At the peak of Kashmir’s fat marriage season, a group of concerned women started thinking about the would-be brides lacking even the basics for the ceremony. Shams Irfan met their leader, a clinical psychologist, to tell the story about how small donations help individuals in crises big time
After years of searching for a perfect match when Iram, 32, finally got engaged, it brought both happiness and new worries to her widowed mother: How to manage the expenses of her marriage?
Eldest among three sisters and one brother, Iram was the sole earning hand in the family after her labourer father died a few years back. But Iram’s modest income from tailoring was just enough to feed the 5-member family.Whatever saving her father left behind was spent on their mother’s medicines to keep her heart functioning.
With just a month left to her marriage, Iram had just one pair of modest clothes, which she had planned to wear on her wedding. Rest she knew, she had to manage in whatever little she already possessed.
As Iram counted days with hope and helplessness in her eyes, not far away in Srinagar, Dr Mudassir Aziz, a clinical psychologist at Drug De-addiction Centre, Anantnag, was looking for likeminded people who could help her reach-out to would-be-brides in need of help.
Dr Aziz wanted to give shape to a simple plan that lingered on her mind for a long time. “I wanted affluent women to donate a part of their used trousseau for those who have nothing at all,” said Dr Aziz. “This small donation could help poor girls have their dream wedding.”
She began her search from a women-exclusive online platform called Yakjut (togetherness). With over twenty thousand Kashmiri women from across the world following Yakjut’s virtual procession on facebook, it was an ideal place to start her search.
Over the years, Dr Aziz has seen Yakjut help spread similar messages and raise issues concerning womenfolk.
“As I have been part of the group for a few years now, I knew what kind of issues women wanted to get involved in,” said Dr Aziz. “So I put a post on the Yakjut page and told people that I am looking for volunteers who can help would-be-brides.”
In quick response, Dr Aziz received a number of messages from young girls keen to join the cause. By the end of the week, Dr Aziz had eight dedicated members: Juveria Dar, Tayaba Bashir, Saba Zubair, Er Asmat, Mehreen Muzaffar, Bisma, Khair-ul-Nisa. The last one to join the group was Dr Aziz’s brother Samiullah. In order to stay in touch with each other, Dr Aziz created a WhatsApp group. It was through this group they began exchanging ideas and planning their next step.
With the first hurdle crossed, Dr Aziz put another post on the Yakjut group, seeking donations from members. The idea was to collect items that a would-be-bride needs.
“I was literally flooded with messages,” said Dr Aziz. “Everyone wanted to do their bit for the needy.”
In a few days time, Dr Aziz’s group collected six lehengas (wedding dress), five gowns, footwear and clutches, artificial jewellery, over fifty suits that a Kashmiri bride wears in first seven days of her marriage, unstitched suits, nightwear, prayer rugs and make-up kits. Dr Aziz made the first contribution by donating a part of her artificial jewellery.
“As our donors were scattered across Kashmir, we had to visit their houses and collect these items ourselves,” said Dr Aziz. “We had donors from Anantnag, Srinagar and Baramulla.”
Moved by the response they got, Dr Aziz and her group of volunteers were upbeat. “A number of people who had nothing to donate offered money,” said Dr Aziz. “We collected Rs 40, 000 in the first few days which we decided to distribute among brides. There were more people who wanted to help.”
With their kitty full of donated clothes, accessories and cash, the second step was to identify would-be-brides in need of help. Once again the group used Yakjut platform to identify the needy girls who were about to get married. “We got a number of messages where people shared contact details of would-be-brides who needed help,” said Dr Aziz.
The first contact Dr Aziz received was of Iram, who was getting married in mid-June. “After confirming the financial condition of Iram, I called her and offered help,” recalls Dr Aziz. “She was so moved by my offer that she began to cry over the phone.”
To make sure that Iram really needs help, Dr Aziz set a meeting with her the next day. With just a few weeks to her marriage, Iram told the group that she had nothing except one new suit which she had brought out of her meagre earnings.
“In next few days we managed to trace eight more such brides in Srinagar, Anantnag, Budgam and Baramulla,” Aziz said.
With every face-to-face interaction, Dr Aziz and her group realized the volume of destitutes in Kashmir.
The most moving interaction the group had was with two Srinagar-based sisters who were getting married on the same day in mid-June. They had three suits in between them which they wanted to wear alternatively. They were the eldest among five sisters and one brother. Their father works as a vendor, who would sit at home most of the time because of health issues. “The entire family was supported by the eldest sister who did petty jobs for survival,” said Dr Aziz.
With the help of donations from Dr Aziz’s group, the sisters recently managed a decent marriage. “It gives you satisfaction when you help someone and make them smile,” said Dr Aziz.
Another would-be-bride the group helped was from a small village in Budgam. A divorcee, she was allegedly thrown out by her first husband as well as by her parents over a family dispute. Now she lives with her labourer uncle who could hardly manage his own family’s expenses.
“Her uncle finally found a match for her but lacked resources to marry her off,” said Dr Aziz. “We have already cross-checked her credentials and will be offering her help in the coming days.”
After most of the groundwork was done by the group, it was time for distribution. A week later, the group of volunteers met would-be-brides in Srinagar over lunch, prepared by Dr Aziz herself. There the group members handed over clothes, accessories and cash to them.
“We were happy to finally meet and interact with these would-be-brides. It was good to be part of their small joy,” said Dr Aziz.
Each would-be-bride was given a cheque of Rs 5000, which they were asked to use for meeting their petty expenses during marriage. Also, they were given one lehenga (bridal dress) each, which they were asked to return after marriage. “As most of these lehengas are expensive, we take them back, get them dry cleaned and then give it to the next would-be-bride. It works just like you rent it from a shop,” said Dr Aziz. “Apart from it, we give them five suits, two or three pair of shoes, clutches and handbags, nightwear, some artificial jewellery etc.”
Apart from that, the group gives clothes to all the ladies in the would-be-brides family, so that the marriage is celebrated with enthusiasm and zeal. “There are families who literally have nothing at all. At least, they too feel part of the celebration,” said Dr Aziz.
In coming days, the group is planning to expand its work beyond three districts and identify such girls in interiors and far-off villages. “We have already helped eight brides and there are seven others getting married in coming days,” said Dr Aziz.
Recently, Dr Aziz got a request from one of the orphanages in Srinagar asking her to help three girls getting married in a week. “They want some clothes and suitcases which we have already managed from our donors,” said Dr Aziz.
Another request came from Kupwara where two orphan girls are getting married next month and need financial assistance. “We are doing our bit to reach out to as many girls as we could. I am happy that people are coming forward to help,” said Dr Aziz with a hint of satisfaction in her voice.