Friday, April 29, 2005
INSANE That's the only way to characterize the custom Craig S. Smith explores in his report from Kyrgyzstan--a must-read--in Saturday's New York Times.
More than half of Kyrgyzstan's married women were snatched from the street by their husbands in a custom known as "ala kachuu," which translates roughly as "grab and run." In its most benign form, it is a kind of elopement, in which a man whisks away a willing girlfriend. But often it is something more violent.
Recent surveys suggest that the rate of abductions has steadily grown in the last 50 years and that at least a third of Kyrgyzstan's brides are now taken against their will.
The custom predates the arrival of Islam in the 12th century and appears to have its roots in the region's once-marauding tribes, which periodically stole horses and women from rivals when supplies ran low. It is practiced in varying degrees across Central Asia but is most prevalent here in Kyrgyzstan, a poor, mountainous land that for decades was a backwater of the Soviet Union and has recently undergone political turmoil in which mass protests forced the president to resign.
Kyrgyz men say they snatch women because it is easier than courtship and cheaper than paying the standard "bride price," which can be as much as $800 plus a cow.
Family or friends often press a reluctant groom, lubricated with vodka and beer, into carrying out an abduction.
Once a woman has been taken to a man's home, her future in-laws try to calm her down and get a white wedding shawl onto her head. The shawl, called a jooluk, is a symbol of her submission. Many women fight fiercely, but about 80 percent of those kidnapped eventually relent, often at the urging of their own parents.
The practice has technically been illegal for years, first under the Soviet Union and more recently under the 1994 Kyrgyz criminal code, but the law rarely has been enforced.
Brutal as the custom is, it is widely perceived as practical. "Every good marriage begins in tears," a Kyrgyz saying goes.