After a year-long countdown, Arshi Nisar’s wedding plans are in tatters, with the Kashmiri bride-to-be fearing for her guests’ safety as an Indian security and communications clampdown on the Himalayan valley leaves residents on edge.
The marketing manager had originally planned a three-day extravaganza, including a special make-up session, music, and a huge canopy to accommodate more than 700 guests invited to partake in the traditional 10-to-15 course Kashmiri feast known as wazwan.
But like thousands of families in the troubled region, Nisar has resigned herself to an austere event, with no more than 40 guests in attendance — if they are able to venture out of their homes.
“I grew up dreaming about a grand wedding but there is not much to celebrate because of the situation,” the 29-year-old told AFP.
“Now we have decided on a very simple ceremony but I am still worried (about) how my in-laws and my family will move around in these tense times.”
India’s decision in early August to scrap Kashmir’s autonomy and impose a ban on phone and internet communications has left the region reeling, cutting off its eight-million-strong population from the outside world.
Hundreds of clashes between government forces and protesters have erupted since the order, leaving more than 100 injured.
Authorities have eased the security restrictions in parts of the valley but tensions still run high amid a complete shutdown of businesses, public transport and educational institutions.
Government forces use steel barricades and coils of barbed wire to block roads while protesters stop private vehicles from using the roads, forcing many to remain at home.
Already in the grip of a decades-long insurgency against Indian rule, the heavily militarised region is no stranger to security crackdowns.
But this time, even the usually buoyant wedding industry — a major driver of Kashmir’s economy — is buckling under the strain, with hundreds of notices appearing in newspapers and on television in recent weeks, postponing or cancelling ceremonies.
– ‘Heartbreak’ –
In a status-conscious society famed for its hospitality, weddings have long served as a showcase for wealth and generosity, with guest lists regularly topping 1,500 and costs running upwards of $30,000.
“Families save for years or decades to splurge on weddings,” Bilal, who wanted to be identified only by his first name, told AFP.
Parents start preparing for their child’s marriage almost immediately after birth, he said.
So when only 15 percent of the invited guests turned up for his brother’s wedding this month, “it was a heartbreak for the family,” he said.
For others consumed by wedding preparations, the communications clampdown has made it near impossible to contact suppliers and event managers.
Days before his sister Tehmina’s wedding, Muntazir, who declined to give his last name, is struggling to procure everything from a wedding bed to jewellery and clothing for her trousseau.
“I had placed an order for a bed and given clothes for stitching to the tailor. Both the stores are closed and there is no way to contact them,” the 41-year-old told AFP.
Even hiring cooks and butchers was a challenge because of the communication blackout, he said.
“Weddings are a once in a lifetime event,” he said.
“As a brother I feel gutted by the thought that her wedding is devoid of the traditional colour.”
For bride-to-be Nisar, her September wedding to her boyfriend of five years came after a hard-fought battle with their parents to overcome resistance to the marriage.
“We had a tough time convincing our families for the relationship and this was the time to be happy,” she said.
But, she added: “you cannot have dreams in Kashmir.”