Weddings in Kashmir have been always held during nights but the rise of armed insurgency and some gruesome incidents forced a change in it. However, with a decline in militancy related incidents the marriage ceremonies in urban Kashmir are returning to their traditional timings. A Kashmir life report
The revival of night urban wedding is perhaps the only major indicator of Kashmir’s return to the halcyon days. Amid deployments, checks at drop-gates, there is uninterrupted movement of the bedecked blinking vehicles carrying brides, grooms and the baraati’s till late in the night. Instead of frightening gunshots, the hallmarks of the “curfewed city” for most of the last more than two decades, now the quiet nights reverberate with the songs, dances and fire-crackers.
“It is a different kind of experience to drive in the dead of the night these days,” says Altaf Ahmad, a business executive who drove a number of grooms in his luxury car to their brides’ homes, this season. When he married in 1995, he says, he left his home at 2 in the afternoon and was back within two hours. “A few years back, the security men manning bunkers would stop vehicles (plying in the evening) but now there are no such restrictions as most of the bunkers within the city have been removed,” he said.
Dressed in a long cream colour tunic with matching trousers and turban, Muzaffar Ahmad always wished to have his wedding party in the night. “I never thought I would ever celebrate my marriage at night,” he said, standing near a huge illuminated marquee in Srinagar, where hundreds of guests were being served Wazwan (traditional 10, 14 or 21 course meal).
To be honest, said N, a political worker, I am inundated with invitations to marriage ceremonies. “Some day, I am supposed to join baraat at three to four places which is obviously impossible,” he said, adding, “The biggest problem with accompanying the grooms (wedding party) is that the best part of the night gets wasted in waiting for the diner and reaching home.”
Marriages in Kashmir are becoming an elaborate affair as these traditionally were, though disrupted summers of the last three years have added an element of urgency to it. While families rush to conclude functions as soon as possible it has put a lot of pressure on the associated trades especially the chefs – the Wazwan makers. “Now, it is not the bride but the chef who gives the date for the ceremony,” says Wasim Ahmad, whose brother tied the nuptial knots last month. “They (chefs) take most of the money in advance simply because if the ceremony gets cancelled, they do not book any losses.”
Traditionally weddings in the subcontinent have been taking place during nights. But in this part of the world it ceased to be a night affair after BSF on May 17, 1990 fired upon a bus carrying a bride and her groom on their wedding night with 27 baratis in a south Kashmir village. The groom received five bullets, while his cousin died on the spot. Border guards dragged bride MG and her bridesmaid out of the bus and gang-raped them in the fields.
“It was after many days that I and Rashid (her husband who still carries five bullets in his back) knew that we both were alive. Police did summon us many times but I do not know if the accused were punished,” MG said to this reporter. She lost her first child to miscarriage another son died within weeks of the birth. She has two school-going children. MG’s was the last marriage that happened after the sunset as a ruthless insurgency and counterinsurgency took over.
Like every other institution, the marriage survived the strife but remained drenched in blood, directly and indirectly. The strife did not only convert the weddings into a day affair, it dictated a new value system on the institution. For most of the years of militancy, engaging singers was almost impossible. In certain belts even the traditional Wanwun (womenfolk singing traditional wedding songs) had become rare. The rise of the militant made the enquiry systems of the matchmakers more difficult as more and more parents were apprehensive of their daughters not landing in families that have separatist links as a result of which the life could suffer.
In countless cases, the marriage ceremonies got converted into mourning assemblies. It happened everywhere and involved both sides of the power – the militants and the security forces. Some of the worst incidents took place in Chenab valley region of the state.
Chapnari incident is one such case. On June 19, 1998, when a marriage party was on way home to Prem Nagar from Malwa in Doda, a group of militants intercepted the party near Chapnari, lined up males and showered bullets on them in front of the women in the wedding party. Twenty-three included three brothers, of whom two were bridegrooms died on the spot and three succumbed to their injuries on way to hospital. Seven others received gunshots.
Whether or not the gruesome massacre was in retaliation to the March 17 killings of four local Muslims who were lynched to death and thrown into the Chenab, as locals believe, it triggered commotion across the state. L K Advani, the then Union Home Minister flew to the place only to promise that a repetition of such a massacre would lead to his resignation. It neither stopped such incidents nor did Advani resign, but it forced the police to investigate the case.
Police said seven militants, four of them foreigners, were behind the killings. After initial arrests, the police said the main accused in the case were arrested in November 1999 and a co-accused in June 2004. Two of the three locals arrested were also charged for killing four VDC members on May 4, 1998 in Desa area.
As the trial started, the court examined over 40 witnesses in Chapnari case and more than 32 in VDC killings case. Not a single person examined in the two cases said they have anything against the accused, Defence Counsel S A Hashmi said after the verdict came in March 2006. “The interesting aspect is that Ghulam Qadir, a police official, who was the investigation officer in the VDC case told the court that they (accused) had no involvement and the police arrested them simply because there was pressure from the high-ups to show progress,” Hashmi said adding: “Since they were locals they were arrested and implicated in the two cases”. For want of evidence, they were set free from the Chapanri case on February 22 and the VDC murder case on March 28, 2006.
