Pakistani Society, Marriages, and Cultural Tsunami!
By Dr Nadia Khan
Marriage is difficult due to cast, creed, customs, and cost!
In Pakistani society, getting married today is not a straight forward “love affair.”
Somehow if you or your guardians are able to manage a right-match for you then still there are many hurdles such as high cost of process, which might engulf your family financials for coming few years, even after getting you married ‘happily?’
Before reaching to marriage stage, there are number of factors that may crop up from all corners. Choice of right family – as the society mindset is based on families, background, clan, or cast dogma. There are number of casts and creeds requirements, you may notice, by looking at any of the matrimonial page of newspaper, matrimonial (shadi) websites, or advertisements. Among Pakistani society, you will find large differences while choosing partner or family, is based on provincial dichotomy – Punjabi, Sindhi or Baluchi, Pathan or Muhajir.
Just approach to any Muhajir1 family for this matter, you may end up answering questions dating back to 70 or 80 years of your forefathers history such as “from where your kinsmen belonged to in UP or CP or Bihar?” Similarly Shaikh, Arain, Butt, Gujjar, Khokar and so on clan differentiations takes fierce ground for marriage in Punjab province. Likewise Sindhis prefer marriage within their culture, province, background and even families.
The Islamic norm of life-partner choice is looked upon quite rarely. In certain circles marriages are meant for relationship-strengthening or political gains. In today’s ethnic division, inter cast-marriages2 are as awkward as inter-faith marriages and number of killed couples (likely through Karo Kari3culture) are mostly from multi clans while the couples wanted to unit themselves through love & marriage bonds!
After crossing all such hereditary barriers of clans or families, the next hurdle is traditions and culture such as engagement (Mangni), Uptun, Mayoun, Mehndi until reaching the stage of Nikah (marriage ceremony – a document that is signed by both partners in front of two witnesses, traditionally in our society in front of Qazi, who entertains the Nikah) and Valima (a reception after the marriage). If any one within the society, may be due to cost factor, would try to negate such lengthy process, and try to approach to Nikah and Valima only, then he or she would be looked upon as religious zealot without doubt!
By crossing initial barriers, if the partner of your choice is selected (I am referring here traditional arranged marriages that constitute approximately 58% of total marriages in major or small cities of Pakistan) by your family then the cost factor is on top of all above disturbing factors. An average cost of a normal, simple, and cheap marriage ceremony covering Baraat4 & Valima5 receptions (including meal for 1 Those their grand parents had migrated from Indian province of UP, CP, & Bihar in 1947. Their third generation is now grown up mostly in cities like Karachi, Hyderabad, & Nawabshah.
2 This reminds me the case of an influential Khokhar family girl Humaira Abbas & Mehmud Butt in 1999,
See NewYork Times (http://www.nytimes.com/1999/03/25/opinion/25iht-edhass.2.t.html?pagewanted=1 )
4 A reception on the day of marriage – given by the bride family
5 A reception arranged for guests after few days of marriage and arranged by the groom’s family 100 guests) is approximately Pak Rs 200,000 covering Marriage Hall, food, transport and other miscellaneous expenses. This doesn’t include the cost of jewelry or the cloths of bride or groom or the fee of religious scholar (who registers the marriage in Union Council) or other money used for some traditions such as Munh Dekhai (looking at the face of bride first time) and groom has to pay her or to her sisters.
An educated adult who is either having his own job or business (say at the age of 25, which is likely the marriage age for boys) may earn Rs 20,000+ easily in current environment. Basis on that, he has to have approximately Rs 400,000-500,000 (US$4,000-5,000) for a normal and simple marriage. After all marriage is a costly ‘love affair!’
If it is the ‘simple & cheap’ reality then what will a labor does if he has two or three daughters and he earns only Rs 10,000 per month? For those who earn less than that, it is beyond the imaginations6!
Beside all this, the risk of marriage failure is always there – the groom should be good person (I didn’t mentioned the word good Muslim here purposely as the definition of Muslim is changed in current scenario, a good Muslim could be a hardcore terrorist as per new fanatics approach), compromising nature, good earner etc – as per the dreams of every parent! No matter the very less rate of divorce7 in Pakistan is mostly due the compromising nature of women, because of her environment with very few exceptions!
