Marriage In Kyrgyzstan- ‘Eliminating’ Dowry Through Kidnapping

Posted on June 7, 2012 in GlobeScope

By Anila Kurian:

Weddings are one of those celebrations that are celebrated grandly in every country and religion. Each country or regions have their own fashion of celebrating the legal contract between a man and woman. In India, it’s a week’s long gala with lots of colors and ceremonies. In most of the Western countries, it’s mostly a day’s party done grandly. But in Kyrgyzstan, they have an entirely different tradition.

When a man comes of age, he starts looking for a bride. Everywhere else that we’ve heard of, the custom usually follows with the bride-to-be and groom-to-be meet each other and their family carries on with the other procedures. This is how it’s generally done. In Kyrgyzstan, the groom has to prove that he is a man enough to handle things, so he kidnaps his bride which is called ala kachuu, translating as grab and run. As this process is nothing unusual in Kyrgyzstan, the groom hires a taxi or takes his own vehicle and follows the girl he likes. Without her knowledge, he and his friends kidnap her and take her to his home. Once she is home, the women in the family have to put the jooluk (a white scarf for acceptance) on her head for the rest of the wedding ceremony to take place. This practice can take hours or days as the bride does not want to get married. Finally, or eventually, she’ll give up and agree to wear the jooluk.

Now that one thing is tackled, the groom and the family prepare all the scrumtious food that they can and head out to the bride’s house, along with a goat. Once they arrive at the bride’s home, they apologize for kidnapping their daughter but ask for their blessings to proceed with the wedding. The girl’s family also gives in and agrees for the ceremony to take place. With everyone’s blessing, the kidnapper and the kidnappee get married and celebrate their life together. The festivity extends on to the next day as the bedcover that was used for the newlyweds the previous night is hung for display to show that the girl was a virgin. This of course follows with lots of vodka and delicious food.

The practice of ala kachuu in Kyrgyzstan has been illegal for years, especially when Soviet Union was ruling them. Once they became an independent nation, they started to incorporate their ancient traditions all over again. The bride kidnapping is very common in Kyrgyzstan as 68% to 75% of marriages are done following this ‘tradition’. The Kyrgyz usually wait till the girl has completed her high school and then kidnap her, as she becomes an easy target.

Even after knowing that it’s illegal and can provide them for a maximum three-year imprisonment, many of the cases don’t go through as even the cops have done the same thing. Even if the kidnappers are caught in action, they always get away by paying a small fine. When the girl is kidnapped, she cries her lungs out for help, but the neighbors just stand there and watch. Even after the girl weeps and refuses the jooluk, she isn’t given that much attention because the Kyrgyz believe that every good marriage begins in tears.

Many of these marriages also end up in suicide for which the groom’s family is not charged for. With the protest of many kidnapped daughter’s parents, the bill for bride kidnapping was sent in to the parliament. Unfortunately, on January 26th, the bill lost support due to a provision that could prevent the common yet illegal practice of polygamy.

If a Kyrgyz is questioned about this tradition of bride kidnapping, he would just smile and reply, “Why not? Aren’t we eliminating the whole dowry system by just kidnapping the bride? We don’t see anything wrong with this, and you shouldn’t either.” If everything in this world was just ignored, we are doomed.