This article originally appeared on VICE India.
Maybe it's got to do with Instagram culture or just this incessant need we all feel to capture each and every mundane moment of lives, but modern weddings involve more than just people showing up, getting shitfaced and celebrating the union of the couple paying for the open bar. They're also often preceded by elaborate pre-wedding photoshoots, because how else will the 500-odd people who follow you on Instagram know that you first looked eyes with your to-be spouse at a cooking class (and not a dating app, of course) and have been shamelessly smitten ever since? But, if you live in the capital city of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh and belong to the Jain, Gujarati or Sindhi community, your pre-wedding photoshoot could end up costing you more than a photographer's fee. Some groups in these communities have now issued a diktat declaring that pre-wedding photoshoots are prohibited and any community member caught engaging in this act will be boycotted mercilessly.
"Pre-wedding shoot is wrong,” Sanjay Patel, who identifies himself as the President of the Bhopal Gujarati Community told NDTV. “It has been felt that many marriages break even before they take off, so our executive body has decided to stop this tradition." Because of course, it’s the photographs that affect the marriage and not the people fake-smiling in them.
But more infuriatingly, the Madhya Pradesh public relations minister PC Sharma has backed this ban, saying that such pre-wedding photoshoots are apparently “not our culture.” According to this wise man who spoke with ANI on how to make a marriage work, “If people start following old trends and cultures again, their marriages will become more successful and joyful,”
And as if that wasn’t arbitrary enough, male choreographers who are usually hired to teach guests how to groove at the musical functions that are typical in an Indian wedding, have also been barred. Additionally, the Jain community has also disallowed women from dancing in the marriage processions, saying all these factors affected the social bonding of their community. "It is a collective decision and those who will not adhere to this will be ostracised from the community," Patel told India Today.
“Also there is no need for hiring a choreographer to train women and girls for the Mahila Sangeet functions, as such practices promote western culture, which promotes vulgarity. What’s the need for training in such dances, when we already are well trained since generations in dance forms like Garba,” he told The New Indian Express in an attempt to justify his position.
Meanwhile, Pramod Himanshu Jain, the head of the Bhopal Digambar Jain Samaj, said such strict action was necessary after the community’s spiritual guru said these modern practices were “obscene”. “Our community’s religious and spiritual gurus have objected to growing trend of pre-wedding shoots and hiring of male choreographers to train women and girls for Mahila Sangeet ceremonies. They’ve particularly objected to it, as such practices are promoting vulgarity and obscenity in the name of colourful marriage functions,” said Jain to the same publication.
Meanwhile, former bureaucrat Bhagwan Dev Israni, who heads the Sindhi Panchayat, said, “A similar draft is being prepared by our community elders also. On many occasions, the marriages have broken after pre-marriage photo shoots. Why can’t we wait for the marriages to solemnize if we are so crazy about photo shoots?”
Considering how common it is for couples to plan pre-wedding photoshoots and after-movies that encompass the festive atmosphere of the celebrations, these regressive outlooks issued by influential community heads take us back to the ancient time when some tribes believed clicking photographs was bad because it stole your soul. The Sindhi community in Chhattisgarh issued a similar diktat sometime in 2018, saying that people caught indulging in the crime of pre-wedding shoots would be fined up to Rs 10,000. However, many members of the community were pissed off about this and said that no single person or organisation stood for the sentiments of the entire community.
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