Sun, Oct 19, 2014 - Page 14 News List

Young Afghans wed en masse to defy luxury boom

By Emal Haidary  /  AFP, KABUL

Brides, grooms and guests attend a collective wedding ceremony in Ghazni, Afghanistan, organized by independent charity Oswa on Wednesday.

Photo: EPA

The crowd burst into applause as 100 couples enter the hall hand-in-hand, the grooms in simple black suits and brides clad in modest white dresses carrying red flowers. Expensive, lavish weddings have boomed in war-torn Afghanistan in recent years, but some young couples are now bucking the trend and saving money by getting hitched in low-cost mass events.

A sign at the entrance of the hall where the happy couples tied the knot in the large-scale ceremony arranged by religious charity Abul Fazel read: “Blessed is the woman who is easily maintained.”

There was no dancing and the guests were entertained with poetry, stage shows, songs by young girls and a few topical jokes about the turbulent political year.

“Put in all your energy and clap hard so they can come in all at once — we don’t want a second round of applause like the second round of elections,” a presenter told the guests as the couples entered the hall. “We want to finish everything in the first round happily, because there won’t be any [US Secretary of State] John Kerry to solve your problems later.”

Intervention by Kerry helped end Afghanistan’s election standoff and ushered in a power-sharing “marriage” of sorts between new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and rival Abdullah Abdullah.

The Taliban banned showy weddings during their 1996 to 2001 hardline reign, but since the US-led invasion ousted them, billions of US dollars have flooded the nation’s economy and the taste has grown for extravagant weddings.

Limousines, huge wedding halls, multiple receptions and parties with hundreds of guests have become almost compulsory. A single day at a wedding hall in Kabul can cost between US$10,000 and US$20,000 — a gigantic sum in one of the world’s poorest countries.

For the country’s small, rich elite this may not be a problem, but less fortunate couples find themselves pressured to keep up. For those postponing marriage because they feel unable to put on a big enough show, the mass alternative is highly appealing.

“I was engaged for two years; I really could not afford a big wedding party. And then I heard about this organization through media. I registered and today I am getting married,” Mujtaba Rahimi, 24, said as he sat beside his bride.

In a country battered by nearly 40 years of war and whose economy is still largely reliant on foreign aid, it is the groom who traditionally pays for the wedding. It also falls to the groom to pay for parties before and after the big day itself, buy jewelery for the bride and pay huge amounts as dowry.

Civil servant Musa, 29, was engaged for three years, but could not afford a big wedding party.

“Expensive marriages prevent people from marrying... I ask all the youth to stop spending thousands only for one night,” he said.

Hassan Nazeem, from charity Oswa, which hosted the mass wedding, said it cost about US$66,000 to stage the ceremony and the party for about 3,000 guests, including home appliances as gifts for the newlyweds.

Nazeem said the scheme was growing popular: “This is the second time that we are holding such weddings. Last time, 44 couples were wedded in a mass wedding. This time it is 100 couples, all from poor families.”

It is not only the money-saving grooms who enjoyed the mass service; shy bride Fatima, 19, gave her approval from behind her veil.

“I hope these kind of weddings continue to happen so that young couples can start their new life,” she said.

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