remark proved out to be a midas chant for Iqbal by the virtue of which things would never fall in place at the right time in his life. His engineering degree took longer than normal to finish. After that, when Iqbal was looking for a job, he did not get one, which pushed him out of his ideal marriageable age.

Finally, as Iqbal let go of his dreams of becoming a successful engineer and took exams of all sorts coming his way, he got appointed as a Junior Stenographer. But as fate would have it, damsels in distress were not sought by Iqbal’s family and working women would reject him right away on the pretext of not fulfilling their idea of a potential groom.

While talking to the matchmakers, Iqbal’s father would reiterate his flexibility vis a vis the choice of bride for Iqbal. “It is so unfortunate that girls’ demands are sky-high these days with regard to the guy they wish to marry. They are no longer as complaisant as they would be in our times. My son is an engineer but even then, we don’t want an engineer girl for him. Any working woman would do and that too is for the sake of ease in their living.”

Iqbal’s habitual lateness dragged him to late-thirties where he finally got appointed as a relationship executive in the J&K Bank and it was this which took his level a notch up in the eyes of all those who had earlier rejected him. Thus, when the matchmaker put forth Iqbal’s biodata, Shireen’s parents were not to let go of him.

Islam, the religion majority of Kashmiris follow, stresses on making marriages affordable and easy.

So many Shireens and as many Iqbals make up the Kashmiri society – a society where the menace of late marriages raising its head like a ferocious dragon is not looked at with the kind of repulsion that it ideally deserves. Instead of fearing the deadly fire coming out of it, potent enough to dash all and sundry to ashes, the dragon is extolled for its grandiose eminence.

Millennials appear to be in no rush to get married. For them, marriage is just a milestone to check off a list and in order to do that, they have to tick-mark the milestones falling prior to the marriage milestone. Fearing financial insecurity as one of the reasons people divorce, men wait until they are financially stable to get hitched. Financial independence is as dear to women as to men.

As such, the pursuit of careers is likely to be one of the big reasons marriages are being put on hold by women folk. Yet, there are people who are antsy to get married, but refrain from it owing to economical instabilities.

Qurat Masoodi, Chairperson “Aash – the hope of Kashmir” is one of those few people, who try to cater to the financial problems of the aforementioned stratum of the society, through dedicating her NGO to the sole cause of mass marriages since 2018.

“We facilitate things for those who wish to marry but lack financial resources for it,” she says.

Qurat is not unaware of the job culture that has crept into the society as a pre-requisite for marriage and she holds men and women equally responsible for it.

“Decreasing fertility rate, abnormality in kids and miserable married lives are all a resultant of avaricious men and career-oriented women indulging in late marriages,” she says. “Our focus should be on making Nikaah easy.”

Iqbal’s paternal cousin and his age-mate Saleem had entered the matrimonial relationship a decade ago. Saleem’s late father, head assistant in the High Court had passed away when Saleem was only 19 and thus the latter got appointed in the High Court as a Junior Assistant in accordance with the government policy pertaining to the job.

Lately promoted to the position of Senior Assistant, Saleem, a father to two little boys, never faced the kind of problems that Iqbal did in getting married. His early appointment in the government sector saved him from all the hassles that men of his age grappled with.

The cultural milieu of Kashmir has always been in line with the religious spirit of Islam. However, the past decade has seen a gradual divergence among the two and the otherwise blurred boundaries are becoming conspicuous.

In the light of this emerging scenario, Faisal Naqash, PhD scholar in Islamic Studies from Aligarh Muslim University, defines the purpose of marriage in the light of the holy book.

“It is manifest and succinct and can be comprehended from the following two verses,” he says:

“It is He who created you from one soul and created from it its mate that he might dwell in security (peace) with her…” [7:189]

“And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquillity (peace) in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed, in that are signs for people who give thought.” [30:21]

“These Quranic verses,” Faisal continues, “make it quite obvious that marriage is primarily intended to foster peace, contentment, and harmony. Unfortunately, today’s youth are finding contentment in money and material possessions. Late marriages are increasingly being planned out rather than being the result of external restraints and social pressures. Youth are determined to place less importance on marriage and prioritize other factors, which typically include career-related considerations, the desire for higher qualifications, handling family obligations, and becoming extremely selective in their partner selection. However, financial stability and a desire for riches are the most significant causes of late marriages.”

