The institution of marriage has undergone a tremendous transition. At one extreme the practice of early marriages or child marriages that used to be a routine in the past gradually disappeared. With the advent and advancement of modernity, along with materialism, the pendulum of marriage practices has alarmingly swung to the other extreme –the late marriages.
Age is itself embedded within the word marriage is one of the ignored aspects of this sacred union. Compulsive and competitive social demands appended with marriage practices have converted marriage into a complex and costly affair. As long years of wait for a prospective proposal passes by like months, large number of men and women silently drift down into ‘over-aged territory’.
Reports and surveys surfacing intermittently in media outlets often quote fearsome figures. For example, ‘more than 35000 women in a single district are unmarried who are over forty year old.’ Are over aged men exempted from the stigma associated with being elderly and unmarried? Is patriarchy – male dominance acting as a shield for men and forcing women to face the scourge for being unable to get married during youthful years? Misogynistic interpretation of late marriages is both irritating and irrational.
Poverty is one of the many factors that slowdowns the pace and prospect of marriage proposals. Financially sound and stable persons justify delay with non-monetary excuses and expectations. In many instances, criteria for a prospective match are incompatible that the proposals prematurely crash on the runway before they can take off. The match of designations has become a determining factor and pivotal priority than the match of the personalities. Reminding Rudyard Kipling’s famous lines, ‘Oh, East is East, and West is West and never the twain shall meet’ for a failed consensus.
Caste and class considerations are too much pervasive and have turned marriage into a compartmentalized affair. Being caged within the circumference of self-imposed caste and class restrictions, the option for availing ‘extra-time’ also encourages late marriage practices.
Rituals with monetary requirements being imposed are becoming indispensable as well. To catch up with the trend, parents exert beyond limits to meet these anticipated benchmarks. Silent approval to entertain unending trail of extravagant experimentation in marriages is a nuisance. An unopposed walkover of such disapproving designs has converted this holy affair into a burden instead of a blessing. For majority of the poor families, these ‘compulsive costs’ have made marriage a distant dream.
Dowry is direct as well as disguised. Demand or desires for gifts or favours are synonymous and symptomatic of a transactional mindset perceiving sacred bond of marriage purely as a commodity. Dereliction or deficiency to fulfill such derogatory demands impinges upon the success of post-marital relationships.
Education and employment are also instrumental in delaying marriage at an appropriate age. Earning higher qualification credentials up to and beyond master’s degree consumes crucial years of life. The post-academic pursuit for getting adjusted preferably with a government job drag youth for years forgetting the count of forms they submit to crack the jackpot of government job.
The ideal ingredients much sought out in a desired proposal prefers a person to be young, highly qualified, good looking, holding permanent government job with handsome salary, financially well off family, upper class/caste etc. This prescription that is now a reference standard supersedes the worth and potential of those who are either self-employed or working in private sectors earning a decent income. These yardsticks that are rough and rigid also perpetuate the vicious cycle of late marriage imbroglio.
The detrimental consequences of late marriages are multi-faceted. Be it physical health, mental health, familial and social relationships – late marriages adversely affect both the person and the family. Individuals attaining upper age limits are compelled to accommodate discouraging remarks or gestures as a penalty. It is not the virtues or worthiness of the person, but the age bar that plays a spoilsport for a marriage proposal to mature. And the concerned families are chased by the shadows of age-centric letdowns everywhere. Repeated episodes of dejection and desperation are fraught with lot of vulnerabilities. Anxiety, depression and in extreme cases suicidal ideation sets in as desperation and delay exerts enormous pressure beyond ones coping potential.
Marriage has become more a cultural practice than a religious obligation. This cultural prescription and religious obligation is completely polarized. For this re-orientation, people everyone has to be instrumental in overthrowing the confusing and cost-ridden cobweb of marriage. Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said, ‘the most blessed Nikkah (marriage) is the one that is performed with the least expenses’. The message is loud and clear to be followed and translated into practice.
Religious clerics and scholars have to consistently reach out to people to convey and convince them about true meaning and essence of marriage. With a missionary zeal, an all-out war against all forms of innovations and extravagant experiments in marriage has to be waged at all fronts. Propagation and publicity stunts endorsing malpractices should be dealt with individual and collective disapproval. People are to be properly educated about the purpose and proper practice of marriage.
Grassroots level committees exerting influence within their localities can be instrumental as a watchdog to galvanize efforts towards bringing reform. Marriage must aim at building strong bonds of love and affection rather than making it an expedition of commercial enterprise to amass material gains. Efforts must stretch beyond minimizing the menu of wazwaan recipes and downsizing the number of invitees.
Late marriage issue is a social construction. This menace must end. Society has to see off the material mindset and misconceived myths. Societal demands should not snatch the chance for individuals to get married at appropriate and opportune age. Let us all welcome and appreciate the greatness of simplicity in marriages and over throw the malpractice of late marriages. To revive and restore sanctity and simplicity of marriage all else can wait, but not the glacier of age that is melting so fast.
Bilal Kaloo is Assistant Professor (Department of Education) South Campus – Anantnag University of Kashmir