The hushed up marriage of a Sikh woman from Kashmir, Manpreet Kaur, to a man within the community has received severe backlash from women across Jammu and Kashmir claiming that women are not anyone’s “property”.
The marriage comes days after Kaur was “handed over” to the family by the J&K Police. Kaur is one of the two Sikh women who were at the centre of a controversy on religious conversion in Kashmir.
On June 29, a picture of Manpreet married to a Sikh man surfaced on social media that sparked outrage and led to expression of displeasure by several women on social media.
“As a Sikh woman myself and that too from Jammu and Kashmir, I am not in favour of such an alliance. If at all the girl was rescued, rather than giving her a breather, she was rushed like a cattle into another arranged agreement. Women are individuals too, they are not anyone’s commodity,” said Navneet Kour, a Sikh woman from Jammu and Kashmir.
The wedding reportedly took place at a gurudwara in Kashmir’s Pulwama district after which the couple and their families flew to New Delhi.
Earlier, protests had broken out in several parts of Jammu and Kashmir by Sikh groups who alleged that the two Sikh women were forcefully converted to Islam and married to Muslim men. One of the women, Danveet, in a video that went viral, had reportedly dismissed the allegations of forced conversion and stated that she married the Muslim man out of her own “free will”.
Manmeet was handed over to the family by the police. The protests started on June 26, when scores of Sikhs staged a protest outside the City Court demanding that Manmeet be handed over to them. According to All Party Sikh Committee leader Jagmohan Raina, the family was not allowed inside the court.
“The family was not allowed inside the court where their daughter was giving a statement along with Shahid Nazir and his family,” Raina said. After the court hearing, the woman was handed over to the family the same evening.
While, the details of the statement recorded by Manmeet before the court are still unknown
but as per the police sources have confirmed to Indian Express that in her recording before the magistrate the woman said that she had married of her “own free will.”
Reportedly, Shahid Nazir Bhat, who is believed to have ‘converted and married’ the Sikh woman is presently in police custody after a complaint of ‘abduction’ was lodged against him.
Those opposing the alleged marriage had also claimed that the Sikh woman was unstable and 18 years old while the Muslim man was in his 60s with two kids. Meanwhile, J&K Police has confirmed to Quint that the woman is actually 26-years old and the man is 29.
Women activists said that the marriage of the Sikh girl has also induced palpable concern among women who have been emotionally triggered by the entire episode.
“Why wasn’t the woman allowed to speak for herself? We don’t know what has really happened. Now, you will see how this episode will be used by political parties to reap benefits. And what about the woman? We really don’t know. The time has come for women of Jammu and Kashmir to raise their voice. The episode has been very emotionally triggering for many women especially in the state,” said Sandhya Gupta from Jammu, who is also the founder of a women’s club, Meri Pehchaan.
Ifra Jan, a Muslim woman from Kashmir, believes that women are treated as “community property”.
While the details of the statement made by the concerned woman are still unknown, the entire narrative so far has allegedly been run largely by Sikh men and their socio-religious organisations leading to questions about woman’s agency and consent.
“Even in the 21st century, women still do not have agency and are treated as community property to be held on to or exchanged as per the wishes of the patriarch. No woman in Jammu and Kashmir would dare to exercise her choice because as demonstrated by her case the police, the courts will not stand by our fundamental rights and shall willingly, meekly and shamelessly bow down to the wishes of men,” she added.
Also read: India Needs to Overhaul Laws on Interfaith Marriage and Religious Conversion