Feudal society with less value for women; hence rape or sexual harassment, selling daughters for small amount of money, or getting them married with elderly men or Holy Book (for the sake of avoiding their share in wealth or property) is common!
67% of Pakistan is based on rural areas; hence the role of a feudal lord remains active in entire country since last 60 years. There are disturbing reports that many family members of peasants and farmers are under protective custody of their local land owner and sometimes not allowed to move freely or get married without the consent of the owner. Or land owners are having their private jails and they follow their own system of justice pertaining to tribal traditions for their people.
With this approach, rape and sexual harassment is common in rural parts of country.
Traditions like getting daughter married with Holy Book for the sake of avoiding her share in family’s wealth or getting baby-girls married with elderly men are still in practice and now being published in print & electronic media.
Society is mostly under the influence of male chauvinism thus laws and legislation is mostly interpreted by male members of the society. ‘Famous’ hadood ordinance is the prime example of this culture; where hundreds8 of women put behind bars for simply being female, failed to produce four evidences of their rape, are now being subject to death punishment with their new-born babies!
6 As per United Nations Human Development Survey that around 50 million people are living in Pakistan below the line of poverty!
7 4% as per www.pap.com.pk
8 According to a report by Pakistan National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) "an estimated 80% of women" in jail in 2003 were there as because "they had failed to prove rape charges and were consequently convicted of adultery." (Jails and prisoners, State of Human Rights 2004, HRCP The number of women "believed to be in jail in March" 2003 according to the HRCP report is 1500.)
However, Mufti Taqi Usmani, an instrumental figure in making the law, has stated that “If anyone says that she was punished because of Qazaf (false accusation of rape) then Qazaf Ordinance, Clause no. 3, Exemption no. 2 clearly states that if someone approaches the legal authorities with a rape complaint, she cannot be punished in case she is unable to present 4 witnesses. No court of law can be in its right mind to award such a punishment9.”
When in 2006, Women Protection Bill was passed; the Chairperson of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf, Imran Khan, a critic of both the bill and the amendments, has also voiced concerns and sceptism calling it an eye-wash but admitted that Yes, the Hudood Ordinance discriminates against women and should be repealed". Others, such as Syed Afzal Haider of the Council of Islamic Ideology have called for the Hudood Ordinance to be annulled by saying that “the Hudood Ordinance should be simply repealed. Any amendments made to it only manage to add to the confusion10.”
Due to deprived culture, number of cases are now into lime light when some one has sold his daughter for paying his small debit (Rs 30,000 or US$ 350) or get a baby girl (of less than 9 or 10 years of age) married with a matured man in his 40s or 50s.
Some school of thoughts linked this with the marriage of Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) with Hazrat Ayesha (RA)11 and treat any action against this approach or any act of female child protection as un Islamic. For those12, it is only said that there are many grown up females available for marriage in our society rather than female child of 8 or 9 years age!
One of the good aspects of Pakistani culture, predominantly in cities, is that the nomenclature of “child marriage13” is not liked by majority!
Low literacy among males, female education is still hard to get especially in remote areas of Pakistan; birth of female child is still not liked in many uneducated classes of Pakistan Even though the overall “actual” literacy rate has not exceeded 40% in last 3 years but female child education in a rural society is yet to take its roots. In remote areas of Pakistan, a girl’s exclusive school and a female teacher is still a dream.
According to USAID education program, “Pakistan continues to face major challenges in meeting the education needs of its citizens. Today, pproximately 20 million school age children do not have access to quality education and literacy rates are extremely low (69 percent for men and 44 percent for women). Low attendance rates, inadequate infrastructure, and poorly trained teachers perpetuate these serious gaps in education, while limited overnment capacity, inadequate funding, poor coordination between national and provincial level governments, and security concerns impede efforts to improve the situation14.”
9 AMENDMENT IN HUDOOD LAWS - The Protection of Women’s Rights Bill
10 Pakistan passes Women Protection Bill
11 Modern debate has proved that she was either 18 or 20 years of her age when married with Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) See also Hazrat Shah wali Ullah Dehlvi’s debate on this subject 12 It is noticed that those they insist on such traditions are non-practicing Muslims with no adherence to daily prayers, Ramadan fasting or Zakat except the child-marriage and somehow its linkage with Islam.
