Sumera B Reshi Marriage
In a culture like ours, parents often advise ‘whatever you do, never elope because that will be really shameful’. Time and again, parents recall a girl ‘you’re a girl and your father’s honor depends a lot on you.’
Even I remember I have been advised by my elders and parents not to mingle with guys in a school, college or in a university and not to think about the elopement. Oftentimes I wondered why a girl would run away with a guy when she lives in a modern and free society.
Today every girl is confident enough to walk up to her parents and tell them about their ‘choice’ yet girls in our so-called open societies elope or are egged to take such a drastic step.
Women in Kashmir don’t have control over their lives even though they are highly educated, financially self-sufficient and independent individuals, yet the key to their happiness lies in the hands of parents, brothers and ultimately husbands.
Women in Kashmir and in the sub-continent are under father’s protection and the parents chose her partner on the basis of caste, financial status and social acceptance. In such a scenario, ‘secret marriage mania’ or elopement provides them with a respite despite the fact; the act has zero acceptances in our pious society. These girls/women leave the cosy and comfort zones to flourish and nurture the garden of their heart.
In Kashmir, we have a conservative society which is opening up to the external world gradually. With the onset of globalization, the giant walls of protection have become fragile.
We connect with anyone from one end of the globe to another through the www acronym for the worldwide web. And with www in our lives, our society is also changing and in a way we are in a transitional state not exactly knowing what is good or bad for us.
The Internet has become an intrinsic part of our identity, thus we are more alive in virtual space than in our real lives. With this, every part and bit of our identity has transmuted into a mosaic thought process where we all believe in ‘I’ rather than ‘we’. It has made Gen X more restive and twitchy. The old customs and culture are changing alarmingly, thus setting a trend for other cultures or subcultures.
Likewise, the year 2018 witnessed a weird trend in Kashmir with young girls reported to be missing from their homes or voluntarily absconding else eloping. Maybe it was in the spirit of rebellion against the strict rules of Kashmiri society or harsh parental policing. Maybe it was a personal sense of freedom young boys and girls want to experience in this age of information superhighway. Or maybe the trend is due to overexposure of social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram et al.
Whatever the reasons be, the occurrences of two young people running off to get married or one older person leaving a marriage to marry someone else — both acts are called elopements and Kashmiri society is witnessing the trend, though the tendency is not alarming.
The trend is not frightening; nonetheless, it is laying a base for an unusual phenomenon which was unheard in Kashmir. In just two months, eight girls went missing as per the official records.
As stated by Howard Chudacoff, an American history professor at Brown University and author of The Age of the Bachelor: Creating An American Subculture, in the US, “It was a period in which young people were striving for independence from family, church and community, and marriage without parental sanction was a form of rebellion.” And the same could be the case with Kashmir at present.
Youth, fed up of long-standing conflict, parental policing and social media exposure and globalization of information and communication, they are craving for unlimited freedom a la unlimited internet package, freedom to live a life of their own choice, good or bad but just theirs.
But then is the elopement a respite for such young minds or it is the phenomenon ‘wrecking society’ which is already in a mess? Certainly, a hard question to answer. With their act, such people are challenging the status quo and are setting a different trend.
Let’s see what happened in Kashmir since May this year. An 18 years old Reenaz Jan from Kheribal Mattan, Rubina Akhter (19), daughter of Chaand Bajad resident of Rajouri, teenage girl Baseerat Altaf from Lal Bazaar area of Srinagar, Bisma from her home in Buchpora locality of Srinagar went missing this year. Parents, as well as police, were clueless about the incidents and their cardinal reasons. Moreover, these incidents were equally painstaking for the parents and challenging for the police.
While researching this subject, I met a friend of mine, who narrated his incomplete love story. He lost his love because he was unsettled at that time and the girl’s parents rejected his offer. The couple didn’t elope because they couldn’t challenge the societal norms some seven years ago.
In another incident, Niara eloped with her boyfriend because she has no other solution at sight. Her family was well educated and rich but they never listened to their daughter. Although, she told her parents about the boy with whom she wanted to marry. Her family dismissed her pleas, ignored her emotions and once she was fed up with her parents, she decided to take charge of her life. She went missing rather eloped with the guy of her choice and married secretly.
When her parents learnt about the incident, there was a complete pandemonium in the family and the surroundings blaming their upbringing but not their firm attitude.
According to official data, the police officials blamed addiction to social media, love affairs and familial issues which led to such incidents. Nevertheless, there is another reason for this trend which is parental obstinacy which is paving way for such incidents. So in a way, Kashmir is heading towards the ‘elopement epidemic’ or ‘secret marriage mania’ and if the trend surges in coming years, it can play havoc with many hearts and homes.
It could also make one relation and break another one, creating an imbalance so far as healthy relations are concerned until our society accepts the trend and considers it as a norm rather than take it as a taboo.
But why is the trend creeping in gradually in an angelic society like ours? It is very hard to find out what exactly is behind this ‘missing mania’ or these elopements because there is no systemic data available, so the empirical evidence of elopements or missing girls’ phenomenon is slim.
Many cases of elopement aren’t reported either because of the fear of social backlash. Although the mania was neither a trend nor are the figures distressing and occasionally there were the tales of lovers hightailing to get married without the frippery and frills of a wedding.
Further, there are the people who believe that the missing mania or elopement epidemic is contagious and it leaves a precedent.
It is also assumed that urbanization and industrialization promote economic and social independence from collectives and that cultural globalization, in turn, promotes ideas about modern personhood based on individualistic values and the free choice of friends and partners rather than the imposed relationships of the pre-globalization era.
“These new kinds of relationships have become a key source of meaning for individuals everywhere,” suggests Giddens.
This narrative broadly opposes emotional intimacy, located within modern marriage, to older, traditional and more collectivist norms and practices governing relationships, and thus the interests of individuals to those of the family and community. Marriages are based less on contract than on emotional/affective ties.
Households are sites of consumption rather than production, with ‘private life’ arguably replacing reproduction (i.e. having children) as a key route to self-realization.
Within this context, romantic love is re-evaluated because it sits comfortably with the notion of choice, with cultures of individualism, and with identities routed in inter subjective recognition rather than communal negotiation, the idiom of love becomes a crucial signifier of modernity.
In a society like ours when two people elope to marry, they often spend their lives in guilt. This burden of guilt is heavy because the society doesn’t accept the act and often tag them with loaded phrases and words like ‘bagi huwi ladki’.
And if the couple ever fights, negative thoughts arise in their minds, like, ‘Did I marry the wrong person?’ or ‘Life would have been better if I had the blessing of my parents’.
Whatever the consequences be, there are many who believe that such couples who take such extreme steps are no longer a smudge on the society rather with their actions, they are challenging the age-old dogmas and notions of our society and they need some space and an ear to listen to.
They are also agents of change who are disobeying the norms which are actually blight on our system.