A number of Kashmir men not affording the “expensive weddings” back home married a divorcee living on the Pir Panchal foothills. Months after the exchanging of marriage vows, they faced unexplained separations and finally were shocked to know that they all had married the same woman. As the police are investigating the case, Humaira Nabi offers basic details and lists the questions already in circulation
On July 7, 2022, in the shadows of the hills of the Rajouri district, a couple exchanged vows of being sincere and faithful partners to each other. Mohammad Altaf Mir, in his forties, along with his family and friends travelled a distance of more than 200 km to marry Zaheen alias Shaheen. Guided by a deep sense of empathy, Altaf decided to marry Shaheen despite knowing that she was a divorcee and mother of two. After spending more than Rs 3 lakh, which, Mir said, included Mehar and “broker’s commission”, the couple drove to his Budgam home to a warm welcome. As the family celebrated Altaf’s wedding, an oblivious secret hung in the air beneath the facade of merriment and smiles.
On day four of the wedding, while Altaf was still overwhelmed with the feeling of marriage, an unexpected arrival shattered the serenity of their home. A police contingent, accompanied by two men named Mohammad Ismail from Khansahib and Bilal Ahmad from Rawalpora, both natives of the Budgam district, stood before them. With confident declarations, they asserted, “Shaheena is our wife.”
Altaf recalls the overwhelming rush of confusion and loss he experienced at that moment. But Shaheena had the last laugh – she revealed two divorce documents, signed by the two men, adding to the shock and disbelief. “The police were left with no justification. They left the scene and gave her a choice of being with anybody she wanted,” Altaf recalled. “She chose me. I forgave her for the betrayal because I had no other option.”
While this tale of turbulence was far from over, three months later Altaf was left shattered, when Shaheen fled. “She took all the money and jewellery with her,” Altaf claimed. Eventually, Altaf traced her to her brother’s Rajouri home, but she refused to go with him. “I went there with a few of my acquaintances to persuade her to come back home. However, Shaheena threatened us that she will get us killed if we don’t leave her home.”
The dreams were dead. Altaf returned home.
Within a month of separation from Altaf, Shaheena allegedly entered into matrimony once again, this time with Rafiq Ahmad, a man hailing from Pulwama. Little did Rafiq know that his life would mirror the tragic path of Altaf. Merely a week into their marriage, an eerie echo of Altaf’s ordeal reverberated in Rafiq’s life.
“On day four of our wedding, Shaheena complained of her father’s illness,” Rafiq recalls. “My family told me to accompany Shaheena to Rajouri. She insisted on staying in a hotel room instead of visiting her ailing father at the hospital. This turned out to be a trap, where she told me to leave her or face dire consequences.”
Altaf and Rafiq are not the only ones who were subjected to the heartbreak and betrayal by Shaheena. On July 13, the people of Kashmir woke up to this shocking tale of deceit and shattered hearts, when a group of men appeared in Srinagar’s Press Colony to protest against Shaheena, accusing her of marrying multiple men and later decamping with their gold and money. Shaheena has been accused of marrying more than 27 men from Kashmir, by these protesting men. They accused Shaheena along with her multiple brokers of weaving an intricate web of deception to strip her unsuspecting suitors of both their wealth and trust.
A day after the protests Shaheen along with two brokers named Mohammad Imran Chowdhary from Rajouri and Hamid from Rawalpora Srinagar were arrested and are currently undergoing investigation. Given the fact that the story got huge social media attention, people are looking for answers as to what prompted these men to marry a woman in Rajouri and not in Kashmir.
Most of these men had a similar answer, “we couldn’t afford to marry in our own community.”
As societal norms and expectations shape the institution of marriage, in Kashmir the rising costs associated with weddings and dowry have put a financial strain on many families. The high financial burden has led some Kashmiri men to seek brides from distant places, where wedding expenses are manageable. Over the past few years, Kashmir has witnessed an increase in the number of female trafficking cases. Young girls from different states in the plains are “sold” at Rs 15000-20000. These girls are then married to men who are unable to afford wives locally.
A young man, who wished to remain anonymous, shared his experience as one of the victims of Shaheena’s betrayal. “For over two years, my family tirelessly searched for a suitable match. Our financial condition made it challenging, and we faced numerous rejections,” he recounted. “The exorbitant demands for Mehar made it feel impossible for me to enter into marriage. That’s when a broker approached my father, tempting him with a promise of arranging my marriage for less than Rs 2 lakhs. Though I sensed something suspicious when he made us wait in a hotel room for over 15 days before our wedding in Rajouri, my father remained steadfast in his belief in the broker’s sincerity.” He lamented: “Had I found a match in Kashmir, I would have never considered married outside of my community.”
Noted Kashmir Islamic scholar, Mufti Bilal Ahamd Qasmi, while talking about the culture of lavish weddings becoming the expectation and norm, stressed the great significance that simple marriage holds in Islam.
“Islam encourages simplicity and moderation in all aspects of life, including marriage. In our religion, while seeking a spouse, the emphasis is placed on qualities such as piety, character, and compatibility. The financial burden and excessive dowry demands should not be the determining factors in selecting a life partner,” Mufti insisted. “The path to marriage has become an escalating challenge for young men who struggle to meet the financial demands set by their communities. With wedding costs reaching new heights, many find themselves drowning in a sea of societal expectations that seem near impossible to fulfil.”
Kashmir Manzimyor, the traditional middleman, has played a pivotal role in facilitating marriages by connecting families, conducting background checks, and ensuring compatibility between potential partners. The Manzimyor used to be a trusted and respected member of the community who upheld the sanctity of marriages. However, in recent times, the emergence of deceitful brokers has changed the dynamics of the marriage market. Taking advantage of various vulnerabilities including financial constraints and societal pressure has made men in Kashmir susceptible to their manipulative tactics.
Sanaullah Ganai spent an amount of around Rs 3 lakhs on his wedding with Shaheena on March 12, 2023. The broker laid his hand on a hefty chunk of the amount. While Shaheena left Sanaullah only a few days after their wedding, he has been demanding his money back from the broker.
“The broker lured me into the trap by showing Shaheena’s picture and deceived me by stating false qualities about her,” Sonaullah said. “I regret trusting him now. I seek my money back.”
This is not the first such case as organised gangs work with the same modus Operandi. While the woman’s relatives said they lacked any details of her doings, Shaheena finally came out forcefully on social media claiming that she has married twice and all other claims are fake and baseless. “If the allegations are proven, hang me,” she said.
Now the Jammu and Kashmir Police are investigating the case and the people are awaiting answers to the questions that the episode has raked up. Did the lady really marry them all? Where she kept the money? Was she planning things herself or was she a pawn in the hands of the brokers? Did not anybody from her family and acquaintance tell her that the path she has taken for good survival is a crime? The “looted grooms: have joined together and have hired a lawyer. They have already gone to the court. It needs a bit of waiting to see the real story tumble out in police records and the courtroom. Whatever the outcome, the case is unprecedented.