Education Delays Marriage for Dismayed Kashmiris Set on Wedding Young
SRINAGAR, KASHMIR, INDIA – Farhat Shah, 40, avoids going out of her house and attending family gatherings because she is still single.
“When I leave the house, I am afraid to meet a neighbor,” the slightly built Shah says. “I know they will be wondering why I am still not married.”
Late marriage is taboo in Kashmir, and unmarried women encounter social stigma as they age, Shah says. They face awkward questions and stares from relatives, neighbors and friends.
More than a decade has passed since Shah’s family started looking for a match for her and her older sister. With much difficulty, they succeeded in finding a match for her sister, who was in her 30s when she married.
But seven years later, the search for Shah’s groom continues.
In Kashmir, families arrange the majority of the marriages, with the help of traditional matchmakers. A matchmaker visits the homes of prospective brides and grooms and collects their information – such as age, occupation, caste and education – then shares it with other families. Families select potential matches based on their preferences.
Shah’s family has sought help from scores of matchmakers but with no success.
“Sometimes we don’t like the families, and sometimes they don’t like us,” Shah says.
Shah says her family is not alone. Other families looking for a match in Kashmir are facing the same ordeal.
Delayed marriage has emerged as a consequence of increasing education in Kashmir, as families’ expectations for children’s partners grow. But the time to fulfill them conflicts with traditional societal pressure to marry young. Adding to dilemma are soaring demands for the dowry and wedding. Meanwhile, experts warn that the trend of later marriages is having negative social, psychological and physiological impacts on people.
Bashir Ahmad Dabla,a professor in the department of sociology and social work at the University of Kashmir, conducted a study, “Emergence of late marriages in Kashmir,” in 2007. This study found that during the last 30 to 40 years, the average marrying age jumped from 24 to 32 for men and from 21 to 28 for women.
“Earlier, the average age of marrying in women was late teens to early 20s,” he says. “But now, it has risen to late 20s, while as of the men has risen to early to mid-30s.”
Dabla says education is driving this delay in marriage.
“The common reasons for this change are modernization, better education and more employment opportunities,” Dabla says. “The more educated people are, the more conscious they become about money and status or getting employment or better employment. It is true of not only Kashmir but any modern society.”
Education is one of the hallmarks of modernization, he says. But education also means people expect better jobs and higher living standards. Attaining them delays the age of marriage.
Khalid Khan, who is in his late 30s and still single, says that modern lifestyles and higher living standards have increased people's expectations for a spouse. Whereas parents used to marry off their children without much scrutiny, now they rate multiple qualifications: job, family background, caste, house size and locality.
Shaheen, a mother of two daughters, says that her family has been looking for about five years for a groom for her sister, who teaches in a private school. She declined to publish her last name for fear that it would hurt her sister’s chances of marrying.
“We have hired so many matchmakers, given them so much money,” she says.
“But we haven’t got any results so far. We have received responses, like our house is in the interior of the colony, or that my sister is simple and she isn’t a government teacher.”
She says that her family is worried about her sister’s marriage prospects.
Saleema, a matchmaker in Srinagar who does not have a last name, which is common regionally, says people usually look for matches for themselves or their children in their own caste. They have many requirements, including education, employment and dowry.
She says this has complicated the matchmaking process. It also makes it difficult for people from lower-income families to marry.
“Tell me where a poor man’s daughter will go,” she says. “Who is going to take her?”
People have turned greedy, she says. They also aren’t satisfied with the resulting delays in marriage. Increasing qualifications for spouses conflicts with the preference for young partners that is rooted deep in Kashmiri society.
Fayaz Ahmad Zaroo, the founder of Humsafar Marriage Counselling Cell, an Islamic marriage bureau that counsels families about marriage, says that age is the main obstacle of families seeking services. Clients range from 25 to 40, with the majority between 30 and 35.
“The problem is that both men and women want spouses younger to them,” Zaroo says. “If the guy is 30, he wants a wife of 25. And a woman of 30 also wants a guy of 25.”
But clients exceed their 20s, the preferred marriageable age, he says. They should be understanding and willing to compromise a bit, but they aren’t.
Zaroo says that the seach for stable employment delays marriages. But because jobs are scarce, it takes time for young men to establish themselves, therefore delaying their marriages.
As for young women, the families of young men want their wives to be young as well as employed. But a strong preference for certain jobs and ones in the government sector, which are scarce, mean that by the time women attain them, they are older.
Khan says that secure jobs in Kashmir are difficult to find.
“The job market in Kashmir is not so good,” Khan says. “It takes four to five years after graduation or university to land what is called a ‘secure job,’ maybe a government job. Most of my friends married after their 30s – some even after 35.”
Still single, Khan says he now regrets not marrying earlier.
“When I had finished my graduation, my priority was to get a good job
and get settled,” Khan says. “It made sense that I should be financially secure to take up the responsibility of marriage, but I kind of never had a secure job. Now, it seems to me I should have married
Adding to increasing standards for brides and grooms are the rising costs of weddings on families, especially the brides’.
Dabla says that modernization has also led to more materialistic wedding practices, such as a larger dowry. By the time poorer families collect enough money to afford their daughters’ dowries, it is too late for them to marry in Kashmiri society.
Zaroo also blames extravagant weddings for the trend of late marriages. In addition to the dowry, families of the bride must also outfit the bride and buy gifts for each member of the groom’s family.
Weddings should be simple in accordance with Islam’s teachings, Zaroo says. But they are becoming more and more elaborate.
Both families organize feasts at their respective homes for at least two days, Zaroo says. The feast traditionally has seven dishes. But today, it can extend to 40 dishes.
“Both the girls’ and boys’ families want a wedding with pomp and show, a grand feast, as well as a large dowry,” Zaroo says. “For this, they need money. So they start saving money. It takes time. Seeing how expensive things are becoming, especially gold, they take a lot of time in preparations. By the time they are done, the boy or girl has aged considerably.”Shah’s family rejected a suitor because his family was big. Buying a gift for each of his family members would have been too expensive for her middle-class family.
Shah’s mother, Fatima, says that people are giving too much importance to details.
“A family has to think about the future of their child,” she says. “But still people tend to get overboard sometime[s].”
Spending beyond one’s means on a wedding is a trend not only in Kashmir, but also across South Asia, including in India and Pakistan, Khan says.
Dabla says that the rising age of marriage can have serious consequences.“The consequences of the trend are negative like sexual problems like pre- and extramarital sex, sexual frustration, psychological problems, emotional imbalance,” he says, “which can result in deshaping of personalities, resulting in suicides or criminal and violent behavior. Moreover, it goes against the general pattern of the social life. A person is unable to make proper social adjustments. There is a problem of too many single persons.”
According to Dabla’s study, which included 1,500 respondents, 64 percent said late marriages were responsible for premarital sexual relations. Nearly 15 percent cited it for extramarital relations.
Dabla says marriage is a necessary human condition. He encourages teachers of all levels to talk to students to prepare them about the proper manner and time of marriage.
“We should adopt [an earlier] age for marriage, but not before economic independence or sufficient education,” Dabla says. “Because if it is not so, such marriage can lead to many dangerous problems, like economic instability, which can then lead to violence.”
Zaroo says Humsafar Marriage Counselling Cell is trying to change the mindset of people about employment and age ranges by counseling families, including parents and prospective brides and grooms. It also hosts talks about the issue at mosques and conferences.
Humsafar Marriage Counselling Cell has successfully encouraged many families to abandon customs and rituals that delay marriages, such as requiring women to work in specific sectors, expecting a big dowry or judging the other family’s house size. He says that the society can change this mindset without sacrificing people’s education or employment opportunities.