13 See Child Marriage Act (http://www.vakilno1.com/saarclaw/pakistan/child_marriage_restraint_act.htm)
Some parts of the land are still observing the dark-ages notion of bearing female child as a symbol of shame15. This might be interpreted as the financial burden upon guardians starting from schooling till her marriage, dowry, and settlement at her husbands’ home peacefully but the root cause dates back to thousands of years old tribal mentality.
It is also observed among few segments of society that they feed better food16 to male child of the family whereas female infant gets the remaining, if available!
In frontier province, the burning of female schools by so called religious groups17 could represent the male-chauvinistic approach of society towards their female counterparts.
Cities culture; modernization, flimsy attitude, TV, Advertisements, and Films showing different portrait of women. Dramas, art, & theater presenting vulgar image of women, neighboring films & media fondness (bowing to western culture) and false usage of Internet
Contrary to their rural segment, the urban parts of Pakistan mild with trends of modernization, have depicted the entirely different portrait of women. The urban culture is –somehow- borrowed from the West and when it is adopted in a country where lords and ethnic culture is in high demand, the dilemma is worth noting! While borrowing this culture, the trend-setters have forgot that in West, women is treated as the earning members of the family, she has right to stay outside the family home, for many nights, without any moral obligations, concept of boy-friend is equivalent to legitimate relationship (relatively unknown to Pakistani society) and baby after such illicit relationship is considered as legitimate child. With all such ‘moral-tools’ still the women face worst humiliation in West than in any part of world!
But in Pakistani urban society, no matter how modernized she is, she has to live with same set of people (her family), Eastern culture, conservative approach & sensitive workplace. Though our ‘progressive culture’ is neither Eastern nor Western and it has no proper link with religion. Progressive Women Actions forums and association had sought the solution by raising the financial status of women (making her the earning member of the family) like the West, whereas hardcore religious groups have confined the women within home boundaries. There’s no common ground between the two extremes and hence the society is taking its shape with no supervision!
In large metropolis society, woman is presented as a symbol to attract men. Be it an advertisement over print or electronic media or a theater’s film the attitude is to present her as symbol of sex. Remaining goal is achieved through the neighboring 15 “And when the news of (the birth of) a female (child) is brought to any of them, his face becomes dark, and he is filled with inward grief! He hides himself from the people because of the evil of that whereof he has been informed. Shall he keep her with dishonour or bury her in the Earth? Certainly, evil is their decision.” (16:58-59)
16 “Does son preference influence children’s growth?” by Sarah A Burgard University of California (http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/49g151m2 )
17 Taliban or Maulana Fazlullah has been charged for burning hundred of female schools (see http://blogs.reuters.com/pakistan/2009/01/17/pakistani-taliban-force-girls-schools-to-close/) whereas other Taliban says that they support ‘girls education’ (see http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?c=Article_C&cid=1213871577178&pagename=Zone-English-news/NWELayout) film-industry that had penetrated in our society as main ingredient of our weekend life wherein short-selves, hip skirts, partial nude dances, vulgar dialogues, pathetic shows & adult topics have ignited the flame of every male – be him pious or transgressor!
Though drama, poetry, & literature are not inline with glamorous theatrical art18 which is presented every evening in major theaters and flamboyant magazines are readily available throughout the country. All these are adding a new syndrome of progressiveness to our society sometimes directly and often indirectly!
Internet is a tool that is primarily used all over the world for quick communication, reference, research, and educational purpose. It is used in Pakistan for what it is not meant for! After religion or religious information, Internet carries world largest paid set of contents pertaining to porn or adult information. Unfortunately, in Pakistan this ‘treasure’ is available for everyone’s access without any proxy or restriction19.
Hence, the demand of vulgar contents has transformed from old VHS videos to sophisticated new DVD; download from Internet treasure; a doable actions!
This has ignited the natural male-desire up to an extent where we are hearing rape, child abuse, and small female child killing (after abuse) cases quite occasionally!
Drifting away from Islamic culture, less impact of Islamized culture upon poor people (still bonded with tribal traditions), not a positive role of religious authorities in remote areas, bonded with feudal lords (interpreting religions as per material requirements)
All this has happened – just because of one simple reason. The society which wasn’t transformed in to a real Islamic group of people, soon after partition from Indian sub continent, has build up the evils of dark ages where female child is not buried alive but kept to a level where she would die gradually. Religious parties are either fully involved in politics – trying to take control of governmental power then the society would be formed at a later stage, approach or Dawah20 groups are fully inclined to their own approach –ignoring others or evils of feudal society- or they become partner to this wrong approach unknowingly.
