By Jaideep Sarin
CHANDIGARH: Kulwinder Kaur, 24, was dancing with fellow women dancers on the stage at a wedding function in Maur Mandi town in Bathinda district of southwest Punjab on the night of December 3. There was merry-making and drinking, which is typical of Punjabi weddings. Among the guests celebrating, there were a few openly brandishing weapons. As the music and dance went on, in the din came a few shots from firearms. One of these shots, allegedly fired by a drunk guest, hit Kaur on the head. She became the latest victim of wedding celebrations in Punjab and Haryana.
The same guest, now the main accused in the murder case filed by the police, Lucky Goyal alias Billa, had, minutes before, sought to dance with Kaur but she had refused. The weapon used by him belonged to his friend, who too has been booked. Also booked were the marriage venue owner and the father of the groom -- both for allowing weapons to be brought to the function despite a ban imposed by law.
But none of that -- the arrests and police investigation -- is going to bring back Kaur or give solace to her distraught husband and family. Kaur was three months pregnant when she was killed. She was the bread-winner for her family, which has limited means.
Just over a fortnight before that, in neighbouring Haryana, a self-styled young godwoman and her gang of private securitymen went on a celebratory firing spree at a wedding near Karnal town. Different weapons were used during this exercise. The bullets flew all over and one of them hit a woman guest, Varsha Mehta (mother of two small children), who died later. Two other guests were injured in this incident. The godwoman, Sadhvi Deva Thakur, and her accomplices were arrested after being on the run.
These are not isolated cases.
In both Punjab and Haryana, dozens of people have lost their lives in recent years to the madness of a few people, high on liquor and wielding guns, who add tragedy to celebrations at wedding functions.
While Punjab already has a law under which carrying of firearms to marriage venues is banned, the Haryana government has also now imposed a ban on carrying of weapons following recent incidents of celebratory firing at weddings.
"It has been noticed that people often indulged in celebratory firing during weddings after consuming alcohol. Taking serious note of such incidents, the police department has been directed to put a check on carrying of arms at wedding functions in coordination with the District Magistrate concerned," said Haryana's Additional Chief Secretary Ram Niwas, who issued the ban orders.
Firing in the air is punishable with six months' imprisonment.
Under the law, the onus is on the owner or management of the marriage venue and the host (who is organising the wedding) to ensure that guests do not carry weapons.
"All marriage palaces (venues) have prominently displayed boards across Punjab about the ban on carrying of weapons. But, sometimes, the guests, who are drunk at times, refuse to listen. This leads to unpleasant situations. The police, who are always ready to book marriage palace owners if any incident happens, hardly help to prevent guests from carrying weapons," Anup Singh (name changed), the owner of a marriage venue near Jalandhar, told IANS.
"Punjab has a culture of orchestras, dance troupes and DJs being called for a majority of wedding functions. Drinks are served openly and freely at these functions. Some guests get out of control. Those carrying weapons are the most dangerous. The performers, especially young women, can hardly do anything to control them," Simran Kaur, who works with one of the dance troupes in Bathinda district, told IANS.
Orchestra groups held a protest in Bathinda following the gruesome killing of Kulwinder Kaur. They sought security for their performers at wedding functions.
"Our artists are performing for their bread and butter. We want security and dignity in our profession," said Manga Singh, owner of Kulwinder's dance troupe.
Police officers say that cases are registered whenever there is a complaint or a killing or injury.
"At times, even in cases where people are killed, both parties reach a compromise and do not register a complaint. A five-year-old child was killed this year in Mohali at a wedding function firing. A case was registered but the family reached a compromise after Rs 2 lakh was paid to the victim's family. They did not pursue the case," a Punjab Police officer said.