Downhearted Bengali Brides In Kashmir

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Happy is the man who finds a true friend, and far happier is he who finds that true friend in his wife.

                                                  Franz Schubert


Sumera B Reshi

Representational pic

Alan Armstrong rightly said: “In a world where we are forced to conform to society, it is necessary to have personal chaos”. Marriage is the intimate union and equal partnership between a man and a woman and is more than a physical union connected to one’s spiritual and emotional being. Since the 1950s much has changed in the institution of marriage in India. At that time, marriage was all about binding together the traditional roles of men and women to form a union based on practicality and compromise and surely to expand the family base. Today, marriage is more of economic perspective than the familial one. After 68 years, the business of marriage has multiplied its profit manifold. This lucrative industry has aggravated already ailing Indian society into a contagious disease as dreadful as AIDS.

The scale of global consumption has soared over the years, especially when it comes to some of the world’s most popular products, such as Coca-Cola, iPads and so has Marriage prices gone up.   Marriage in present times is an expensive affair and a flawless business in India. Times are rapidly changing, but for many people in India, marriage remains the ultimate symbol of happiness & a reliable source of income. And, of course, for those people who cash in their sons or those who live in abject poverty, marriage remains a beneficial option.  For them, even now, marriage is a very lucrative business where one party invests and another reaps the benefits.

As stated by IBIS World report (IBISWorld is a leading publisher of U.S. industry research), the global marriage market is worth $300 billion per year and that number is just a fraction of the whole picture. What is startling is that the marriage is financially a beneficial business with least market risks especially in India where the birth of a son is considered a miracle and that of a daughter is a disaster.

Marriage in India comes with a tag or a brand of dowry. Even though the practice of dowry has been declared a criminal offence, yet the ritual is rampant in India and its other states including Jammu and Kashmir. Despite a stringent law in place, dowry-related deaths have risen over the years.   According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 91,202 dowry-related deaths were reported from 1st January 2001 to 31st December 2012.

India being a hypergamous society, arranged marriages remain a preference and a typical woman seeks to marry a man who has higher socio-economic status. This trend has also proliferated in Kashmir. A doctor is a worth a doctor and an engineer worth an engineer, no less than this category.

The trend has divided the Kashmiri society into many parts. Kashmir nowadays is a caste, class and community-driven society and this division had had adverse effects which are very obvious and clearly visible.

The trend has turned the marriage market in Kashmir quite murky. In order to secure future, women opted education and then chose to work. This was considered a great step towards women empowerment and was thought to improve women’s status in the family & in the Society.

However, the menace was thought to die a natural death but nothing such happened, rather the practice of demand or dowry which is demanded in Kashmir in disguise continued and magnified beyond limits over the years despite the armed conflict.  Marriage market for such empowered women became inaccessible in many terms.  In terms of marriage, empowerment proved a curse which rendered many men and women in the deeper levels of seclusion and confinement.

Not only women, but many middle and lower-middle-class men also became the victim of circumstances. Caste, class and economic status have left many men & women in distress. Being Kashmiri, they couldn’t find a match for themselves in their own society. So they tried to explore happiness beyond borders. The chaotic situations in Kashmir, the fragile employment market and growing extravaganza in marriages have egged many men in Kashmir to sought brides outside Kashmir. If Kashmir is a Switzerland of India, West Bengal is a paradise for Kashmiris, distant yet closer to the hearts of Kashmiris who found what they failed to find in Kashmir.

Having a bride from distant eastern part of India is reasonably accessible to marry off without much spectacle. Abject poverty is forcing poor Bengali families to sell their young daughters to older men and in distant lands for marriage. Though these men are quite alien to them linguistically and culturally, yet they agree to marry and settle in a far off place with unknown men, climate and culture.

“I tried to marry here in Kashmir but failed to secure a bride because of my caste and lower economic background. I am a daily wager and can’t afford showy wedding ritual, so I sought the help of an agent who looked a match for me in West Bengal,” said Kareem Lone.

By and large, men who can’t compete in the local marriage market are coerced to look outside the state and West Bengal is an obvious place to book a bride. Insufficient bankrolls, unemployment and underemployment are the pivotal reasons for them to marry Bengali women.

