Knotty matter

They say love knows no limits, no caste, no creed and no color. In Jammu and Kashmir, marriages outside one’s cast are increasing in number, despite a violent suppression of such bonds. Tying the nuptial knot is really knotty here.

A large number of second-generation Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians are increasingly choosing the “bond of love” over a communal or caste one in the strife-torn valley of Jammu and Kashmir.

Many persons have either been killed in the process or been forced to kill their feelings. Many are living in hiding and many outside the state. Those who continue to live here are treated like outcastes by their communities and families. Yet, the inter-community love affairs go on.

Even though such marriages are seen as a veiled bid to decimate the numerical strength of a community in the state, where the demand for a separate homeland is raging since decades, inter-faith marriages form an undercurrent of a new Kashmir. But are they a solution?

When Amina Yusuf of Kashmir and Rajnish Sharma of Jammu fell in love eight years ago in Gulmarg, they dreamt of a new life and a new Kashmir. A Kashmir where, like them, people from different faiths could not only dare to marry but also live together peacefully.

But that was not to be. By Amina’s own admission before the Jammu police and the media, the couple went on to marry against the wishes of the families and the diktats of their community leaders in August last year. But they could live together only for a few days. Rajnish was booked on the charge of kidnapping and forcibly marrying the 26-year-old Amina, aka Anchal Sharma post marriage.

He was “picked up” by the cops on September 29 and found dead in the Srinagar police’s custody on October 4. A judicial investigation is on in the case. Amina, after living with her in-laws for three months, returned to her parents’ house this January. Later, Amina retracted from the love affair in a statement before a Srinagar court. She claimed she had been forced to marry. The court hearing is on.

There are many others like them. “On an average, we get one such case daily in Jammu city itself. Often, it is easier to trace and catch a militant than a runaway couple,” admits a senior police official requesting anonymity. “We go by the law. The girl’s parents file a case of kidnapping and add the charge of rape later. It boils down to the girl’s stand. If she deposes before a court that she had gone of her own will, which happens rarely, the law protects the couple,” says the senior police officer.

He narrates documented tales of runaway couples being recovered from places as far off as Goa and Siliguri. “Couples elope the world all over. But in this state, it acquires far more serious proportions,” he says, pointing towards the communal divide. “No community here wants its members to join another community after marriage. The community members fear that one by one, their numbers will dwindle and the demographic change can affect the separatist demand. Interestingly, parents don’t mind if their son brings a girl from another community and converts her.”

Many Kashmiri Pandits marrying Muslims or vice-versa are those whose parents are still living through the wounds of the separatist movement. Elders of different communities openly scoff at the suggestion that the younger generation is scripting the story of a new and mixed society that would never be able to seek division on the lines of community, caste or race.

The marriages between Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims arouse the strongest passions. “There was a time when Kashmiri Pandits marrying Dogri boys or girls was a big no-no. Now, you find hundreds of such cases,” reveals a sociologist, preferring anonymity out of fear of a backlash. The case of Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims is significant. The Pandits driven out of the valley have a natural grudge against the Muslims. The latter, too, demanding a separate state for their community, are naturally averse to any such alliance. But their second generation is determined to follow the diktats of the heart.
Interestingly, the first family of the state, the Abdullahs, are the most secular. Union Minister and former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah is married to a Christian. His son and serving Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is wed to a Sikh girl. His sister is married to a Hindu, the Union Minister  of State for Telecommunications, Sachin Pilot. But it isn’t smooth sailing for everyone.

“What wrong did we do?” asks Shehnaaz with her husband Aman Verma (names changed) holding her hand tightly in their two-room rented house in the city. “We are both working in a multinational company. We liked each other, respect each other’s religion and told our parents of our decision to marry. But there was a volcano of a protest. We had no option but to elope. We got married but were caught. He was booked for kidnapping but the court came to our rescue. Now, we are living happily,” she says. Some even take the fight up to the Supreme Court. The case of a Muslim girl from Doda and a Hindu youth from Nagrota is a case in point.

The apex court provided security to this lovelorn couple, hounded by relatives and cops. Anjum, 19, a Muslim from Doda, and Khemraj, 24,  a Hindu from Nagrota, eloped few months ago. Both belong to influential families. They are reportedly living in hiding.

The undercurrents have not escaped the eye of social observers. An assistant professor of sociology at Jammu University has met 115 such couples who have crossed the social boundaries, “Couples from Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Christian families, especially the Dogris and Kashmiri Pandits, are running from their homes and marrying. Of these, a Hindu-Muslim, and specifically a Kashmiri Pandit-Muslim marriage, is a cardinal sin and often results in violence, as happened in the Amina and Rajnish case.”

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