Kashmir’s Lonely Hearts

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Sumera B. Reshi

In football, if the offence takes more than thirty seconds between plays, they are penalized for “delay of game.” Therefore the delay brings loss and victory appears a distant goal. The same principle holds correct for a settled life as well.

In her mid-40’s Taranum looks desolate at the prospects of getting married. Her dream of settling down and having a family was shattered partly by her being from a middle class and partly being simple in her get up, however, there are many more undercurrents behind her being unwed. She is tall and smart, a well-read person but she has lost all hopes of getting married. Taranum is not alone in the queue.

The plague of dowry and its associated ailments has given rise to a crop of unwed women and men in Kashmir.  There are many more sullen eyes hiding behind their own shadows for the fear of social implications. Marriage rates are falling partly because people are postponing getting hitched. Marriage ages have risen all over the world, but the increase is particularly marked in Asia and in India, Kashmir tops the list. People here and everywhere now marry even later than they used to two decades ago.

In most of Asia, marriage is widespread and illegitimacy almost unknown.  Yet marriage is changing fast in East, South-East and South Asia, even though each region has different traditions. The trend of late or delayed marriages has not plagued only Kashmir but UAE as well. What’s happening in Kashmir & the UAE is a flight from marriage.

Data drawn from 2001 census reveals that 55 per cent of the total population in Jammu & Kashmir are unmarried even though the percentile has crossed optimal marriageable age. As per this data, the total number of unmarried persons in the age-group of 20-35 is 8, 97,289. However, over the years the number must have gone up.  The percentile of single men is 54.7 per cent of the total population and they outnumber unwed women which are 45.12 per cent.

A study conducted by Late Bashir Ahmad Dabla, who served as a professor in the department of sociology and social work at the Kashmir University reveals that during the past 30 – 40 years, the average marrying age leapt from 24 – 32 for men and from 21 – 28 for women. It is surely a serious matter. The situation has given rise to depression and instability among the youth and has taken toll of their physical, emotional and psychological well-being.

So what led to the plague of delayed marriages in Kashmir? The reasons are myriad.  Today careers have taken the center stage. Men and women are opting for late marriages. For them, career is a priority and not the marriage but then the question arises why they prefer education and career over family? There are various reasons which justify this notion. Social norms have changed with the onset of armed conflict in Kashmir.

Kashmir is witnessing a gulf between haves and have-nots. Marriage proposals get rejected because the opposite party either has one –story house or reside in the downtown area.  Another aspect associated with it is the caste system. In so many cases people prefer to marry in the same caste.

The prospects of marriage diminish if one belongs to another caste and sub-caste. Kashmir nowadays has become a caste and class-driven society. One class, caste and location has taken the precedence rather his /her personal attributes.

Zara Hamid, a lecturer in a private B.Ed. college narrated a woeful tale. “There was lot more pressure on me from my parents as if I was a fairy with a magic wand who can perform anything at any time. I wasn’t given a choice to choose and the criteria were set by my parents not me. In a way, I was nowhere in the scene yet every blame was on me.”

“Once a middleman came to our house and looked for my bio data. To our surprise, he said he only makes the match for upper castes. Further, he said his criteria for match finding is that a girl should be a management profession, in simple terms an MBA. This broke my heart. I and my parent’s looked at each other with awe. If this is marriage, I said to my parents, and then I prefer to commit a suicide”.

Men also face the same fate. Marriage prospects is not rosy for them either.

Kamraan Khan a lanky man in his late 30’s with an M.Phil in Microbiology looks pale and insecure.  He is unmarried because he failed to secure a government job. Even though he is a well-educated, well-mannered person, his educational and personal credential couldn’t win him a bride. Like the much talked unwed daughters of Kashmir, Kamraan is also living with a psychological wound called loneliness. Kamraan is also not alone. The society is full of Taranum, Zara and Kamraan’s.

Additionally, the rising demands of hefty cash or gold in exchange for finding a suitable match for a girl or a boy by the middlemen is another pestilence associated with the marriages in Kashmir. Not the society or parents rather these middlemen set the criteria for marriages nowadays. Caste, status, bank balance and the miscellaneous expenses determine whether you are worthy of marriage or worth a dustbin.

