Marriage has been a vital institution in human civilization. It brought decorum and decency to the fulfillment of the biological needs and procreation. Observance of this cultural institution takes place in the given cultural context .Many cultures consider it as a sacred institution. The west has taken it to bizarre un-natural levels by allowing same sex marriages. In Chitral it has remained closely linked to honour. Marriage is considered more of a bond between two families rather than individuals. Islam did bring some social context to the institution by making it a contractual arrangement to be entered into by two individuals of opposite sexes with free will after having attained majority age of 18 years. In case of underage marriages guardians (Wali) make the decision in the best interest of the child but its repudiation through divorce or khula remains open on the couple’s attaining the age of majority. An ideal marriage in Chitral is the one which carries consent of the couple and their families and in many cases even relatives. By virtue of this consultation best match takes place. In is also in line with Islamic injunction exhorting the believers to consult and achieve synergy before taking a decision (bainahum shoora).
In recent times under the influence of Indian and western cultures this beautiful Islamized cultural institution is undergoing fundamental transformation. New customs drawn from Indian movies have been incorporated in this customary cultural institution. The menace of online marriages has taken away the institution from the social realm making it an individual affair. The likely consequences of this change will not only weaken family institution but also erode social values that we cherish and which give us identity. Parents cannot be absolved of responsibility for this deviation from the norms. Because in most cases parental apathy, generation gap and disregard for the views of children, in matters involving lives of these very children, happen to be responsible for the solo flight on part of children. The worst case scenarios have been observed in cases where one of the couple is residing abroad and the match is decided online without bringing in parents for consultation. The relationship is taken to such a high pitch where lust (misunderstood as love) comes in and overwhelms other passions like blessings of elders, turning human beings into sex animals. In such cases court marriages are resorted to and relatives end up biting their tails as their life time wish to see their near and dear ones in bridal dress, elder’s blessings and rukhsati remain unfulfilled. In Chitral this kind of marriage is equated to an old tradition where young cows are taken to a bull for impregnation, while the right kind of marriage takes place in full public glare and within the cultural context. The more ominous aspect of this phenomenon is that one of them can stumble into a ditch and end up marrying a person on the wrong side of the law or ethics. That is why 80% of such so-called love marriages end up in divorce while the arranged ones have success rate of 80%. Sometimes parental disregard to the consent of their child, to be married off, takes a heavy toll. Recently, a girl forcibly engaged to a boy refused to marry him belatedly. This infuriated the boy’s family members, who decided to kidnap her for marriage. Despite clear legal position providing for safe recovery of the girl, her tribe attacked the house of the boy’s family as per riwaj despite the fact that this riwaj has been replaced by normal laws in 1969 when Chitral State was abolished. This brave girl resisted formalization of the forced nikah till the arrival of police. In many such cases girls commit suicide or elope. In one elopement case, parents would have allowed the daughter to marry the boy of her choice but she was not sure of it and decided to elope. This is a proof of child-parent disconnect and lack of understanding. This girl eloped at the age of 12 but the court refused to accept it and restored parental custody but on attaining 16 years of age, which most Muslim jurists take to be majority age for the purpose of marriage, she again eloped and is now a mother at the age of 17-18. She and girls similarly placed, soon become anemic and lose their luster prompting their husbands to remarry or divorce. Social stereotypes, making a woman dependent on man for a living, tend to encourage this tendency and make women complacent. This stereotype goes counter to the hadith of the Prophet which says that man and woman are the two wheels of the life vehicle and both should be equally empowered.
Right from birth girls are socialized in alienation. Few parents make equal investment in their daughter’s education. Most parents consider them as part of another family. Husband’s house is presented as their real house and they are programmed to undergo every suffering in husband’s house instead of looking towards parent’s house. Some parents tell them that their dead body should come back. That is why girls trapped between the rocks and the deep seas prefer death over humiliation in the hands of husbands and parents. There are no safe houses to shelter such girls. My proposal to donors to construct a safe house for women in distress was shot down on the ground that it was not befitting Chitrali culture. My argument that an inconvenient and dangerous cultural trait should better die out was not accepted. It is heartening that this idea is now receiving some attention. Hopefully one of the NGOs working in Chitral would build such a safe house.
To conclude I would suggest that our socialization process must focus on child education and not marriage as a top priority. Education of children is an investment which should not be driven by gender discrimination. Parents are required to impart quality education to girls to enable them to stand on their own two feet. Their marriage is not a parental obligation; rather it is an individual discretion to create convenience and strong willing partnership for a better life. But for a Muslim child exercise of this discretion is conditioned on meaningful consultation with parents and their consent which is the price he or she can pay back to parents for the sleepless nights that they spent to bring up the child. Only ungrateful children will deny this right to parents and such children will not only have troubled marriages but their children will also pay them in the same coin later in life. This is the law of nature and makafat-e-amal. Our agents of socialization owe it to future generations to groom them futuristically and within the framework of Islam and Chitrali cultural ethos. Stereotypes and expensive customs of the kalasha period must end. Herein lays our true identity and pride as a distinct cultural entity.