Late marriages are becoming an issue in J&K, as matchmaking parents only want grooms with government jobs
since successive governments have failed to create enough job opportunities in the Kashmir Valley, the institution of marriage is said to have come under tremendous strain.
According to Ezbair Ali, who works with the NGO Ehsaas, the prerogative of not having a government job has destroyed many families in the Valley. She says: “The main demand from the bride’s side has always been a government job.”
A recent survey done by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE)—in collaboration with the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE)—says that Jammu & Kashmir has the highest unemployment rate—at 12.13 per cent. “The conflict has destroyed the youth of Kashmir,” says Ali. “The gap between employed and unemployed is getting wider with each day.”
She adds that the rising unemployment in the state has also been an issue for brides. “There are families who prefer to have a working daughter-in-law, rather than an educated housewife with no job.”
As of March 2018, the number of unemployed youth registered with various District Employment & Counselling Centres was around 42,219 from Kashmir and 45,821 from Jammu.
Hafsa (name changed) is in her late 20s. A resident of Soura locality in Srinagar, she has been in a relationship for nine years. However, Hafsa has failed to convince her parents about her choice of partner.
Sitting in a coffee shop in Srinagar, Hafsa tells me: “For the last nine years, we have been fighting against all odds to save our relationship. My parents want a bridegroom with a government job, but I want to marry Aadil (name changed). Aadil is well-educated, cultured, belongs to a good family, and is also of an upper caste. He has a flourishing business. The only problem is that he doesn’t have a government job.”
Hafsa says not having a government job is a curse in Kashmir. “We have tried everything—from asking our relatives to intervene on our behalf, to going to all the shrines for special supplications. But nothing has worked for us yet.”
Hafsa also has a younger sister in her early 20s. “It’s only because of my parents’ insistence that my younger sister has also started to get affected by it. Kashmiri society has another problem—until you get married, your younger siblings won’t get a proposal for marriage.”
With the onset of the new millennium, scores of Kashmiri youth moved to foreign countries in search of better job opportunities. Many Kashmiris chased the dream of getting a job in a foreign country, especially in the Gulf. A young man with a job in a foreign land had a better chance of getting a good match in Kashmir, so most parents began looking for bridegrooms who worked abroad. However, this trend soon started to change in the Valley.
Social activist Ruksana Jabeen says: “When youths started to migrate to foreign countries in search of better job opportunities, they got married there. However, when they came back to Kashmir, they do not tell their parents [about it], out of fear or respect. So they again get married in Kashmir, without informing their families or relatives about the first marriage. Now, most parents are afraid about marrying off their daughters to those who are working in foreign countries. Parents don’t trust such families anymore.”
Sakeena (name changed), a graduate, has a horrific tale to narrate about her marriage. The youngest of three siblings, Sakeena got engaged to a boy who was working in Dubai. She says: “We were unaware about his first marriage in Dubai. Even his own parents were not aware about it. He was forced by his parents to get married to a Kashmiri girl.”
Sakeena says everything had been going well, until after the wedding. “He had meticulously planned it,” she says. “Eventually, after the nikah ceremony, on the pretext of helping someone, he took gold and cash from me—which we had given to their family during the ceremony. He then fled to Dubai without even informing me. It was nearly a month later that we came to know about his first marriage through one of their relatives.”
Consequently, Sakeena’s parents have stopped asking her about her marriage. “We got many proposals for my marriage, but my parents treat everyone with suspicion.”
Aijaz Ahmed, secretary of the Jammu Kashmir State Women’s Commission (SWC), told Newslaundry there are 3,450 cases registered with the SWC since its inception in 1999. As of March 2018, 180 cases of matrimonial disputes have been identified by the commission, including cases dealing with harassment, divorce, child custody and child maintenance.
Humsafar Marriage Counselling Cell is at the forefront in helping families find the right match for their children. It was established in 2005 by Fayyaaz Ahmad Zarroo. According to Zarroo, they thought of the concept after the issue of late marriages took centre stage in the Valley.
As of 2017, nearly 30,000 candidates had registered with Humsafar Marriage; from July 2005 to December 2017, the organisation facilitated about 20,000 marriages.
Zarroo agrees that the obsession with government jobs has destroyed the institution of marriage. He says: “The girls’ parents will compromise on every other aspect if the boy has a government job, and will also forget to check other things in a bridegroom.”
“We have also witnessed cases where a girl came back to her parents within seven days after getting married, as the boys were not cultured but had a government job.”
Ezbair Ali says most marriage contracts stress mehr—the money given by the groom based on the status of families involved. To keep things under check, the NGO Ehsaas has come up with a concept of “Model Nikahnama”, a contract that aims to empower and balance both the bride and groom, and their families. The contract will also record every penny spent on the marriage, as this can become a point of discord later.
Ali says: “Model Nikahnama will be a model available for people to replicate. It will include many details which are otherwise left out at the time of marriage [such as a record of every penny spent on the marriage], and which later becomes a point of discord, leading to violence against women. As nikah is a contract between two parties, we want to do eliminate any ambiguity.”
The model contract will include personal details, although Ali is still debating on whether to include the Aadhaar number, since she doesn’t want it to be perceived as a “government thing.”
In July this year, the Jaffari Council of Jammu & Kashmir organised the biggest mass wedding in the Kashmir Valley, where 105 couples tied the knot at Amar Singh Club in Srinagar. The mass wedding was organised to encourage the concept of simple marriages in the Valley, as people tend to spend lavishly on weddings.
The issue is further muddied by scaremongering by opinions of medical experts in the Valley. Dr Sajada Tak, a gynaecologist at Gousia Hospital in Srinagar, says: “Late marriage in itself is a complication. After females cross the age of 30, their fertility rate drastically decreases. There is also a dilemma whether a female can conceive after she turns 30 or not. We have to induce her ovulation and fertility. There is every chance of the uterus getting blocked, and chance of infection.”
According to her, mid-20s is the better age for a female to get married, since after she turns 30, there is a lower chance of having a healthy baby. “Once there is an issue with the birth of the child, it also plays a spoiler for the girl, as her in-laws accuse her of not delivering a healthy baby,” says Tak.
Science may not support these theories, but families in J&K have taken them to heart.
Khazir Muhammad, a middleman, has been in the matchmaking business for last sixteen years.
Speaking to Newslaundry, he says, “The nuisance of government jobs has created a huge vacuum in our business. I personally know 37 families whose daughters could not get married because the bridegrooms weren’t holding government jobs. All these 37 women are in the age group of 38-40, and their families have particularly demanded a bridegroom with a government job.”
He says that barely four out of 100 boys have government jobs. “I fail to understand—in this raging unemployment—where are we supposed to find bridegrooms with government jobs?”
Muhammad says if a bridegroom is educated and earns well, what more does one need to lead a happy life? “A government job never means that the daughter is secure, or that she will be happy,” he says. “I know families where their daughters have married men with private jobs, and they’re living in a better condition, and happily. Parents should shun the government job mentality.”