Marriage: Late is not better

Average age for marriages in Kashmir has risen from 20’s to 30’s with emphasis on economic stability and extravagant weddings. The rise in marrying age has created many social and medical complexities. Shazia Yousuf reports.

For 37 years old Farhat, the most painful thing is to attend marriage ceremony of a person younger than her. “People there talk about my marriage. They ask me if there is any progress. Give blessings in return for my negative answer,” Farhat says.

“Even those blessings sting and make a hole in my heart.”

In 1992, Farhat’s father survived a paralysis attack, remained bedridden for 12 years and died in 2003. The same year her mother was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. After squeezing all the savings of family, the fatal disease took her life after two years, leaving behind Farhat and her three elder brothers. The eldest brother works in an automobile workshop while the other two earn Rs 3000 monthly by weaving carpets. With such meagre income Farhat’s brothers are unable to marry her off.

The reasons for delay in Farhat’s marriage may be economic but the age at which boys and girls marry has increased across the board in Kashmir.

A study by the sociology department of University of Kashmir – “Emergence of late marriages in Kashmir” says that the average marrying age has increased from 24 to 32 years in boys and for females 21 to 28 years.

The socio-economic, educational and political developments in the J&K state have affected the practices, rituals, values and norms of marriage, the study says adding, conflict, poverty, modern education, dowry, unemployment, caste consideration as the major reasons for late marriages in Kashmir. Many people believe advent of modernization, unhealthy customs and traditions, and “irreligious” attitude in the society have played their part in pushing up the average marrying age.

“This two decade long insurgency had to leave a distinct mark on the social and cultural structure of the society apart from politics,” says Professor Bashir Ahmad Dabla, the supervisor of the research.

In the last two decades, Kashmiri youth were killed, involved or disturbed in the conflict situation. Scores of families lost their bread winners leaving them disarrayed.

With society holding employment as the basic “pre-requisite” for getting married, the drying up of government jobs – biggest employer in the state –  has rendered thousands of educated youth ineligible for marriage.

“Unemployment creates the sense of insecurity and frustration among marriageable boys and girls leaving them with an uncertain future,” says Shakeel Ahmad, an unemployed post graduate.

The desire of attaining higher education has added to the rise in average marrying age in Kashmir, as higher education followed by “proper” employment is a highly time-taking process in Kashmir.

“Marriage is already delayed by many years when the employed person starts looking for a suitable spouse. A highly educated person looks for relevant match that delays the process further,” said Muneera Begam, a mother of three.
However, conservatives and the clergy say adherence to religion was the panacea for such problems.

“Islam has set the suitable age for marriage. If that is followed, we will not face such unhealthy changes. But in our society young boys and girls are getting deviated with their parents watching them helplessly and carelessly because we are not following religion properly,” says Mufti Bashir-ud-din, the chief cleric of Kashmir.

Late marriages come with many problems including biological. The declining fertility rate among Kashmiri women, gynaecologists say, was directly related to late marriages.

Hameeda, 38, of Safakadal was happy when she got married in 2008. Her joy was short-lived when after a few months the doctor revealed her inability to conceive. “My husband supported me first but some days later, he suggested me that I should visit my parents place. He dropped me there and that was the last time I saw or heard of him,” she says.

Shabir Rather, Administrator of the Rotunda Hygeia, the first infertility treatment clinic in valley, said, “Many of the couples who come to us are in their late thirties and early forties. With age the quality of eggs reduces that is the main reason of the increasing infertility among Kashmiri couples.”

Children born to late married couples have higher chances of carrying congenital diseases or birth defects. Since late married women are more likely to have hypertension and diabetes, surgery has become a rule.

“Chances of reproductive tract infection and irregular ovum production are most common,” says gynecologist, Syed Masooma Rizvi. “Due to psychological stress and anxiety of conceiving without delay, infertility increases in such women,” adds she.

Besides increased risk of infertility, women marrying late are more prone to diseases like breast cancer, hypertension, depression and diabetics, says physician Dr. Mohammad Irfan.

Higher levels of marital disagreements leading to depression, is a universally accepted fact.

Due to late marriage, a person gets lot of time for personal growth that makes him or her resistant to change, enhancing chances of marital discord, says Dr Irfan. As mental health of both the spouses is affected, their susceptibility to divorces and suicides rises dramatically, he adds.

“Late marriages are taking a heavy toll on the mental health of Kashmiri youth. When a person has no one to share his feelings with, frustration is likely to occur; whether it is physiological or psychological. Many unmarried patients come to us with complaints of depression; half of their problem is solved when they are being listened to patiently,” says senior psychiatrist, Dr Aijaz Ahmad Khan.

“One out of every 700 children is born with Down’s syndrome. But when the mother is in her late 30’s and early 40’s chances of birth of mentally retarded child increase manifold,” says Dr Khan.

Late marriages alter social fabric with pre-marital and extra-marital affairs creeping into the society.

“Late marriage and sexual promiscuity cannot be avoided in a conflict situation,” says Professor Dabla.
“Modernization gave rise to materialistic outlook and highlighted the ill effects of early marriage. But absence of a partner results in the crimes, immoral activities and drug addiction,” says Dabla.

Apart from financial uncertainty and political instability, many young boys and girls hold their parents responsible for their delayed marriage by compelling them to go for extravagance.

“Every person needs someone to be with and rely on. Life seems worthless when you have no one to share with. But when your own parents commit sin and make you suffer for their desire of your extravagant marriage, you cannot help it but wait,” laments Shabir Ahmad, 29.

The huge amount of money needed in a traditional Kashmiri marriage has turned it into a burden, says Dilshada, a housewife. “An average person spends around Rs 10 lakh in a marriage; almost a decade rolls by till all the money is gathered,” she adds.

Besides dowry and pomp and show, the traditional Wazwaan – local multi-course feast – has become expensive and unaffordable for many people.

To make marriages simpler and inexpensive, Humsafar Marriage Counselling Cell was established by Islamic Dawa Center in 2005. The bureau organizes marriages in austere and religious manner and discourages extravagance.
In a place like Kashmir where women still are not considered as the bread winners of the family, those with government jobs are preferred for marriage pulling many women towards higher education.

With the warnings like decrease in population, mental depression and suicidal tendencies; solutions suggested by the experts include guest control and legal ban on dowry practice, and marrying children at early age in religious manner without extravagance.

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