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CULTURE: MARRYING TOGETHER, DEBT FREE

February 25, 2018

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Couples wait for the wedding ceremony to be performed | Photos by the writer
Couples wait for the wedding ceremony to be performed | Photos by the writer

At a hall in Tando Adam, one can spot happy couples with their families. The hall has been partitioned with strings of marigolds, jasmine and roses which add an air of festivity to the gathering. At this mass wedding, four Muslim couples and 30 Hindu couples tied the knot which they would have otherwise been unable to do so due to poverty. The total estimated cost of this function: 2.74 million rupees for 2,000 guests.

Sindh is known as the land of tolerance, Sufism and interfaith harmony and this celebration of diversity was on display at the event.

“The prime purpose of this mass marriage is to support those families who are unable to get their daughters and sons married due to lack of resources. I believe this service binds humanity,” says soft-spoken Raju Baba, the president of Uderolal Welfare Organisation (UWO) Tando Adam and the chief organiser of the grand event.

A recent mass-wedding in Sindh was unique in that it was an inter-faith affair

The slogan ‘Service for all, service for God’ reflected the goal of the event to include people of all faiths and ethnicities and was the main reason why people from all walks of life and professions gathered at this event conducted by UWO under the auspices of the Hindu Panchayat.

Many of the guests appreciated the interfaith element of the ceremony. “This is the fair of love and peace; people shouldn’t be kept apart on the basis of religion,” says Ghulam Shabir, a father of one the grooms who participated in the event.

A Hindu couple takes their vows in the presence of fire
A Hindu couple takes their vows in the presence of fire

Another father, Surjo, points out, “God is one for all, be it a Hindu or a Muslim. God looks out for the poor, He never forgets them.”

As weddings have become grand, opulent affairs, community leaders across the globe are pushing for mass weddings to make it easier for financially struggling couples to get married. In Tando Adam, the first such mass wedding took place last year when 15 poor Hindu couples tied the knot.

Aly Bossin, a professor from Lahore, agrees with Dr Burgri, pointing out that, while mass weddings have become more popular in the West, few take place in Pakistan. “It is good to give them a debt-free start in life. It is marvellous and should be held year after year. ”

This year, however, the mass wedding included both Hindu and Muslim couples. The ceremonies were, of course, conducted according to their respective religions: a pandit was present for the Hindu couples and a maulana for Muslim couples. But do people really want such mass weddings instead of an event they can call their own?

A Muslim bride signs the nikahnama
A Muslim bride signs the nikahnama

“The excitement of guests and couples is the straightforward answer to your question,” says Hotchand Karmani, president of the Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC). “Often marriages don’t take place and are delayed for many years as parents do not have the means to give dowry to their daughters.”

A few guests from outside of the community also shared Karmani’s views. “On the one hand, it is an economically sustainable initiative and, on the other, it is [a] humanitarian [act], involving love, care and kindness,” says Dr Afsana Burgri.

Another guest, Aly Bossin, a professor from Lahore, agrees with Dr Burgri, pointing out that, while mass weddings have become more popular in the West, few take place in Pakistan. “It is good to give them a debt-free start in life. It is marvellous and should be held year after year. Though common in Europe, it is unusual here,” he says.

After the ceremonies had concluded, the hall was abuzz with activity and excitement: children played up and down the aisles, women and men danced sporadically on Sindhi duhuls (drumming style peculiar to Sindh) and shy brides silently walked with their grooms. Parents beamed with happiness — and relief. “I am a poor farmer, and was worried for my orphaned sister but it is a heaven-sent opportunity,” says the brother of one of the brides. “I think the interfaith harmony is because of poverty, which has no religion,” he said.

All set for the elaborate Hindu wedding ritual
All set for the elaborate Hindu wedding ritual

Roop Mala, a member of the PHC managing committee is particularly happy at the way the event unfolded. “Women in our community sometimes may have to postpone their marriages until they can save up enough for the wedding but they aren’t able to do so and eventually they pass the marriageable age. Mass weddings, like this one, help break the shackles for poor women and their families.”

The writer is a social worker and journalist

Published in Dawn, EOS, February 25th, 2018