Changing marriage patterns are also the result of improvements in women’s education and income, and the failure of women’s status to keep pace. The salient characteristic of many traditional marriage systems is that women—especially young women—have little independence.

Take the case of Zara. She had no liberty to choose of her own and then her parents had some other criteria for her marriage and the society something else. In midst of these criteria, she remained single, unwed and lonely. Besides, every now and then she had to face rather reply the intricate, thorny and weird questions from the society.

In a classy society of Kashmir, she and others like her are an outcast, a burden on or a sorry figure and what not. Zara and many others only hear the music of sighs as if they have done some unpardonable sin.

Education should have made us balanced personalities, nevertheless which is not the case in Kashmir. The more educated we are, the more are we getting into a quagmire of rituals, customs and age-old traditions. Furthermore, more education has left the best-educated women with fewer potential partners. In most Asian countries and Kashmir in particular, women have always been encouraged to marry up a man of higher income or education.

Marrying up was necessary for the past when women could not get an education and female literacy was low. But now that many women are doing as well or better than men at school, those at the top—like the “golden misses” find the marriage market unwelcoming. Either there are fewer men of higher education for them to marry, or lower-income men feel intimidated by their earning power.

Moreover, there is an economic aspect which makes marriage a difficult task. The amount of gold to be given to a bride and demanded subtly by the opposite party has surged dramatically over the years. Your gold carats not the personal or educational credentials matter.

Heavier the gold and its accessories, more likely are the prospects of marriage.  The dowry system in disguise is the cardinal reason why there is a demand for getting an education degree and then search for jobs. Besides, in Kashmir, few professions are worth respect.

Medical doctors and engineers top the list rest are considered unworthy. However, there are the people in the society who believe late marriage is an individual choice and decision. Certainly, it is not an individual choice; there are layers of reasons which leads to spinsterhood or singlehood.

Take a look at the other side of the globe. In the Middle East, Emiratis are also following the trend. They wait longer to wed as per the Abu Dhabi government statistics. Three decades ago, local woman’s marriageable age was 23.7 but it has gradually risen to 25.9 according to figures revealed by the Statistics Centre Abu Dhabi (Scad).

Even for Emiratis marriage is no longer a priority, however, education and work and other aspects of life have taken precedence. According to Dr Ahmad Alomosh, chairman of the department of sociology at the University of Sharjah, late marriages signified a shift in Emirati society’s priorities. Women are now educated and capable of working and earning a living, no longer need to marry for financial support.

“She is independent financially so she will look for marriage later, when she is ready for it, as it’s no longer her first choice,” Dr Alomosh said.

The financial aspect is not the only reason for delayed marriages. As stated by Dr Maitha Al Shamsi, who is the Minister of State and chair of the Marriage Fund, on the issue of anousa, or spinsterhood,  the rising cost of weddings and dowries are to blame for the delay in the marriages here in UAE.

“We did a study on the relation between the cost of marriage and anousa, and found a direct link,” the minister said.

The results of the said study reveal that 78 per cent of Emiratis believed the expense of weddings and dowries led women to delay marriage.

“The economic turmoil is another reason behind the deteriorating phenomenon. “Strangely, the wedding costs have shot up at some halls from Dh20, 000 to Dh30, 000,” said Khadija Ahmad.

Duniya Mohammad narrated about one of her friends while discussing the issue of late /delayed marriages in UAE. Around 60 per cent of the Emirati women fail to tie the nuptial knot even at the age of 30. “I know some other women who are still unmarried even at 40,” added Duniya.

According to the statistics of the UAE Ministry of Planning, the number of unmarried Emirati women over 30 years of age has grown from 20 per cent in 1995 to 50 per cent in 2008.

“The problem here is in their families, who set stiff and unaffordable conditions,” said Duniya.

This is not only the problem in UAE, Kashmir is going through more moral morass than any society right now.  Indeed this is a serious concern and we all need to worry about this issue since the figures are extremely disturbing. Social attitudes in the world around are changing slowly. Certainly and sure delays come with shocking repercussions and we have to save our generation from becoming “parasite singles”.

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