By Syed Arman
Critical discussions that take place about weddings in Kashmir usually revolve round wazwan and extravagance: how wazwan causes a lot of food wastage; how we should perform weddings simply, etc. These questions may be as old as the wazwan. Neither has the pointers of these discussions changed nor our wedding ceremonies, given a few exceptions. While reflection on these queries is important, a very crucial aspect of wedding that needs to be evaluated critically is the way a wedding takes place in our society and the idea that gives this very particular form to these ceremonies.
Old women in Kashmir quite often utter this phrase while giving their blessings to an unmarried woman, “Khuda Soznei Ruth Kharidar” (May God send a worthy buyer for you). This phrase which appears as a curse is considered a great blessing. If our wedding ceremonies are analysed beyond wazwan, one will observe this very problematic and highly toxic patriarchal idea getting manifested in different forms.
In our wedding cards, in the row “With Barat” (those who accompany the groom to bring the bride), the column for women remains blank. It is because Khandar (Wedding) is a form of Kharidari (trade) and in a patriarchal society it’s actually men who do the trade and buying. So, it will be men who will accompany the man when he goes to get the bride.
The form of preparation and celebration of the same wedding is also different for the bride (Mahrin) and the groom (Mahraz). The house of the groom is decorated for somebody’s arrival, an expansion of the family or arrival of source for that expansion. Although wedding appears as a joyous occasion in the house of the bride, this joy also acts as a veil to the subtle form of unspoken sadness, a grief of farewell or the death of an identity.
Often children (usually a girl child) whose thoughts are not yet tainted by tradition and customary morality ask a very fundamental question about marriage: why shall the bride leave her house and go to some other house whereas the groom gets to stay in his own house with his own parents? This question actually determines the whole life of women in our society. There may actually be no satisfying answer to this question, but the unquestioned form of our wedding makes it an a priori rule, a necessary rule that is to be realised than questioned.
Then comes the final function of walima. This day marks the first day of the bride, in the house of her in-laws, the birth of a ‘new identity’. Now, she no more retains the former identity, she is now a ‘wife’ of somebody, ‘daughter-in-law’ of some family. The behaviour of groom and bride on walima speaks a lot about the criteria of an ideal marriage in our society.
The groom will be at ease, wearing a plain kurta, talking and laughing with his friends and meeting the guests. For the bride, it has to be totally different behaviour than her usual one. For most of the day she will be in her room, with small kids and girls who have come there to meet her and some friends might help her in getting ready for the next step, “the display of the product bought.” The bride has to be dressed up heavily with proper jewelry. Then she will sit with her head kept down for the whole time and every action she performs will be under scrutiny. She just can’t be herself, she has to perform. The way she talks, the way she eats, the way she looks is under watch and, based on that, judgments regarding the bride are formed. “Sau mahreen aes wareiya asal, kalei aesne thod tulan” (She was an esteemed bride; she never raised her head). If God forbid she talks casually – “Be-haya mehreen, aaz ken Koeran chune sue lehaz” (The bride lacks all forms of respect and virtue). The women from the neighbourhood and relatives then come to have a look at her face and see whether the family has made a wealthy deal or not.
Our weddings are a reflection of the concept that forms the basis for an ideal marriage. Now, as discussions regarding the rights of women in marriage are taking place in the form of the conditions that a bride can mention in her Nikah Namah, the right of her Mehar, etc., it is also important to reflect and then take necessary steps to change this highly patriarchal form of the wedding ceremony that marks the beginning of a married life. Otherwise this from of wedding will reinforce in a subtle way the unjust laws and ideas of marriage that we as a society need to break to ensure that justice prevails at every level of our society.
Syed Arman is a student of Philosophy, currently pursuing his Masters at the University of Hyderabad. His areas of interest include philosophy of science, religion, ethics and mysticism.
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