In Kerala, a new tradition of wedding 'hooliganism' is leading to much misery. Films like The Hangover, in which the groom's friends throw a spanner in the works and nearly bring the wedding to a halt, may seem amusing on screen. However, in real life such pranks and upsets can have serious consequences.

On March 19, 2018, the Kolavellur police in Kannur arrested five youths for 'kidnapping' and illegally detaining a bridegroom on his wedding day. A teary-eyed father of the groom walked into the Kolavellur police station after his son, Nabeeh, went missing and his mobile phone remained switched off on the day of his wedding.

Nabeeh's relatives and the bride's family were left waiting at the bride's house for the nikah. Later, the police found out that Nabeeh had been abducted by his friends as part of what is called "wedding ragging".

For the first time in the history of such instances which have been prevalent in northern Kerala for over a decade now, the police arrested the concerned men, based on the complaint lodged by Nabeeh's father. The friends had abducted the groom and detained him for over four hours, also denying him access to a cell phone.

There have been cases where the wedding was called off or the couple separating soon after the wedding because of what had happened. People have even sustained grievous injuries because of such "pranks". From fun and games, it has now grown into serious, almost criminal activities, like kidnapping and public shaming.

“Nabeeh’s friends did it for fun, without realising the pain that we had undergone for those hours. It was not a decent thing to do and I do not want the youngsters to repeat this. That was when I decided to lodge a police complaint. Such incidents are increasing in our locality,” Abdul Khader, Nabeeh's father, says.

However, the youngsters who are involved in such acts have a different take on the subject.

“It is not hooliganism but a friendly revenge. We do it for fun with no intention of harming anyone. Grooms who had done such things in the past will pay the price when it is their wedding. So if they want to avoid it, it's best not to participate in such acts during others' wedding," Gineesh PV, a native of Kolavellur, says.

While it is not known if Nabeeh had participated in such activities in the past, those justifying such acts don't seem to consider it necessary to address the pain and suffering that the bride and her family undergo.

Not long ago, in Azhiyur, in Kozhikode district, a bride fell unconscious when the groom’s friend dressed up as a pregnant woman and claimed at the wedding that the bridegroom was the father of "her" unborn child. When the bride fainted from shock, the prankster pulled out the pillows that he had used to mimic a swollen belly.

Another case, back in 2011, in Thrissur, had more severe consequences. A wedding was called off when the families of the groom and bride clashed inside the wedding hall after hooligans created a ruckus inside.

In yet another case, a bride temporarily lost hearing in one ear when a cracker thrown by one of the revellers exploded near her during the wedding night. None of these incidents has been reported seriously and neither has any legal action been taken.

People of north Malabar have got so accustomed to this shade of pranking that many do not even bother to report such instances. Wedding hooligans take over the stage on the wedding day, creating trouble during the tying of the thaali, or during the wedding procession of the bride and groom or sometimes even before the bride or groom arrive at the venue.

From facing the prospect of guests walking out of the venue without partaking in the feast, to suffering financial losses because of damages to the venue caused by the hooligans, the fall-out of such "fun" is far from light.

Many women, who observe the hooliganism, blame alcohol for the behaviour of the men.

“Now no wedding is complete without a booze party. The youngsters forget about the importance of the occasion and engage in all sorts of nuisance during weddings. The women, who have no role in such activities, are left to suffer,” K Sarala of Perambra, who claims to have witnessed many such incidents during weddings, says.

Unnikrishnan (70), hailing from Balussery, says that the victims are paying a price for their past acts.

“Almost all the youngsters are involved in such acts. So everyone gets to pay a price when it is their turn. These youngsters do not care for the elderly in the family who have spent their lives earning for the wedding of their children," he says.

The rise in such incidents has prompted political parties and some religious organisations to form special wings to combat the issue. Even the DYFI, the youth wing of CPI(M), had urged its cadre to fight against wedding hooliganism. However, till date, nothing much has changed on the ground.

“Only fear can stop wedding ragging. So we request people to come forward and lodge complaints against marriage hooligans,” Dhananjaya Das says.