KARACHI: Drumbeats greeted a throng of relatives as around 60 Hindu couples tied the knot at a mass wedding at the YMCA Lawns on Sunday. What set this ceremony apart was the coming together of people from various castes and ethnicities all seated under a big tent.
A similar story could be heard by most of the families standing beside their daughters or sons, a story of being unable to afford the wedding. As a result, they approached the Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC) to include their children as part of the mass wedding ceremony held annually.
The entire place was designed in a circle and within it a sitting area was reserved for each couple with six seats and enough space for a ceremonial fire also known as a mandap. Though the timing at the invite said 5pm, couples and their families kept arriving till 8:30pm. Young volunteers from an organisation named Interfaith Harmony were tasked to keep a check on relatives and ensure they stayed close to the allotted mandap once the ceremony began. Despite these instructions, there were many relatives who kept getting lost and were later found amid the cacophony that ensued once the clock struck eight.
Greeting the guests at the main gate, the patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council, Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, said that the majority of the couples at the ceremony were from various districts and towns of Sindh. Most hailed from Tharparkar, Badin, Sanghar and Tando Jam Mohammad, he added. Couples from Karachi’s various areas such as Ranchhore Line, Guru Mandir, Manora and Mehmoodabad were also present.
Radha, mother of bride Laxmi, was beside herself with joy when she spoke about her daughter’s wedding and that too on such a large scale. “We couldn’t afford the wedding expenses and were planning on a small ceremony at home,” she said, adding that one of her neighbours in Saddar informed her about the mass wedding that takes place every year.
“Seeing so many people here, especially when they stop by and ask if we need anything, means a lot. I couldn’t have given my daughter that. It’s more than we expected,” she added, beaming.
Mr Vankwani could be seen doing rounds to check if things were in order. He shared how only couples who had gotten permission to get married were selected. “We help with arranged or love marriages only when the families are involved in every step of the decision making. Similarly, it is the same case with inter-caste marriages. We don’t get involved in their personal squabbles and ensure that the process is clear to all the parties involved,” he said.
To ensure this, a certificate is filled by a parent or a guardian as a guarantor followed by the staff at PHC handing them a list of gifts that the council will gift to the couple. Around Rs 60,000 is spent per couple, says one of the members of the PHC, Soniya Chandnani. One of the most important steps, she says, is the requirement of a National Identity Card of the couple along with other supporting documents “to avoid being conned since most of these girls and boys look younger than their age.”
Chandnani also spoke about the need of a Hindu Marriage Bill. The bill was presented by the fourth National Commission on the Status of Women in 2011 and was followed up by the chief justice who instructed Nadra to amend the rules in registering Hindu marriages. The issue of having a proper Hindu marriage law is necessary as it affects Hindu women much more than the men, says Chandnani.
She further said: “The absence of a proper law means that men can go around getting married twice or thrice without the knowledge of their wives. The women don’t have proper documents to produce if in a case it is demanded from them.”
The law was deferred in June 2015 by the National Standing Committee of Justice, Law and Human Rights after much fanfare was made about the Supreme Court judgement of 2014 demanding the government ensure religious rights of the minority. “The bill is still doing the rounds of the assembly. Once it is made into a law, [Hindu] women will get the right to question their husbands or ask for a divorce from a court of law,” she added.
Unbeknown to all of this were families and couples happy to receive enough space to arrange their marriage ceremony, while waiting for almost six decades to have a proper law of their own.
Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2016