In Depth

Myriad shades of the ‘litmus test’ called Kashmiri marriage

Kashmiri marriages have always been an extravagant affair, but over the years, the sacred institution has come under the make-believe societal offensive, keeping scores either at bay from it or perpetually let them linger in search of the right match.

It’s happening for the last four years now. Every time the matchmaker brings the prospective groom’s family, Shaheen — a banker, supporting her family since her college days — knows the outcome. With each refusal, she’s told different reasons for her lingering bachelorhood.

Inside her uptown Srinagar home, the 30-year-old wears a fighter attitude when talking about her matrimonial trysts.

“There was this family from Srinagar,” she says, effortlessly hiding her struggles behind the beaming face, “seeking a match for their computer engineer son working in Saudi [Arabia]. Through a matchmaker, they came and saw me. They seemed pretty pleased with it. But then, some two months later, they sent a word through the matchmaker: ‘Sorry, it’s not happening. Our son says, your daughter is too fat for him!’ ”

Another time, when a matchmaker brought a prospective groom’s family from a well-known business house of Kashmir, Shaheen was enlightened about her another personality trait: ‘She appears too docile.’

In other words, the girl was rejected for not being a “social butterfly” that the family was seeking for their son, making frequent trade-cum-recreational trips to foreign lands.

Shaheen’s case makes for a reference point at a time when newsprints are painting an alarming picture of Kashmir—particularly that of the summer capital, Srinagar—that reportedly houses scores of “over-aged-unmarried” people.

At the heart of this crisis plaguing the vital vestiges of the society is the escalating demand based on caste, status, background, taste, etc.

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In Srinagar’s Lal Bazaar—a neighbourhood predominately housing the post-90s migratory populations from the Old City and other parts of Kashmir—Aneesa has heard it all: good background, sound education, secure income and perfect marriage material.

“At times, I fail to understand what as a society we’ve become, and are striving for,” asks Aneesa, 29, putting up somewhat puzzled face. “I’m not saying this, from my own experience, but the way all this is now becoming a new normal in the society, where to qualify for a perfect bride or groom, one has to pass through the endless conditions and checklists.”

As matchmaker, Mohammad Hassan from Srinagar’s Hawal carries these conditions and checklists in the form of profiles of the prospective grooms and brides.

One of the profiles inside Hassan’s brown-covered diary is that of a professor from Habak, Srinagar. Apart from looking for a working woman as his bride, the professor makes an intriguing demand: “The girl should be under-30, well-educated, well-mannered, fair and friendly.”

And all this, for the 40-something divorcee, who apparently makes one feel — as if, he has floated some advertisement notice to get a desired employee!

Hassan’s diary carries further attention-grabbing details with potential profiles: good family background, good caste, doctor for doctor, engineer for engineer, doctor for engineer, a Ph.D scholar for Ph.D…

And yes, it says, physical appearance matters, too.

“I was shocked when my prospective mother-in-law asked me to walk during our engagement finalizing meeting inside Takdeer Park at Hazratbal,” says Sameena Amin, a teacher from Srinagar. “Apparently, she wanted to check, whether I walk properly or not. And if that wasn’t enough embarrassment for me, she then took me aside to enquire, whether I was seeing someone. Then suddenly, she lifted my headscarf to check, if I’ve proper hair or not.”

Sameena says she was offended by this brazen and bizarre way of bride inspection, and therefore, stormed out of the ceremony.

“It’s one thing to enquire about the bride and her background,” Sameena says, lividly, “but it’s another thing to subject her to a litmus test, based on someone’s whims and wishes.”

Unlike Sameena, Zainab was fortunate enough to find her partner—an engineer—without these conditions. But even then, she had to face the societal hassles.

At 27, while she’s about to get married, she says, many of her elder cousins are still unmarried. But that hardly perturbs this freelance journalist, having Masters in Journalism from University of Kashmir. Her carefree attitude, however, didn’t prevent people to subject her to a flurry of queries: Why are you in such a rush to marry? As a last child, you should’ve thought about your parents, no? Why don’t you go to some foreign country, study and enjoy life…

“Even a shopkeeper of my locality is worried about my ‘early marriage’,” Zainab says, laughing. “The other day he was telling my mother, ‘what was the rush? She’s still a child and would have managed without marriage for some more years still.’ If 27 is a tender age, then what’s the right age of marriage?”

In the society mired in perpetual conflict, such incidents apparently undermining the institution of marriage aren’t perhaps new. While Zainab is “lucky enough” to have thoughtful parents by her side, not everyone in her society is blessed with such a support.

Scores of men and women have already crossed their “right” marital age. And the reasons for all of these drawn-out bachelorhood cases are different.

ALSO READ: Extravagance has ruined the great institution of marriage

At 35, Ghulam Rasool wanted to marry the “love of his life”, but he was not allowed, as she belonged to the same neighbourhood where he lived.

His family had given a strange explanation for their curt refusal: Marrying a girl from your neighborhood will bring shame to the family and is against the societal norms.

In another case, a 45-something photographer from Srinagar is still an “eligible bachelor” because when it was the “right time to marry”, he was busy putting his home in order.

The onetime hipster Khalid Mushtaq had to take care of his traumatized parents after his youngest, insurgent sibling was killed by a rival militant group in 1993, in Srinagar. His case is now a case study for Amreen Mir, a doctorate scholar pursuing her psychological research on the “Conflict-ridden family setups in Kashmir”.

“His [Mushtaq’s] conflict sense of responsibility is one of the reasons why many Kashmiri men and women prefer taking care of their parental homes shattered by the brutal situation for a prolonged time period,” the scholar says. “Such cases tell us how the larger conflict impacts one’s choice of life goals, like marriage, in places like Kashmir.”

At his photography shop at Srinagar’s Khanyar, Mushtaq offers some insightful explanation, keeping his kinds away from marriage.

“There is this boy in my locality namely Adil, must be 27-year-old self-employed person,” he says. “He was denied the match of his choice because he’s from Downtown and the area is too congested and homes are old structured. But all this, I tell you, was an alibi. Actually, the girl’s parents were not pleased with her choice, which they felt, was against their worldview.”

Many believe that such an attitude is just a sneak peek into the larger issues of the society where people do ‘act like hypocrites and change rules as per their own convenience’.

And then, Mushtaq continues, there are many others who aren’t finding matches because of the dowry and unemployment.

“Most of us have now developed a complicated lifestyle, which is a major cause for delayed marriage,” he says. “But the biggest reason still is our greed for more and more materialistic things.”

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In the sprawling Kashmir University campus, Romana, 25, comes across as a confident girl, pursuing her Masters. A year ago, this tall, bright-eyed girl got engaged to a person selected by her family.

After six months of her engagement, she felt “trapped” as her fiancé directs her to wear branded clothing line, put on makeup and have a good haircut. This was an attempt by her fiancé to change the identity she has been living with from last 25 years. She had no choice but to adopt the new way of living.

Scrolling her cellphone’s gallery, she shows how she transformed from a hijab-wearing girl to a ‘modern girl’, as per her fiancé’s wish.

After sometime, her fiancé started behaving strange, “always looking for excuses to lambast me”.

Once done with the repeated abuse, Romana gathered courage to question the boy, “what’s wrong?”

“Nothing, I don’t think this relationship will work. It’s over for me!” replied the boy.

For many, such sudden life-twists do become a blocking stone in life. But Romana, who transformed herself for the person who ended up deserting her, stays reasonably positive — the response, now rarely found in her society packed with “over-aged unmarried” people.

 

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