Caught In Digital Divide, Marriage Assistance Scheme Turns A Nightmare For Some Brides

by Tazeem Nazir

SRINAGAR: Fatima Bano (name changed) is among the scores of young girls left helpless by the Jammu and Kashmir governments that had promised them financial assistance under the State Marriage Assistance Scheme.

Fatima’s sordid saga started in 2021 when barely months away from her marriage, she applied for the assistance scheme of the government which never came.

“After all formalities were completed, the officials told me that the money would be transferred within three months,” Fatima said. “But it has been more than a year now and I haven’t received any money.”

State Marriage Assistance Scheme [SMAS] under Social Welfare Department was launched by the government of India in 2015 with the promise of providing financial assistance of Rs 25,000 and a cost of 5 grams of gold for girls belonging to financially weaker sections of society who have to get married.

In March 2022, the Jammu and Kashmir government under Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha restructured the UT-level marriage assistance scheme under which girls belonging to Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) or Priority Households (PHH) have been made entitled to cash assistance of Rs 50,000 to be paid before the marriage date with application form’s last date being just a month prior.

However, the dreams continue to be shattered by many girls who pin their hopes on the assistance scheme.

“Two months after I applied, I visited the officials they said they have a shortage of funds under the scheme,” Fatima said. “They promised as funds would come in, the money would be released. I really needed the money because we come from a very poor background.”

A Kashmiri bride

She reveals her father took a loan from someone on the pretext of paying them back as soon as the money from the government scheme comes in. “My father is in debt now. I visited the office again after some months, they told me that since the scheme has now been shifted from offline to online, my case is on the pending list.”

She says the people who applied for the assistance online after her have already received the money. “If there was a shortage of funds then how did others get the money.”

While Fatima’s story encompasses the sorry tale of the administrative functioning in Kashmir, she isn’t alone. There are thousands of such cases under the scheme that have been left high and dry.

Shugufta from north Kashmir’s Kupwara said she applied for the scheme two months prior to her wedding and was informed that money would soon be credited to her account.

“It has been two years now and I am still waiting for that money. My father is in debt. My brother went several times to the office but they told him that the government hasn’t responded. He went again two months later but this time they told him that these cases are closed now for those people who applied offline.”

Another applicant’s brother said, “My sister applied for the scheme a few months prior to her wedding but we didn’t receive any money. We are facing a lot of problems because my father is not able to manage the expenses of her wedding.”

“He is a labourer and met an accident recently and isn’t able to work currently. If we would have been financially stable then why would we apply,” the young man said.

Aisha, another aspirant said, “I live with my step-sister as my parents have expired. I had nobody to look after my wedding expenses and that made me apply for this marriage assistance scheme. I was hoping for some help. But the sky came crashing as I didn’t receive any funds. I sold my share in my father’s property as I had no other option.”

Director of Social Welfare Kashmir Mohammad Shafiq Chak said he has no clue about the issue. “I will see when this comes to me. You (this reporter) go do your own work.”

An employee in the Anantnag Social Welfare office wishing anonymity said, “When the government revised the scheme, it became online from offline. The government didn’t issue us any guidelines about the offline cases which were already pending. This has led to scores of girls across Kashmir being left without any assistance.

The names of the applicants have been changed for upholding their privacy

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