Not so far from Chapnari is Pul Doda which also witnessed one of the worst massacres on October 21, 2003 when seven members of a family were killed on the night of a mehandi raat of Nazir Ahmad, on eve of a marriage. According to the FIR that Muhammad Sharief – whose son and nephew were among the seven persons killed in presence of 200 guests that night – the massacre was initiated by four sons of Sumandar Naik and executed by an SPO Javed Iqbal and Mohammad Isaq. Police recovered Javed’s AK 56 rifle with three magazines – his service weapon, and 200 live cartridges and an INSAS rifle with four magazines from the spot.
It triggered pandemonium in the state legislature and the case was transferred to the crimes investigation branch of the state police that made arrests and filed the charge-sheet. Investigations suggested that the massacre was the outcome of a larger feud between the two groups of the transporters. During the trial seven witnesses turned hostile. The judgment was delivered on April 2, 2005. All the accused were set free as the “prosecution failed to produce any incriminating material and evidence against them”.
Taking advantage of the incomplete investigations – Crime Branch officials said they were not given enough time to investigate – and the statement of a person who was not on the spot at the time of the crime, the case was decided with a clear suggestion that it seemed a militancy related incident, Gautam Navlakkha, a human rights activist observed. Nobody tried to investigate the recovery of the seized weapons which the police had issued!
There are countless instances of hit and run cases involving militants, security men and the marriages ceremonies. On April 29, 2004, for instance, eight members of a marriage party were injured when militants attacked the house of a Village Defence Committee (VDC) member Amar Singh (Jamsalan) in Reasi’s Mahore belt. They lobbed a grenade on Singh’s house when the family members and guests were dancing during a pre-marriage function of his son Rattan. Militants fled leaving eight of them injured.
On May 6, 2006, an Ikhwani allegedly disrupted the marriage function at Sopore and opened fire injuring one person after the family refused to pay him extortion money. The accused Firdous Ahmed Wani of Palhalan, who was later arrested by the police, had barged into the house of Nazir Ahmed Malik at Achabal Sopore when the family was busy in the marriage of their two daughters. His demands were resisted as a result of which the berserk Wani opened fire injuring Imran, the brother of the brides. He survived but the police detained Wani after registering a case.
In the same month, an interesting case came to the State Human Rights Commission. An old man approached the Commission saying that his son Mohammad Yasin Rather married a young woman whose father had rejected the marriage proposal of a surrendered militant Manzoor Ahmad Ganai. In order to avenge the act, he used police and got Rather arrested. Eventually Rather was set free.
A jilted lover, whom police termed to be a Hizb ul Mujahideen militant killed a young girl in Bandara village of Gulabgarh on May 8, 2009. Police said militant Ishfaq Ahmad was seeking the hand of an orphan from her widow mother Taja. She refused the offer and was married to Aijaz Ahmad. Only after four days, four militants swooped on their village got the groom, his father and mother to an isolated place and killed them.
It was also a marriage in the remote north Kashmir village of Bundergund in Handwara belt that triggered valley-wide protests in July 2005 when soldiers open fire and killed three teenagers attending a marriage ceremony. Bilal Ahmad Sheikh (14), Shabir Ahmad Shah (16), Waseem Ahmad Wani (11), Manzoor Ahmad (14), and Tanvir Ahmad Shah (8) had come out of the home and were sitting outside, probably to smoke cigarettes when army fired upon them. Three were killed and one injured.
The incident triggered massive protests in the area. A pressure was built and four parallel investigations were ordered – one by the police under routine circumstance that was investigating the FIR, a magisterial enquiry ordered by the state government, a Special Investigation Team of the police also started working as the NHRC asked the defence secretary to conduct an investigation.
“It was very unfortunate and the most regrettable incident”, the then commander of the Srinagar based 15-corps Lt Gen S S Dhillon told reporters after returning from the remote Bungergund hamlet that he visited for consoling the families and to see “the justifiable mass anger against the army”. By no means, he said, I want to justify the action. “I am definite there was no malafide intention behind killing the three boys. It was error of judgment for which a court of enquiry will fix responsibilities,” he added. The army offered three lakh rupees to the bereaved families and two lakh to the surviving boy and assured them all help on employment or education front. Though the accused are more or less identified, there has not been any headway in the investigations so far.
In another incident in Tujjar Sharief of Sopore an army Major from the neighboring Bomai camp arrested an 18-year old groom Tahir Hassan within a few hours after he got his bride Afroza from Magam. For three days, the family was begging the army officer to set him free. On the fourth day the officer drove to their residence asking them to collect his body parts from the neighbouring forests.
As the family rushed to the spot in Lolkol Harwan, they could only recover one of his limbs. The army claimed that the boy had been taken for effecting recoveries from a militant hideout. During the seizure, an explosion took place in which he died and five soldiers got injured. Police registered an FIR and senior army officers assured the family that they will investigate the case and punish the guilty. Nobody knows if there was any action.
Compared to these incidents, Kashmir seems peaceful now. And marriage ceremonies are merry making occasions now. No tensions and no problems. But the night marriages continue to be an urban and suburban phenomenon. Peripheries still prefer late afternoons so that they are home by sunset. The practice of registering marriages by the neighbouring garrison and keeping a record of the guest list is extremely rare now.