The Ties That Bind

Culture and compromise. Saima Bhat takes a closer look at the predicament of non-Kashmiri women who marry into Kashmiri families.

Rajeshwari, 30, has been known as Tabish since 2006 when she married Bilal Ahmad, a Kashmiri Muslim. Tabish has an MBA from London’s top school—but today she is a homemaker, trying hard to adjust to Kashmiri culture.

Tabish his originally from Kolkata. She and Bilal were pursuing their Bachelors’ degree in a Bangalore college when they met for the first time. Tabish was studying Journalism and Bilal, Business Administration. They were conscious of their religious restrictions, and so decided to separate for the sake of their families. Tabish says, “After completing my graduation, I went for further studies to London so that I could come out of my past. But destiny had something else stored for me. Bilal started contacting me again and so our relationship started again.”

After coming back from London, Tabish decided to go against her family’s wishes and marry Bilal. She came to Kashmir with the hope that her family would forgive her once she is married, as she is her parent’s only daughter. Tabish converted to Islam and married Bilal according to Islamic Sharia on the same day of her conversion. She is now a mother of two, a girl and a baby boy.

Now a practising Muslim, Tabish says she has become so immersed in Kashmiri culture, that she sometimes forgets she was an outsider. But there are times when she feels her life could have been better, had she settled somewhere in India. She says, “I never imagined my destiny would lead me to such a naturally beautiful place that is unfortunately in so many disputes. Youngsters don’t have an opportunity to prove themselves, and neither do I. I have my Masters’ degree from London, but I am still sitting at home, since there are no good opportunities here, and my husband doesn’t want me to work for just 5000 or 8000 bucks.”

Tabish has learned Kashmiri from her in-laws and has learned cooking Kashmiri cuisine. Hameeda Begum, her mother-in-law, says with a giggle, “Tabish loves to attend marriages, but she makes sure all the four people sitting on a traami are from our family only because she says that way we can eat half of the dishes on the traami and half could be packed for home.”

Hameeda had given her consent for marriage because Bilal is her only son among five daughters, and she didn’t want to lose him. She says, “If our daughter-in-law is making compromises to adjust in our family, so are we. I have five daughters and she is now the sixth. I never ask her for any work, if she is in the mood, she will work, and if not, then no one can ask her to. I am sure, had we been any other Kashmiri family, she would have returned a long time ago”. She adds, “I have given her a lot of flexibility. If there would have been any Kashmiri girl instead of her then things would have been different”.

Tabish visits her family in Kolkata every year for four or five months, but till today, her parents have never been to Kashmir to see where their daughter lives. She says, “It hurts a lot when somebody asks me about my parents and I have nothing to say about them. They are now ok with my marriage, but I still feel some stiffness in our relation.”Tabish says she is living a happy married life, but also says she has to make reconciliations from time to time. Sacrificing her career and leaving her (living) status has been the biggest one.

There are some non-Kashmiri women who married Kashmiri men and never returned to see their families. Nazia (name changed), 40, married Farooq Ahmad in 1995. Nazia is from a lower middle-class family of Bangalore. Farooq was in Bangalore for his studies where he used to stay with Nazia’s family as a paying guest. They fell in love and decided to get married. Farooq’s family didn’t have any objection as Nazia was a Muslim. Nazia and Farooq now have three children.

Nazia had an inferiority complex after coming to Kashmir, as her in-laws were in a better position than what her family was in Bangalore.

Nazia says, “In these 16 years of our marriage, I never returned to Bangalore to see my family. I have become so involved with my family and kids that I have forgotten my past life. Initially, I used to bolt my room during the daytime when Farooq would be at the office, I used to cry whenever I missed my family, but now things have changed.”

From learning the Kashmiri language to milking cows, Nazia has learned everything that a daughter-in-law of her family would have been involved in. The main reason she learned Kashmir was that her mother-in-law was illiterate, and there was a communication gap between the two which was creating hurdles. Raja Begum (name changed), her mother-in-law, says, “I am an illiterate woman, so it was very difficult for me to understand her if no one was around for translation. But with time, she learned Kashmiri and now at least we have a chat together”. Nazia says she can’t go out every day, as her mother-in-law is “strict” and she says her mother-in-law would rather she engage in household chores than go out.

Raja adds, “I didn’t like her initially, as everybody would tease me that I have an Indian “black” daughter-in-law and my son was well educated, so he could have had a better option, which ultimately affected our relation and I used to keep away from her. I never preferred to take her along to marriage parties.”

But now, things have changed for Raja.

Farooq was her dearest child amongst five others, and she never wanted to be separated from him. Raja feared that Nazia may elope with Farooq, and so she changed her attitude towards Nazia—which in turn made things better. “There are many things still that I don’t like, such as Nazia talking to her father-in-law casually, talking about everything. I think some distance is needed in certain relations, which she lacks. And above all, whenever there are family functions-marriage, engagement parties  I can’t leave every responsibility on her because I know after 16 years of her marriage she is still incapable of meeting such responsibilities ” feels Raja.

There have been cases when Kashmiri boys studying in Russia married Russian girls, some for green cards and some for real love. Tabaan, a doctor from Srinagar, recalls that back in the 1990s, his friend Shabir went to Russia for MBBS, and married a Russian. After their marriage, they came back to Kashmir and a big reception was arranged by his parents in their Anantnag residence.

But after a year, Tabaan went to meet his friend. That is when he saw his friend’s Russian bride in the paddy fields working with labourers. On inquiring, she showed Tabaan her torture marks. She couldn’t talk to him as she spoke only Russian. Tabaan had another friend who had married a Russian girl and had settled in Kashmir. Tabaan arranged a meet between the two Russian women, and it became clear that she was beaten by her in-laws to work. They would torture her mentally, saying they will get their son remarried. They had snatched her passport as well. After listening to her woes, they arranged her tickets to the Russian Embassy in Delhi, from where she called her parents in Russia who came to her rescue.

Women from outside of Kashmir who marry into higher middle-class Kashmiri families say they are relatively happier as they spend most of their time in different countries. Zehra and Zikra, two Hyderabadi girls, married two brothers, Fayaz and Ayub (name changed) in 1993. One of the brothers’ is an MLC, in addition to running the family construction business. Zehra and Zikra say that have never faced any problem in Kashmir. When Kashmir’s turmoil was at its peak, they would shift to Delhi or some other state in India, and return only when conditions were somewhat under control. But after having children, their lives changed as they were enrolled in schools in Kashmir.  However, their children are now in their teens, and they feel they are mature enough to take care of themselves if the parents wish to go out of state.


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