A number of Kashmiri men unable to stand in the local marriage market are getting poor Bengali brides, who find grooms without dowry a blessing. Boon for some, bane for others, Shazia Yousuf reports the varied experiences of such women and their Kashmiri families.
“Balai lagai, Zu wandai.” Thirty seven-year-old Simran doesn’t understand the meaning of these words, but these come to her naturally as she addresses her daughter.
“I don’t know what these words mean. I have learned to love in Kashmiri,” says the Kolkotta girl married to a Kashmiri man.
Simran lost her mother at the age of nine. After two years her father died, leaving behind six children of which Simran was third. Her two elder sisters were already married and soon after father’s death, one of their cousins married Simran’s younger sister.
“I was left with my two brothers who were kids then. A man wanted to marry me but his parents demanded 25,000 rupees as dowry which I couldn’t arrange. I gave up hopes of marriage,” Simran recalls.
After some time Simran met a friend married to a Kashmiri boy. “She told me that Kashmiri boys prove very good husbands. They provide food, shelter and do not ask for money,” says Simran.
With rekindled hopes, Simran left for Srinagar on the pretext of holidaying. Her friend introduced her to 35-year-old Riyaz Sheikh. Shiekh was distressed by a broken engagement.
“I was engaged to my cousin but I broke up with her. Her family was ashamed of my profession, and she would always mock me,” says Sheikh, a roadside tea vendor in Abi Guzar Lal Chowk.
Life was draped in solitude. For years, Riyaz tried hard to find a girl but his poverty drove everyone back till he found Simran. On their first meet they decided to marry.
“She is a savior, she saved me from loneliness. I had never thought of being worthy of a family. But now I have family, kids, home, and a reason to earn. She completes me,” Riyaz says. “Earlier I would waste money but now I save for the education of our children. I work for them 14 hours a day. I can’t see my son selling tea,” he adds.
However, for Simran, it is Riyaz who redefined her. “That day was like a dream. I was in bridal dress, bejeweled, sitting among guests singing for me. I was like a queen. I had never received that warmth at my home. It was all because of Riyaz,” she confides.
Simran had a tough time learning Kashmiri traditions and customs. “I had no idea about the practices of marriages and mourning. The events and how many times one has to visit a place were hard to remember. However, everything now takes place according to norms,” she says. “My neighbors say I am very social,” she adds with a smile.
If Simran made home of a house, Jameela changed one into hell.
When Zoona’s son went to Kolkata for business, she and her husband started dreaming about marriage of their children. “I thought, with an added earning hand, we would be able to save money for him (her son) and his two younger sisters,” says Zoona. Their dreams turned into nightmares soon.
For months they were clueless about their son’s whereabouts. After a long search, they came to know that their son had married his Bengali housemaid twice his age. She was a divorcee with three children.
“Hell broke on the family that day. We cried the whole night,” recalls Zoona’s husband, who wishes not to be named.
Hiding the news from relatives and neighbours, the family contacted their son persuading him to leave his wife. “His mother begged him on phone but he was firm. He said he can leave us not her. He agreed to return only on condition of bringing her along,” recalls the father. He had first strongly opposed the idea, but later succumbed to his son’s will. His wife’s health was deteriorating too. “Mother is after all a mother, she couldn’t bear it for long,” he says.
They welcomed their son and daughter in law, and initially things seemed to be working fine.
“She would prepare different dishes and we would share our customs with her, everything was going great till that day,” Says Zoona referring to the day when their daughter-in-law left her husband and allegedly fled with gold and cash.
The tragedy devastated their son. He doesn’t want to marry again. “She was a fraud; she would tell me horrific stories of the torture she and her children would face from her ex-husband. I spent all of my hard earned money to help her. I ignored my sisters and my parents for that fraudulent woman,” he blurts.
Homemakers or breakers, Bengali women continue to make their way into Kashmiri society as brides for men who do not find matches in the tight and demanding marriage market of Kashmir.
There are reasons other than poverty too for Kashmiri men to opt for Bengali brides.
“If someone has done any crime or has bad habits like drinking or gambling, he cannot find a Kashmiri bride. And then there are certain professions, like marriage brokers, which are almost unacceptable in Kashmir marriage market. These people turn to Bengal,” says Ghulam Hassan, a teacher.
With unemployment rate on rise in Kashmir, and Kashmiris reluctant to compromise on the future security of their daughters, it has become difficult for men to find appropriate matches. Besides, traditional Kashmiri wedding is turning more and more extravagant day by day. However, when it comes to a Bengali bride, expenses are minimal.
For Bengali girls too, it is convenient as Kashmiris do not ask for dowry. In fact, in many cases the girl’s family receives money from the agent who charges higher rates to the groom.
The flipside is that the agents tend to make false claims to either parties. Often a girl, or a boy, finds about some lie after marriage. “I wept for days after marriage when I found my husband was handicapped. But it was too late. With time tears dried up and I accepted it as my fate. I have a son now and he is beloved of her grandmother,” says Afrooza (name changed).
It is a different tale for her mother-in-law. “I couldn’t find any match for my disabled son in Kashmir. With her everything changed. By giving us a grandson, she kept the lamp of our family alight.”
For some they are prize, for others they are a punishment. Happy or sad, Bengali women are there, influencing thousands of lives, changing some for ever.
Fareeda had a two-year-old daughter when her husband married a Bengali girl. A dejected Fareeda left her husband’s house while he started living with his second wife. A year later, the Bengali wife fled leaving behind her three-month-old son. Seeing her husband’s son craving for a mother, Fareeda made a comeback to raise the motherless boy. “I do household work for him, recently he passed his matriculation with first division, I am proud of my son,” Fareeda says.
Her husband says his “blunder turned out to be a blessing. We have our son.”