Hameed Ganai, 45, tried his best to tie the nuptial knot. Years of search left him hopeless. “We all live in utopia. We aren’t perfect, so we shouldn’t search for perfection. I lost everything, my youth, my happiness and my hope in search of my better half,” said Hameed with downcast eyes.

In search of happiness and a partner, Hameed met grief. Nor he and neither his wife Yasmine is content with each other. They fail to communicate in their languages. They aren’t happy either. There is no love and no empathy in their seven-year-old marriage. Rejection by own people on the basis of employment status, social status and caste forced Hameed to seek marriage alliance from Bengal.

Besides, to marry a Bengali woman is far cheaper and hassle-free. But what about those Bengali women who are put on sale by their family and forced to enter an alliance they never want to. A report published by the Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/feb/15/plight-of-kashmir-young-brides) says that many young Bengali girls are sold in Kashmir to old strangers for small potatoes.

Like other Bengali women, Razia was also sold for mere 15000 rupees. She is 23 years younger to her husband who is old and handicapped as well. Since Razia married to Sultan (her husband), she never went back to West Bengal to see her family inmates.

“I cook, I eat and I do everything that I am asked to but I am not happy here. Deep inside I feel I don’t belong to this place. Once I am done with my household chores, I sit on the window sill and reverie into my old days, recall every moment I spent in my native place. Now my memory is my biggest assets to hold on to life, else I am dead inside like a log of wood with no identity of my own”, narrated Razia with eyes welled with tears.

While narrating her side of the story, Razia had many questions in her eyes. Wasn’t she a human being, then why was she sold like a commodity in a far off market? Besides, she said she knows she is from the lower strata of the society but she was content in a place where she was born.

Bengali women are now in demand in Kashmir because they are cheaper and less vocal. Moreover, marriage alliance with an outsider is undemanding without headaches and heartaches as far as expenses are concerned.  There was a time when Kashmiris hardly assimilated outsiders into their social and familial ambit. With the passage of time and demanding social customs, the trend has reversed and Kashmiris have integrated many outsiders as their family members.  The trend was confined to Srinagar but many men in rural Kashmir are also opting Bengali women instead of locals as their brides.

Nevertheless, there is another side of the story. Many Bengali women are tricked by their own kith and kin. Ladli, who was just 19, had many dreams about her marriage. She was neither well-off nor beautiful, thus she fell into the trap. She was sold to a man in Kashmir for mere 5000 rupees. Somehow she got along with the prevailing situations at her home. Half-heartedly she agreed to marry a man in Kashmir who looked good in his mid-twenties but to her surprise, on her wedding night she encountered a different man, older an ailing. Her parents duped her. The night of her dreams turned into a horrible nightmare. She felt caged and impounded inside the mountainous range of Kashmir and her frozen bedroom. There was no other world for her and nowhere to go. At one extreme end, she had the fire, and on the other immense hopelessness.

After years into a forced and deceitful alliance, Ladli failed to reconcile with her aged husband. She couldn’t gel with him nor was she emotionally attached to her husband. Her life was limited to household work. From her Sunday to her Saturdays, she was just she, alone, deserted and isolated. Her world was as frozen as the chilly nights of January. Nothing changed but she lost her youth, vigour and dreams.

This is just a tip of an iceberg, there are more Razia’s, Ladli’s and Yasmine’s who are caged inside the scenic beauty of Kashmir. Their hearts are as desiccated as the autumn in Kashmir. Saira like other Bengali women was lured by an agent. She was enticed to marry in Kashmir though she knew she can’t adopt the culture and the climate of the place.

Her poverty played a great role. She was also sold to a man in Kashmir. She couldn’t embrace the local culture and climate of Kashmir. The moment Saira got married, she felt cut off from all her desires. “My husband used to beat me every night. For him, I was a commodity which he bought from my parents. I was less of a partner and more of a bonded laborer,” with a deep sigh said Saira.

How many heartbeats will pause? How many dreams will shatter in the name of marriage? We all need to ponder over the plight of Hameed, and Kareem, Razia, Yasmine, Ladli and Saira. They are all human being born with equal right to live a content and happy life, aren’t they? I leave that to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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