A commonly followed tradition in Southern Russia turned tragic on October 26 this year when two well-known family clans in the Ingushetia region staged a shootout over the kidnapping of a 21-year-old bride, Khagi Yevloeva. The so-called reason for this shootout happened to be a ritual called “bride stealing” wherein men attempt to kidnap their prospective brides. The bride’s family would attempt to get back the girl before the next morning, failing which the girl would be declared unchaste, and the two families would get together to talk out the terms of the marriage.
While most cases of ‘bride stealing’ end with both families celebrating the victory of the groom and the alliance of both families (some families even arrange the entire incident), others end with minor trysts with the law. However, the shootout that happened on October 26 was a major felony, partly because it occurred in broad daylight, and partly because it led to the injury of several innocent bystanders.
The groom from the neighboring Aushevs clan, who was not approved of by her family, in fact kidnapped the so-called bride, Khagi Yevloeva, for the fourth time. Each kidnapping incident ended with Yevleova’s relatives managing to trace and take her back home. However, after the fourth attempt, the families decided to settle the matter once and for all, and enacted a typical Wild West shootout right in the middle of Nazran, the regional capital. A witness managed to record the entire incident on video, which was telecasted later on national television, and went on to gain worldwide criticism and backlash.
In the video, two men from the Aushev clan are seen entering the scene with face masks and automatic weapons. They spot Yevleova’s relative, a police officer, and open fire on him. The police man returns fire, killing both men on the spot. The video also shows an unidentified brawler hitting one of the gunmen with a baseball bat. However, what was heart wrenching to watch was liberal spray of bullets during the shootout which managed to break the windows of a passing bus. Some of these bullets also wounded a 9 month pregnant woman who later died in the hospital due to the injuries.
The police officer belonging to Yeuleova’s clan has been arrested on counts of murder while the groom (surname Bogatyrev) is still at large. And the various imperfections in the law have prevented the local authorities from taking the case further, with the local police claiming that they would be able to take action against the kidnapper only if the victim comes forward to press charges.
In spite of the brutality of the incident, the Kremlin appointed leader of the Ingushetia region, President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov called on the residents of the republic on National Unity Day (November 4) to preserve the nation’s cultural values and historic traditions. However, if one were to move back time by a few months, it would be noted that Yevkurov himself had called for a conference of the religious and cultural leaders in the region, and had declared that the entire concept of bride stealing was a violation of both the Russian law and basic Islamic beliefs.
The conference resulted in the leaders fixing a fine of about $10000 for anyone who attempts to kidnap a girl on the pretext of “bride stealing.” However, the incident has proved that these regulations do not hold their ground, and the kidnappings are part of a larger tradition that would be literally impossible to uproot.