Scepticism rife as governments since Sheikh Abdullah’s time have failed to implement it
Srinagar: The government on Tuesday issued a guest control order to restrict the number of dishes and number of guests in weddings, engagement and other ceremonies to avoid lavish spending and wastage of food.
Though the government has tried to implement guest control orders since the 1950s, it has failed every time, primarily due to two reasons—no social acceptance and the government’s inability to implement it.
In the latest order, Consumer and Public Affairs Distribution (CAPD) minister Zulfikar Ali stated that an individual whose daughter is getting married can invite a maximum of 500 guests, including baraatis, and in the case of marriage of a son, the number of guests should be restricted to the figure of 400. Besides, he said, no more than 100 guests should be invited during engagement ceremonies.
Instructing officials to implement the order within 40 days, the order has asked all District Commissioners (DCs) to ensure its implementation. It also instructs DCs to come up with legislation to ensure punishment for violators.
“The law is same for everyone, and would be applied to all, irrespective of his/her status in society,” the minister said in his order.
The order further states that no more than seven non-vegetarian and seven vegetarian dishes can be served during a marriage ceremony. Two items of sweets or ice cream have been allowed on such occasions. No sweets or dry fruit should be offered with invitation cards, the order says, while use of DJs/amplifiers and fire-crackers should be restricted to control noise pollution.
Civil society members and journalists termed the guest control order as “eye wash”.
“This order will not be implemented,” poet, scholar and columnist Zareef Ahmad Zareef said. “Political corruption, corrupt police and administration, and massive ill-gotten money which people have amassed in their private coffers are the main impediments. The government should have looked into the history of guest control orders. Why were they never implemented?”
Tracing the history of guest control orders issued by the government, Zareef said that they were issued for the first time by then prime minister Sheikh Abdullah during the 1950s.
“He followed the guest control order religiously. He even married his two daughters Suraiya and Khalida off with simplicity,” Zareef said.
“If he would find a violation of the guest control order, he would confiscate even the utensils of wazas (Kashmiri chefs) and would throw them in the river.”
But Sheikh Abdullah, too, failed to fully implement the order, Zareef said. After his deposition, more corruption followed in politics and society.
“People were given forest leases, and other means of institutionalised corruption began,” Zareef said. “There was so much corruption money that it could only be spent in extravaganza. This practice slowly crept into society and continues to this day.”
In 1973, then chief minister Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq issued a guest order control to restrict excessive spending on marriages and other ceremonies. He would also arrest the chefs and confiscate their utensils. He would often say that the utensils should be kept in a museum to showcase Kashmiri culture.
“After the Sheikh was reinstated, he tried to again implement the guest control order. Later, Gul Shah also did it, and so did Farooq Abdullah,” Zareef said. “Nothing worked. The money acquired through corruption had to be spent in some way. The corrupt police and administration made it easy. People would send a plate full of wazwan dishes to the police. They would never come to the venue to check the number of guests or the dishes,” Zareef said.
Zareef said that he along with other people had started a social reform movement to stop lavish spending on marriages and other ceremonies. “It, too, did not work. The main reason was the corrupt administration and the corrupt people who resisted it. Honest people of the middle class followed it,” he said.
State governments in the 1990s did not issue the order but in 2004, the then CAPD minister Taj Mohiudin issued it once again for marriage ceremonies. The order limited the bride’s family to inviting no more than 75 guests and the groom’s guests to 50. It also limited the amount of meat and rice cooked to 90 kg for each woman getting married. The order was later withdrawn.
“The guest control order was appreciated by Kashmiri civil society. However, we faced resistance from Jammu people and those who loved extravaganza in ceremonies,” former minister Taj Mohiudin told Kashmir Reader. “The owners of Jammu banquet halls secured a legal stay against my order. Later, my order was rescinded by the court.”
He said that former chief minister Mufti Sayeed was against the guest control order.
“Mufti sahib sent me letters through chief secretary to take the order back. But I did not recall it. I had it approved by the cabinet,” Mohiudin said.
He said the guest control can be implemented successfully in the state if it is implemented honestly by the administration.
“If we take the example of Pakistan, they have successfully done it. They serve only two dishes during marriage. We can also do it,” Mohiudin said.
Senior Journalist Yousuf Jameel said the guest control order was issued by almost all the governments in Kashmir, except by the Omar Abdullah-led dispensation, but nobody could implement it.
“It could not work. Even Sheikh could not implement it,” Jameel said.
“The main reason is that neither the administration nor the police touched the influential people who indulge in extravaganza during marriage and other private ceremonies,” Jameel said. “The police themselves relished the feasts during ceremonies and in return maintained silence.”
He said it is the people who have to decide whether they agree with austerity measures. “Extravaganza during ceremonies can be cut by reducing the spending. It is not in our tradition,” Jameel said.
“If the guest control order is to be implemented, we should mobilize mohalla committees, religious institutions, and undertake radical social reform to stop the menace of lavish spending in marriages. It will take time,” he added.