Saturday, November 27

‘Evil Customs’: Why a Kashmiri People Abandoned Dowries | Global development

BAbawayil, in the foothills of the Zabarwan Mountains along the Sind River, is a typical village in Indian-administered Kashmir. Groups of men and women sit on their lawns and crack open green nut shells freshly picked from the giant trees that shade the sleepy village. Other villagers are busy in the rice fields bringing the harvest. Branch officesThe harvest season is usually busy.

Most of the 150 households make a living cultivating and weaving pashmina shawls.

The town, however, is one of the few places in South Asia that has banned dowries and abandoned the custom of lavish weddings.

Weddings in this part of the world are often expensive and can cost a family’s life savings. The money is spent on elaborate meals that are served to hundreds of guests: family, friends, and neighbors.

As part of the dowry, the bride’s family gives gifts: appliances, jewelry, cash, and sometimes even a car for the groom. Often times, the wedding occurs only after the dowry is fixed.

Bashir Ahmad
Bashir Ahmad, Imam of the Babawayil Mosque, found the stories about dowries and expensive weddings “disturbing”. Photography: Aakash Hassan

Dowries have been illegal in India for the past six decades, but the custom is deeply ingrained. It is estimated that 20 women a day are killed or commit suicide in the country due to dowry demands. Each year there are more than 8,000 “dowry deaths”.

“The stories that got here about dowry and expensive weddings were disturbing,” said Bashir Ahmad, imam. from the village mosque. “I always wonder how we could marry our children to these traditions.”

Ahmad was one of 20 village elders who met in the winter of 2004 to discuss how these “bad customs” could be stopped. After days of deliberation, the elders presented their ideas to the villagers.

They proposed that the bride’s family would pay nothing for the wedding. The groom’s family would pay 900 Indian rupees (£ 9) as plus – an Islamic obligation that the groom has to pay to the bride in the form of money or possessions when they get married – and 15,000 rupees (£ 150) to the bride’s family. The groom would organize 50 kg (110 pounds) of meat and 40 kg of rice for the wedding banquet, and only 40 people from the groom’s side were allowed to attend.

Previously, hundreds of guests could sit at the wazwan, to Multi-course banquet of Kashmiri cuisine served at weddings, and dowries could run into the hundreds of thousands of rupees.

Babawayil village
Babawayil village, in the Sind Valley of Kashmir. Photography: Aakash Hassan

The villagers quickly accepted the new rules. Since then, no expensive weddings have been held at Babawayil and no dowries have been awarded.

Last year, the villagers updated the regulations: the groom’s family now has to pay 50,000 rupees (£ 500) to the bride’s family, which includes 20,000 of plus, to take inflation into account. There is no wedding banquet, only dates and tea can be served, and only three people can accompany the groom.

“I am proud that everyone in the village follows these laws,” said Ahmad, whose two sons and two daughters have been married in recent years.

Villagers say there has not been a single reported case of violence or abuse against a woman since the rules were introduced, and there have been no divorces.

There is also peer pressure to follow the rules. Ahmad says that anyone who does not respect them is ostracized in the community.

“Our inspiration comes from our religion,” says Iqra Altaf, 25, a graduate student who recently married.

A traditional Kashmiri dancer at a wedding
A traditional dance at a Kashmir wedding. The wedding ceremony and banquet could have cost a family their life savings. Photograph: Altaf Qadri / EPA

“Customs like dowry and lavish weddings are only making life difficult for women,” he said. “It is leading to crimes and discrimination against women, even people don’t want to have a girl because of these problems. We have to end this threat. “

Altaf says she asked her husband to spend even less on their wedding than the rules allowed, to set an example for others.

Villagers say they are happy to see how the community has changed for the better. “We are happy that our daughters do not face any harassment. And people who would otherwise spend huge sums of money on marriages are actually spending their savings on fruitful things like a better education for their children, ”said Ghulam Nabi Shah, 65, a retired government official from the village.

“I am trying to convince my relatives in other villages to make weddings simple … I want Kashmir to change before I leave this world.”

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