Faisal adds, “Allah clearly mentions in the Quran—“And marry the unmarried among you and the righteous among your male slaves and female slaves. If they should be poor, Allah will enrich them out of His bounty, and Allah is all-bountiful and all-Knowing.” [24:32]

Sadly, he says, youth are deviating toward a pointless existence that has no meaning at all and growing more materialistic instead of using the enormous diversity of religious resources at their disposal as a guiding light to spend their lives in the right way and in accordance with the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Grand Mufti of J&K and Chairman, J&K Muslim Personal Board, Mufti Nasir-ul Islam identifies a number of reasons having paved way to the growing trend of delayed marriages, among which he rules out two of most important causes.

“Ignorance is the major reason why the trend of late marriages has set in our society,” he opines.

“On one hand, there is a huge demand for dowry [Jahez] by the groom’s family and on the other hand, they are not ready to give out the Meher [obligatory dower paid by the groom] to the bride.”

Another reason, he says, is Israf or unnecessary spending that the elite class indulges in so as to make their wedding ceremonies lavish and extravagant. “This puts the other sections of the society in an awkward position where parents, instead of marrying their wards with austerity and simplicity, defer their weddings till they can manage to throw lavish wedding parties.”

Taking the responsibility of educating the masses through Friday sermons, the Grand Mufti assures to take an initiative in this regard.

Much of focus on Kashmiri weddings remain on the glittering gold.

Prior to the 1990s, the average marriageable age was 23 years for males and 20 years for females. The exponential rise in the aforementioned has unfailingly caught the attention of all the sections of the society including writers and poets who express alarm and utmost concern through their pen.

Zareef Ahmad Zareef, a veteran Kashmiri poet, writer and social activist has his say on the issue of late marriages in Kashmir: “Kashmir has been a nationality, a civilization and not a sub-civilization. Early marriage as an ideal has been integral to the traditional value system of Kashmir which looked at the idea of marriage as a sacred union and not just a legal bond or a social sanction to live together. The pillar of marriage was seen as a guard of honour standing upright on the pedestal of equality or zatchi zaet which meant union of the people of same temperament.”

In his famous poem ‘Taaran Garee’, poet Zareef derides the mentality which looks at a daughter-in-law as a source of income to the family: “Korein chi waeriv goadI pritschaan / Nosh koor kati service karaan // Kya grade chus kitsch noukri / Taaran Garee Taaran Garee” (Before anything, in-laws of girls ask this / Where does the bride do her service (job)? // What grade, what job, what salary? // Taaran Garee Taaran Garee!).

Zareef mentions how the essence of native Kashmiri customs has been marred by people in a fit to emulate others. Citing dowry as a foreign borrowing, he says says, “A typical Kashmiri society required the groom’s family to bear all the expenses of the marriage ceremony. One of the primeval customs included the deliverance of Wouri Kath (sheep for the wedding party), Toumli Khaar (rice for the wedding party) and Saazi Dyaar (money to buy jewellery and other necessary items) to the bride’s family by the groom’s father.

Pitiful as it is, Zareef disregards the literacy of modern times that leaves youth all prone to indiscretion with regard to the grave issues of life. “People have become highly literate but it is only true education which instils sha’oor (sensibility of thought),” he says. “The alarming situation of late marriages only insinuates at the fact that our youth are Sanad-yafta (Degree Holders/Literate) and not Taleem-yafta (Educated).”

Zareef iterates the importance of compromise in marriage. “Our female folk dread the idea of marrying men who are less qualified in terms of literacy, education or profession in comparison to them. As such, they transcend their marriageable age and lose the beauty of their youth. Therefore, women are more culpable of propagating late marriages than men.”

Three years on, Shireen and Iqbal are still struggling for peace in their lives. The initial days of marital bliss have been trounced by distress and agitation. Despite having previously undergone a great deal owing to their delayed marriage, the couple is still enduring the social expectations associated with being childless. They await good while constantly swigging the contempt of the society, its coldness and the clamour in its silence.

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