West Bengal witnessed a rush to get hitched to beat pandemic blues last year, bringing some cheers to the beleaguered wedding industry.
More than 1.8 lakh weddings were registered in the state last year, generating a business of around ₹30,000 crore.
This was almost double the number registered in 2020, as per figures available with the registrar general of marriages. In 2020 about one lakh weddings took place in the state.
“The number of marriages registered in 2021 was not only more than the previous year’s tally of about 1 lakh but also highest in the recent past,” said an official at the registrar general’s office. He said the number increased as due to the strict lockdown, many had to postpone their weddings in the first year of the pandemic – 2020.
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The most number of weddings in 2021 took place in November and December, just after the intensity of the second wave of COVID-19 had waned, the official said.
“My marriage was to take place in May 2020, but it had to be postponed due to COVID-19 induced restrictions. After the COVID-situation started showing some sign of improvement in the state in September last year, we decided to get over with the ceremony and fixed December 1 as the much-awaited wedding date,” said Sanjoy Ghosh, a software engineer and a resident of Kolkata’s Sonapur area.
Many sociologists, however, attribute the rush to pressing social issues such as economic hardship, feeling of loneliness and paternal death. They say that the actual number of weddings that took place last year would be more as many marriages, particularly illegal child marriages, did not / don’t get registered.
“Factors such as socioeconomic insecurity also led to this spurt in weddings,” said Debadyuti Karmakar, who teaches sociology at the Kalyani University.
The contention is further justified by the fact that when in-person classes resumed in the state in mid-November, several schools and madrassas had found that some of their female students were married off because their family could no longer bear the cost of their education.
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Headmasters of Nilarpur Raja Rammohan Vidyapith in Hooghly, Kanaknagar SD Institution at Hingalganj in North 24 Parganas district, Noor Jahanara Smriti High Madrasah at Farakka in Murshidabad and many other institutions flagged the problem.
Besides poverty, Karmakar said, during the lockdown many had started feeling lonely being confined at home and they felt that marriage could provide some respite from the isolation.
A 28-year-old struggling graphic designer, Arnab Roy, agrees. He had been in a steady relationship for the last four years, but did not want to tie the knot before securing his career. But the lockdown forced him to change his mind.
“We could not meet each other for months altogether. Suddenly, life looked too unpredictable so we decided to get married,” he added.
The nuptial rush, however, came as a windfall for the wedding industry, which was badly hit a year ago. According to an assessment of the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) weddings in the state generated a business of over Rs 30,000 crore last year.
The CAIT office-bearers say the trend was not Bengal-specific as the wedding industry did brisk business across the country last year.
Around 25 lakh weddings were solemnised in the marriage season from November 14 to December 14 across India, registering a seasonal turnover of about ₹3 lakh crore, according to the CAIT.
The traders’ body is now apprehensive that the current restrictions due to the fresh spike in COVID-19 cases could cause a huge loss to the sector, particularly in the wedding season beginning from January 14.
As per the CAIT assessment, about 30 lakh weddings were to take place from January 15 to March 31. Many of these weddings will now be either cancelled or curtailed.
The government has restricted participation of 50 people per wedding after the onslaught of third wave this month.