x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Wedded to guns at traditional ceremonies

Indian marriage celebrations turn deadly as firing of weapons becomes a fast-growing trend among the 'quick-rich' class.

NEW DELHI // For centuries, Indian weddings were defined by the lavish banquets, colourful celebrations, hospitality and traditional rituals. Of late, the marriage parties have been turning deadly as the firing of weapons has become a more frequent part of the celebrations. Last week, Vishwajeet Sharma, 29, was about to enter the marriage hall in Ghaziabad, located on the peripheries of New Delhi, when his friends and relatives fired dozens of rounds into the air. One of the bullets pierced the neck of a drum player, killing him. In the melee that followed the incident, other drummers fought with the guests. The situation was brought under control only after the police arrived and arrested the youth who fired the fatal shot.

Surendra K Verma, the senior police officer for Ghaziabad, said police booked Umesh Singh under Section 304 of Indian penal code - culpable homicide not amounting to murder. For Mr Sharma, the groom, the incident meant an end to his wedding plans. The bride decided not to marry into the family after all and refused to reconsider her decision despite an extended round of coaxing by family members. "This is not an isolated incident. Some days back, in a similar incident, a drunken reveller nephew shot his uncle from his licensed pistol. Fortunately he survived the bullet shots. We have filed around 13 similar cases in last two months," Mr Verma said.

In January, a 12-year-old boy, Rohit Singh, was killed in Ghaziabad after a reveller from the bride's side of the wedding party fired in the air. The bullet hit the boy in the head. No arrest has been made in the case. Although the law in New Delhi and most other places in India prohibits the carrying and using of guns in public, the government in the city of Chandigarh took the additional step of banning the possession of weapons at marriage parties after a spate of firing incidents were reported, some of them fatal. According to social scientists, the disturbing trend is not part of true Indian culture, but an outgrowth of the emergence of a "new-money" class in Indian society.

"It's quick-rich class, who acquired money either by selling their precious land or [on the] stock markets or by other easy means, who want to celebrate with power and glamour. Normally marriage celebrations were about love and gaiety," said C P Bhambri, a social scientist and former head of the sociology department at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. One of the manifestations of the rapid change in the cultural and social fabric of India caused by globalisation is the disregard for traditional rituals, he said. "The youth are more interested in drinking and other lewd activities during marriage parties." "Besides flaunting guns, consumerist culture demands a person can enjoy or can be happy only if he is drunk. In an inebriated state one does not know what he is doing," said Prof Zubair Meenai, head of social work studies at Jamia Milia Islamia University. "Marriages [have become] more about money and flaunting it. Most of the marriages have to do more with pomp and show and less relations," said Sumit Agarwal, a New Delhi-based wedding event manager. "On an average a family spends one to 1.5 million rupees [Dh71,000 to Dh107,000] on decorations, fireworks, music and liquor. There is a social pressure to outdo each other and to have a more exciting function than the last one attended." Mr Verma, the Ghaziabad police officer, said the responsibility for ending the weapons firing at weddings lies with the families of the bride and groom. "They have to be careful and watchful. Elements which they feel can create trouble should be shunted immediately to avoid problems, and more important the elders have to play their role," he said. jandrabi@thenational.ae