Love in trying times: Despite India-Pak tensions, cross-border weddings continue

Deep Mukherjee, Jaipur: He is an Indian and she a Pakistani and both are busy preparing for their wedding,

unmindful of the rising tensions and spiraling hostilities between their two countries.
Naresh Tewani from Jodhpur is awaiting the arrival of Priya Bachchani of Karachi from across the heavily-fenced border to tie the knot sometime in November. “Though hate rules India-Pakistan ties at the moment, ours will be a relationship rooted in love,” says Tewani.
When Tewani and Bachchani finally take the rounds of the sacred fire and the marriage vow, the pair will join a long list of couples who have overcome physical boundaries and the deep distrust between the two nuclear-armed rivals to live a life together.
Bridging the divide — deepened by the recent attack allegedly by Pakistani infiltrators on an army garrison in Uri that killed 19 soldiers and triggered vitriolic rhetoric from either side — is not easy though.The Bachchanis were finding it difficult to get visas for their India visit, forcing an exasperated Tewani to tweet last week about the uncertainty the duo were facing to foreign minister Sushma Swaraj. Their plight moved the minister, who promptly tweeted back that his fiancé would soon get a visa.
But logistical nightmares notwithstanding, cross-border marriages are flourishing in the western parts of Rajasthan and some 200 such marriages are solemnized every year, according to rough estimates.
“In many cases, these weddings are done with the objective to consolidate old friendships and ties that are still strong even after one of the families migrated to another country,” points out Hindu Singh Sodha of the Jodhpur-based social outfit, Seemant Lok Sanghathan.
The practice is most prevalent among Rajputs from the Sodha community living on both sides of the border. “This is because according to Sodha traditions, they cannot marry within their own community. Since in Pakistan most of the Rajputs are Sodhas, they have no choice but to marry people from India,” points out Man Singh Kanota of the state’s erstwhile Kanota royal family.Kanota’s daughter Padmini married Karni Singh Sodha from Pakistan’s Sindh last year in a big fat wedding.
Locals say Jaisalmer and Barmer are the two districts in Rajasthan where cross-border weddings are most popular. “Apart from Sodha Rajputs, such marriages are also common among members of the Sindhi community. People from places such as Tharparkar, Mithi and Chachro in the Sindh province of Pakistan frequently come here to get married,” explains Sodha.
But visas remain the biggest obstacle for blossoming romances spread across the border. Padmini, for example, is happily settled in Pakistan with her husband. But as her family back home is preparing for the marriage of her brother next month, her Pakistani husband is struggling to get an Indian visa to attend the wedding.Old-timers say the tightened visa regime is in sharp contrast to 1960s when Pakistani and Border Security Force rangers accompanied villagers from either side of the border to join the ‘baraat’ of such marriages.
Acceptance in a foreign land is also more difficult these days. “At times, when I meet the friends of my husband, many of them still regard me as a ‘mehman’ (guest) since I have come from India,” says Padmini.
Her friends back home in India also at times address her as ‘tum Pakistani’ (You are a Pakistani). Padmini, however, insists it’s light-hearted banter and says love binds the two countries.