Azhar ud Din
“Of my tradition is to marry. So, then whoever turns away from my tradition (Sunnah) is not from me (my nation).” (Prophet Muhammad PBUH)
Marriage is not just a legal bond between man and woman, it is social sanction that allows two opposite genders to live together. Marriage is not only about physical intercourse between male and female but acts as a bridge which connects two souls and generates the feeling of oneness. It lays down the foundation of the family and thus maintains the structure of society. The rituals and practices related to marriage are not the same everywhere. They vary from culture to culture but some essential and fundamental principles are mandatory in every society to make marriage functional and socially accepted. Among these pivotal principles, a suitable age is important. It is interesting to note the drastic change over the years in the matter of this suitable age. It was premature in the past and is too late in the present.
Kashmir has been as affected as any other region by modernity, materialism, and cultural diffusion, which directly or indirectly affect the age of marriage. Bashir Ahmad Dabla, who was a professor in the department of sociology and social work at Kashmir University, carried out a study in 2007 titled, “Emergence of late marriages in Kashmir,” in which he found that during the last 30-40 years, the average marrying age has increased from 24 to 32 for men and from 21 to 28 for women. Before 1989 the average age of marriage in Kashmir was 23 years for males and 20 years for females.
There are innumerable causes for this increase in the age of marriage in recent years. The first and foremost is the securing of a good job and higher status in society. For this both males and females but especially males spend many years of their life in completing higher education, after which they spend a few years in employment. A person studying for a doctorate (Ph.D.) will take a minimum of five years to earn the degree and another one or two years to find a job. Generally, such a person gets to marry at the age of 33-35, which is not biologically a fertile age for procreation.
The dowry system is another major cause of late marriages in Kashmir. A survey conducted in 2016 and 2017 in downtown area of Srinagar by the Tehreek-e-Fahalluh-Muslimeen Trust revealed that there are about 10,000 girls who have attained or even passed marriageable age but whose parents are too poor to pay dowry. This is a big blot on the face of Kashmiriyat. Educated persons also demand dowry, which is not just unfortunate but evil. Besides the dowry system, other customs like wazwans, jewellery, copperware and other gifts exchanged during marriage also take a heavy toll on both families. These rituals and customs not only ruin poor people but also saddle the middle-class with a heavy burden. Fayaz Zaroo, owner of Humasafar marriage counselling, has said that ”the expenditure of a conventional marriage ranges between Rs 5 lakh to Rs 30 lakh.”
Though modernity has changed the perspectives of people, the caste and class system continue to influence marriage. Many families in Kashmir give preference to endogamous marriages. They are not willing to marry outside their caste. In addition to this, a new ideology has been created among the youth of Kashmir, especially among males, which is to prefer a woman who is well educated or has a job. Thus, the women who are not well educated or professionally employed find their chances of marriage sliding further down.
Repercussions of late marriage are known to everyone but still people are ignoring them. One of the ill effects is less fertility in both males and females. Biologically, women and men can produce more ovum and sperm, respectively, at the age of 20-25. During this age, a couple can procreate offspring without any problem. As per the National Health Policy-2018, Jammu and Kashmir has a TFR (Total Fertility Rate) of 1.7 births per woman, which is less than 14 other states of India. Not being married till a late age also creates psychological problems and increase chances of depression, drug addiction and immoral behaviour. A study by Bashir Ahmad Dabla, former professor of Sociology at Kashmir University, revealed that “one of the alarming aspects of late marriage is increased pre-marital and extra-marital sex.”
When a person marries at the age of 30-35 years, his children are still dependent on him at the time he retires from his job. If there is a sudden death caused by an accident or illness, the economic burden of the family comes on the shoulders of other family or community members. Besides this, late marriage also creates a bigger generation gap which increases conflict in opinions, beliefs, and perceptions among the two generations. This generation gap can have a negative impact on the relationship of husband, wife, and child.
To curb the problem of late marriage in Kashmir, the first and foremost responsibility is of religious organisations. They should make people aware of the repercussions of late marriage and of the benefits of an appropriate age of marriage. NGOs and other organisations should hold programmes at grassroots level and they should financially help the poor. The government should also financially assist poor girls so that they do not have to wait a long time to get married. Strict laws should be implemented against the dowry system. Media as well as social media should be used to highlight the issue of late marriage and its miserable consequences.
Finally, it is the responsibility of every Kashmiri to oppose every custom and tradition which has made marriage complicated and expensive for a poor and middle-class person. If the trend of late marriage continues apace, then the time is near when it will become a threat to the very demography of Kashmir.
The writer hails from Anantnag and studies Geography at Aligarh Muslim University