In Kashmir, lavish wazwan—and its evolution—worsens late marriage crisis

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Fouzia, a science graduate, turned 32 last July, however concerns overshadowed the joy on her birthday. Rather than celebrating, she said she is rather concerned about getting older. Reason? The rampant issue of late marriages in Kashmir.

Living in the intricate lanes of Srinagar’s downtown, Fouzia has met at least half-a-dozen men as her family tries to arrange the knot. Apart from finding the right person, Fouzia and her family are worried by the escalating wedding costs, especially the ever-evolving lavish wazwan.

“I belong to a humble family, and seeing the new additions in the Wazwan, I am worried if my family will meet the expectations of people at my wedding,” said Fouzia.

In Kashmir, the expenditure of a conventional marriage ranged between 5 lakh to 30 lakh rupees. But amid the region’s downward economyworsened by the stretched Covid-19 lockdownthe rising costs of marriage is further pushing Kashmir’s late marriage issues.

Ashraf Waza, a resident of Wazipora area in Srinagar who has been cooking the region’s symbolic cuisine for the last five decades, is a witness to the evolved culture around wazwan. 

In old days wazwan used to be a measured eight meal course including Kebab, Tabakmaaz, Daniphol, Rista, Rogan Josh, Daniwal Korma, Marchhwangan Korma, and Gushtaba.

“However, over the years,” Waza said, “on the demand of people we have even cooked 21-meal courses in some weddings. It is nothing but a show off and an entire waste of money and food.”

A thin slice of meat covering the top of a traem, a traditional copper plate, in a wedding somewhere in Kashmir was the talk of the town with users on social media platforms expressing concern about putting extra financial burden on the poor or middle class families to cope up with the new innovations in the wazwan.

A survey conducted by Tehreek e Fala-Ul-Muslimeen, a local social welfare organization, revealed that nearly 50,000 women in the valley have crossed the “marriageable age” mainly because of the “unnecessary fashion and trend”.

Talking to The Kashmir Walla, co-founder of Tehreek e Fala-Ul-Muslimeen, Abdul Rashid Naik said that “societal compulsion” is one of the main factors of the late marriages in Kashmir.

“A simple marriage would not cost more than five lakh [rupees]. But the additions like dry fruits, cold drinks, and other items have made it costlier,” Naik said. “The inferiority complex and families trying to compete with their neighbors and relatives is one of the main factors for late marriages.”

“We need to learn that lavish weddings don’t define your status in society. It is your integrity that matters, not unaccountable money you have,” he said.

Late marriages not only have become a concern for women, but cut through the gender spectrum.

A 2007 study, titled ‘Emergence of late marriages in Kashmir’, by the department of sociology and social work at the University of Kashmir (KU), 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, as per the study, the average age of marriage in Kashmir was 23 years for males and 20 years for females. The study, authored by the late Bashir Ahmad Dabla, attributed poverty, unemployment, and dowry as major reasons for the delay in marriages in Kashmir.

According to another study by the KU, titled ‘Late Marriages in Kashmir’, post-militancy decade wedding ceremonies returned to their former lavishness, which has brought the self-imposed burden of spending beyond one’s means.

“Again, most of the hosts dish out ostentatious feasts whose sheer wastefulness makes them a sort of status symbol across the valley,” the study noted.

Known as ‘The Kings Feast’, wazwan in old times used to be the meal of riches but with a better economic condition, it slowly developed to be a household cuisine in Kashmir. However, Fouzia fears that as new trends set in, it won’t be too long before history would repeat itself and wazwan would once again be the “meal of riches”.

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