A man with his face blackened with paint was being beaten by a crowd of people, mostly youngsters, in Chitral city when police rushed to the place and rescued him. The ‘fault’ of the man was said to be that he used to act as a middleman for the men coming from other districts in search of a bride here and entice the parents to give the hand of their girls to non-local people.
In past few years the issue of marriage of Chitrali girls with non-local men has evolved into a social problem to the extent that the social organisations have to come forward with the agenda of preventing such marriages. One of such organisations in Chitral has even constituted a band of volunteers who patrol the bus stands and other public places to check if a non-local man is taking a bride with him. They carry out investigation about particulars of the person marrying a local girl and get the marriage dissolved by force if they are not satisfied and send the girl back to her home. The people in general abhor the local persons who would arrange such marriages in lieu of a petty amount of money.
With the start of development process in Chitral in 1970s and the availability of transport facilities through the Lowari Pass, people from other areas of the country also started visiting Chitral frequently. Gullible in nature and lacking exposure to the life outside their district, they would be easily duped by the non-local, but rich people coming from other areas.
The district council has also passed a resolution, saying that an outsider marrying a girl from the district will be required to produce proper documents from his home district, testifying his moral soundness and family background.
Mired in abject poverty, they gave their daughters to the people in Punjab and elsewhere beyond the Lowari Pass in the hope of comfortable life for them after marriage. As per local custom and rituals of marriage, the parents feast the whole village and relatives at the time of her wedding and the expenditures are borne by them. It is here that a misconception arose about the parents that the money for feast expenses was dubbed as ‘price of the bride’ and it induced the people to throng here with some amount of money and seek the hand of a local girl irrespective of the age difference between the two. In some cases, the bridegroom of a teenage girl was in his 70s.
In many cases, the girls from Chitral found themselves unable to adjust to the new environ which was quite different from theirs. Besides, most of the men coming to Chitral for marriage already would have wife and children back home. It became a usual practice for the wretched parents to receive the coffin of their daughters some years after the marriage.
It was in such circumstances that the need for creating awareness among the local people about marrying off their daughters with outsiders and the post-marriage problems was felt.
Dr Inayatullah Faizi, a social scientist from Chitral, classified the ‘bride seekers’ into three categories; those who have familiarity and relationship with the local people, those who have no familiarity already but are attracted by the simple and gentle nature of Chitralis and yearn for a Chitrali bride as a peaceful life partner, and those who have ulterior motives and are criminals in nature.
He said that marriages were successful in case of the first two categories, but the problem is largely attached with the last one who formed majority of the ‘bride seekers’.
He said that in the past, only the aristocrats of the former princely states used to establish matrimonial relations with the rulers of the British states and such marriages fell in the first category. He said that advent of the second category could be traced back to 1960s and such marriages very seldom ended in failure because of an ideal harmony between two parties. The problem props up in the third case where marriages end up in separation, suicide or desertion of the girl, murder or even sale of the ‘bride’, Dr Faizi said.
Javed Iqbal, a social activist, said that keeping in view the unawareness and poverty of the people, some elements tried to exploit them.
“The society has been sensitised to such a level that such elements now face social sanctions and hatred of the people and they have been singled out as ‘dalal’ (broker),” he said. Mr Iqbal claimed that the number of such marriages had dropped drastically in recent years and now hardly an outsider dared to come here with a pack of currency notes to take a bride in return.
The district council has also passed a resolution, saying that an outsider marrying a girl from the district will be required to produce proper documents from his home district testifying his moral soundness and family background. District nazim Maghfirat Shah said that comprehensive local rules would be made by the district council for the proper and foolproof verification in cases of marriages.
Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2016