February 14th, 2021
By Umar Bacha
Text by Shahrazad Agha
Colourful and shimmering, Himmat Begum could not hide the joy and happiness that made her cheeks flush, and her eyes shine. She had waited years for this day, and it felt like a dream come true.
“Whenever I was in pain or in sorrow, I would feel his absence…he was nowhere around to console me,” said the bride, dressed in a vivid red, traditional wedding dress with gold edges. “Now, I feel like the luckiest person alive. I got engaged believing that we would be together again someday. I knew God would give us justice.”
Himmat Begum, had spent too long nurturing nothing but pain and heartache. For nine years, she waited for the only man she ever loved and admired, and for nine years that man whiled away in a dinghy prison cell. Finally, the pain washed away, when her beloved Baba Jan, a 42-year-old, climate change activist from Hunza who was imprisoned for his political leanings and stance, was released on November 27, 2020.
Perhaps she draws her strength and courage from her name. The life sentence awarded to her fiancé in 2011, for allegedly ‘inciting’ people against the Gilgit-Baltistan Government, would have meant that her wait would have been an eternal one.
But she held onto the hope of seeing Baba Jan an exonerated, free man one day, and then their life together would finally begin.
On December 25, 2020, Baba Jan and Himmat Begum finally united in a fairytale wedding, which locals are confident was the ‘biggest wedding ceremony’ in Nasirabad valley’s history.
“People would always ask me why I got engaged with Baba Jan and many even told me to give it up, while there was still time,” she said. “It was in good faith, but I refused. I always told them that I knew deep in my heart, that one day the court would overturn his life sentence and he would come back to me.”
Baba Jan is so widely admired across the region, that while Hunza is known for its multitude of cultures, their wedding was attended by people of various cultural backgrounds, and from different parts of the country.
Even the Member of the National Assembly and leader of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, Mohsin Dawar, made an appearance and danced along with everyone.
The program was festive – as weddings traditionally are in Gilgit-Baltistan. There was dancing where the young and the old, both, swayed to the local music playing during the ceremony.
Expert percussionists beat on the dhols with sticks, and the bridegroom clad in a typical Gilgiti white suit with embroidered leaves, also joined in, and danced to his heart’s content – it was a mix of the ecstasy of freedom, and the joy at his own wedding.
A ‘LONG DISTANCE’ ROMANCE
Himmat Begum was not in the least bit shy when it came to owning her man.
“I had heard a lot about Baba Jan when I was in the university hostel,” she said. “I had never met him, but I had heard so much, and I was impressed by him since then. It was only later that he too became interested in me,” she said matter of factly.
Very soon after their engagement, however, Baba Jan warned her not to get too involved in his politics.
“When we got engaged, he told me clearly what kind of politics he stood for,” said Himmat. “I also told him, that as long as he stood for the truth and for the right thing, I would always support him in his political activities.” The imprisonment may have just been a true test for her.
“Sometimes I would get very lonesome, and very concerned about him too. I would try and call him but I would not be able to reach him. His glaring absence was felt most when I would be at an event and he would not be there with me.”
And while she promised to be a supportive partner, it seems as if both people are strong-willed, and know themselves very well. Even on their wedding day, they are not afraid to show a difference of ideas!
An exuberant and pleased Baba Jan gets tongue-tied as he is asked about his feelings.
“Well, this was more of an ‘arranged marriage situation’, like when my family went to ask for her hand in marriage and then she and her family accepted the proposal,” he chortles – his happiness belies his statement though. “But I think she is the best person to talk to about this. Himmat Begum has displayed a lot of himmat, especially because I was a life-term prisoner.”
But Himmat Begum seemed to rubbish this at once.
“My husband may think that it is an arranged marriage, but for me, it’s nothing but a love marriage,” she says.
At one point during the wedding, she looked at him lovingly and said, “I have always been impressed by him – he is my role model.”