SRINAGAR, KASHMIR, INDIA – Farhat Shah, 40, avoids going out of her house and attending family gatherings because she is still single.
“When I leave the house, I am afraid to meet a neighbor,” the slightly built Shah says. “I know they will be wondering why I am still not married.”
Late marriage is taboo in Kashmir, and unmarried women encounter social stigma as they age, Shah says. They face awkward questions and stares from relatives, neighbors and friends.
More than a decade has passed since Shah’s family started looking for a match for her and her older sister. With much difficulty, they succeeded in finding a match for her sister, who was in her 30s when she married.
But seven years later, the search for Shah’s groom continues.
In Kashmir, families arrange the majority of the marriages, with the help of traditional matchmakers. A matchmaker visits the homes of prospective brides and grooms and collects their information – such as age, occupation, caste and education – then shares it with other families. Families select potential matches based on their preferences.
Shah’s family has sought help from scores of matchmakers but with no success.
“Sometimes we don’t like the families, and sometimes they don’t like us,” Shah says.
Shah says her family is not alone. Other families looking for a match in Kashmir are facing the same ordeal.
Delayed marriage has emerged as a consequence of increasing education in Kashmir, as families’ expectations for children’s partners grow. But the time to fulfill them conflicts with traditional societal pressure to marry young. Adding to dilemma are soaring demands for the dowry and wedding. Meanwhile, experts warn that the trend of later marriages is having negative social, psychological and physiological impacts on people.
Bashir Ahmad Dabla,a professor in the department of sociology and social work at the University of Kashmir, conducted a study, “Emergence of late marriages in Kashmir,” in 2007. This study found that during the last 30 to 40 years, the average marrying age jumped from 24 to 32 for men and from 21 to 28 for women.
“Earlier, the average age of marrying in women was late teens to early 20s,” he says. “But now, it has risen to late 20s, while as of the men has risen to early to mid-30s.”
Dabla says education is driving this delay in marriage.
“The common reasons for this change are modernization, better education and more employment opportunities,” Dabla says. “The more educated people are, the more conscious they become about money and status or getting employment or better employment. It is true of not only Kashmir but any modern society.”
Education is one of the hallmarks of modernization, he says. But education also means people expect better jobs and higher living standards. Attaining them delays the age of marriage.
Khalid Khan, who is in his late 30s and still single, says that modern lifestyles and higher living standards have increased people's expectations for a spouse. Whereas parents used