Curfewed Marriages

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Curfew was imposed in most parts of the valley after killing of a youth in Baramullah.

Big fat Kashmiri weddings have become austere this season, thanks to long curfews and shutdowns, but the simple ceremonies have much bigger hassles in the curfewed vale. Aliya Bashir reports.

They say marriages are made in heaven and solemnized on earth.  And in Kashmir, run up to solemnisation ceremony has always been full of anxiety and hassles of preparations. This summer the usual anxieties and hassles have given way to bigger ones. One arranging a 5×4 inch of paper- the curfew pass issued by District Magistrate – and then keeping fingers crossed till the big day on whether the pass issues by the administration is honoured by the sepoys in the street.

The stringent curfew and the continuous shutdowns over the last three months have made the fat Kashmiri marriage lean and thin. In many cases, less than ten people accompany the grooms to bride’s place and they too have to put their lives on line passing through various security check points and barriers. The horror repeated on return.

However, Zahoor Ahmed (name changed) thought that he would not face any such difficulty when he would go to the bride’s place on the day of his marriage. His high profile guest list included three deputy commissioners besides many other government officers. But he was wrong.

Though they had valid curfew passes and permission for the baraat, they were stopped at many places and at one place held up for quite some time. It took the civil administration heads (the DCs in the baraat) of three districts a lot effort to let the groom and his accompanying guests proceed.

Grooms and their relatives, and bride’s relatives can be seen thronging their respective people stations days before marriage, seeking passes for grooms and guests. Often a visit to police station is itself risky, given the stringent curfews in place.

Firdous Nabi, 33, of Nai Basti Islamabad was successful to manage curfew passes of the six people (Baraatis) after moving from pillar to post. But, still he had big shock in store.

“I was relieved and happy after arranging the curfew passes. So, I went for my hair-cut in a near-by barber’s shop, a five-minute walk from my home,” Firdous said.

When he was about to reach the shop, he had to face the wrath of cops for moving out of his home on the day of undeclared curfew when the whole valley was reeling with the pain of ‘cold blooded murder’ by policemen of three teenagers in South Kashmir’s Islamabad town on June 29.

Firdous thought he would be spared for the pass and for the fact that it was his special day. But he was mistaken. They pounced on him and beat him ruthlessly. He was left with many bruises on his face.

“I tried to explain that today is my marriage. But, they didn’t listen to me and I was beaten to pulp. After lot of pleas, I somehow managed to reach home,” he said.

When he reached home the environment of gaiety changed into cries and shrieks. However, the elders controlled the situation and gathered courage to prepare Firdous for the Baraat.

“We too have daughters so we know what it means when bride is waiting for her groom and the baraat is cancelled suddenly. So we convinced Firdous and set him to leave with two of his friends and uncle,” said Ghulam Rasool, groom’s uncle.

When he stepped out of his home, there was a mix of happiness and sorrow. A few women – relations and neighbours – sang the traditional songs and prayed for his safe return. His mother was full of tears and laments on the occasion that should have otherwise been full of cheer for her.

On way their car was stopped at many places but somehow let go without harm. The bruises on groom’s face puzzled the intercepting policemen too, and mostly they would let him go.

On return, Firdous along with the small baraat first stopped at doctor’s place before getting home everybody was waiting anxiously for the bride and bridegroom.

Firdous said that he can never forget what he went through to bring his bride. “I put my life on risk. They could have killed me after beating me ruthlessly. What wedding gift could be more precious for my wife than this…that today I am alive,” he said in a lighter tone.

On a day when Abdul Rehman Kirmani, a resident of Fateh Kadal in old city should have been busy welcoming guests on his daughter’s marriage, he was arranging curfew passes for chefs and few close relatives.

Kirmani is among hundreds of the valley’s parents who are busy these days in arranging the curfew passes. But, even this pass is no approval to movement; it all depends on the “mood” of men in uniform at the checkpoint. Curfew pass is a difficult thing to get hold of in the valley today. It comes in different formats for cross section of people. And yet is not a pass to smooth journey.

Hoping some respite in the curfew, the family tried to inform the near- by police station on the Mehndiraat of his daughter and wedding of his son to get curfew pass. But of little avail.

“We had made all preparations. But we got calls from few of our relatives that they won’t be able to reach the function due to strict curfew and incidents of stone pelting. So very little Wazwan was cooked,” said father of the bride.

As the father couldn’t arrange the passes for the groom to bring home his bride, one of their neighbours intervened gave him his own pass. It was September 7, when four people were killed at police firing in Palhalan. The whole area was sealed with mesh of concertina and barbed wires with police and CRPF patrolling the deserted roads.

Armed with a proxy pass now, the groom left on a bike, without the customary dress or turban for a groom.

“As everything happened so quickly, we couldn’t contact the bride’s home. When I entered their compound in kameez- shalwar and parked my bike outside their house, people present in the lawn took me as guest and showed me way towards the tent,” said Faisal Kirmani, the groom.

When Faisal explained the situation, everyone present in the ceremony was surprised to see a Dulha (groom) explaining his identity in a typical Bollywood twist.

Within an hour the groom left the place to take home his bride on his undecorated bike.

A few well off families, mainly the elite, hosted marriage ceremonies outside the valley.

Contrary to the general trend many marriages had been scheduled for days following the Eid, like Second Shawwal (day after Eid), as many hoped they would get a few relaxed day following Eid. But things turned bad sooner than people had anticipated, as the Lal Chowk march on Eid day turned violent and curfew was clamped the next morning.

“When the situation turned bleak, we picked the chefs and some of the close relatives on the Eid day fearing that tomorrow they may not be able to reach,” said Haji Ashraf Malik, a resident of Kani Kadal in old city.

Ashraf performed the Mehnidaraat of his daughter on second Eid with utmost simplicity. Many of his relatives and chefs were stuck at his home for days because of strict curfew.

Some guests attending the marriage functions in the curfew find it quite adventurous.

“We were stopped at more than 20 places to bride’s home and on return. Besides, we were accompanied by a police vehicle which had been arranged by a relative of the bride. We referred to this vehicle as the ‘escort’,” said a group of the baraati’s.

They said that at number of places they were stopped and only allowed after rigorous humiliating questioning. At some places even the identity card of the policeman was checked. “At one particular checkpoint we were made to stop for around 20 minutes, and granted passage only after high level police officers intervened,” the group said.

Still the journey was difficult for this Baraat as those who had accompanied from the bride’s house now had to go back. Although, the two houses were located only four kilometres apart, but they reached back after one and a half hour.

The experience was particularly frightful for some of the relatives who were Non Resident Kashmiris. As per them, they had seen a different world as soon as they landed in Kashmir, at the army airbase in Awantipora.

Besides, sharing their tryst of marriages in curfews, for a number of days they talked of the armaments on display there, which seemed colossal to what they had seen on TV. Most of them have already left, and would think twice of coming back in the turbulent environ.

They had after all come to a place where they could get no milk for their children for three days on a stretch. This was incomprehensible for them, unlike for people living here, who have been facing restrictions for weeks at stretch.

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