Muslim men and women lined up along both sides of the street leading to the house of Pyaray Lal Bhat. Inside the house, women — mostly Muslim — sing songs of marriage to welcome the groom. These heartwarming scenes of communal harmony took the groom, his family and friends by surprise as the wedding procession rolled into Ichigam village in central Kashmir.
Ichigam in Budgam district houses seven Kashmiri Pandit families, who did not migrate from the Valley when militancy erupted in Kashmir in 1990. There are around 1,400 Muslim households.
On the wedding day, hundreds of Muslim neighbours poured in to greet the Hindu family.
“It (the scene at the village) was a pleasant surprise for all of us but more so for the groom and the guests accompanying him,” Bhat, whose 23-year-old daughter Preeti Bhat was the bride, said.
Preeti, a private school teacher, married Ashu Krishen, a migrant Kashmiri Pandit, who returned to the Valley and settled at Sheikhpora village in Budgam.
It was not only Thursday that the Muslim neighbours visited Bhat’s house.
“For all these days, our Muslim women neighbours were here singing the marriage songs on my daughter’s wedding… All these days, the entire village was here participating in our happy moments,” Bhat said.
He also said the village has a history of communal harmony. In early 1990s, when the village’s Hindu temple was damaged due to bad weather, the Muslim villagers rebuilt it from the donations collected to build a mosque in the village.
“The temple was rebuilt by the Muslims during the peak of militancy,” Bhat (59) said. The villagers give credit for this atmosphere of harmony to the local Muslim trust — the Imam Zaman Trust.
“We have always been for the brotherhood and amity,” said a villager, Arshad Hussain.