In last 60 years, when in cities we are enjoying “enlightened moderation” the failure of society benchmark is measured such as - a villager who doesn’t know the basic surahs of Quran (needed daily in five times prayers) is also ignorant about the basic duties of a fatherhood or guardianship, might sell his daughter or get a teenaged girl or a female child of 6 or 7 years married with an old man of 40s or 50s with the consent21 of his village land owner (chaudhry or wadera or Malik or khan or so on)!
18 The vulgar dances in theaters are prime example of this culture
19 In 2006 Pakistan Telecommunication Corporation Limited (PTCL) has imposed some screening upon the directive of Supreme Court of Pakistan however this is limited to anti Pakistan, anti government propaganda and blasphemous websites (URL) http://opennet.net/research/profiles/pakistan
20 It is quite interesting that none of the Islamic Dawah groups have asked for Social Justice process implementation in last 30 years
21 This consent is the prime suspect in all gang rape cases. In Mukhtaran Mai case too the Punchayat has agreed for her gang rape. Interesting to note that the following week after her rape, a local Muslim imam (mosque prayer leader), Abdul Razzaq, played a vital role, condemned the rape in his sermon on the Friday.
He brought a local journalist, Mureed Abbas, to meet Mukhtaran's father, and persuaded the family to file charges against the rapists. Mukhtaran and her family went to the Jatoi police station on June 30, 2002 to The mindset of educated women in cities – Veil is not needed in modern society; an earning member of the family (needs equal value like men)
The mind set of educated women in urban part of country has also paved the way towards the division of society into various segments. In last 20 years this has resulted serious ground of arguments between religious forces and those who are leading the women rights groups; finally leading the issuance of decree against each other over women rights issue.
Hudood Ordinance and Women Protection Bill are the two examples of this arguments & counter-arguments approach. Both ends failed to find a common ground for the betterment of already deprived women in the country.
This conflict further continues over veil (or Hijab), right of divorce (khula), and family planning issues hence provided reasons to each other against each other to have fierce attitude. This gulf is getting narrowed day by day and a time is not far away when fundamental (religious) and progressive (secular) Muslims would be facing each other vehemently, probably with automatic fire arms over these cultural and social differences!
Banning the Polygamy culturally – Result: One aspect; high number of unmarried females, increasing rape rate, Another aspect; illegal means and ways to fulfill human needs By law, polygamy is allowed in Islam for certain reasons. However that’s the only permitted practice which is “not practiced” in Pakistan commonly. By nature, Pakistani men are not inclined towards second marriage and this has resulted that by default women had taken it granted that second marriage is not permitted by law.
This mental osmosis of Pakistani women brought to public notice when one of the members of Punjab provincial assembly, Samina Khwar Hyat22 in the assembly had said that, “she doesn’t mind means no objection) if her husband would get married second time23!” Mostly, her female assembly associates had rejected the idea and stayed away from the subject by calling her ‘fanatic’ member of the assembly!
However, the serious remarks of Speaker national Assembly, Dr. Fahmida Mirza had opened new doors for thought process by “indirectly endorsing24 the statement of Samina Hayat and about polygamy!” One can easily distinguish that women in Sind25 province have different way to look at the subject than their associates in other provinces.
file charges. Even till today, hearings for the Supreme Court case have repeatedly been delayed, while her attackers remain imprisoned and her case is pending!
23 By some newspapers, her remarks had been termed as a stunt to gain cheap popularity however this is a genuine issue mixed with society and religion. From religious perspective, it would be ideal to have up to four wives without indulging in to adultery, if the need so be! Ironically, this is not acceptable in current Pakistani culture, society and to progressive women groups!
25 Sind culture dates back to Arab culture and its marks are still visible. Many famous figures & politicians from Sind province had multiple marriages (and they didn’t hide this fact) such as Z A Bhutto, Pir Pagara, late Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi and Hakim Ali Zardai (father of current President of Pakistan)
Witnessing a worst cultural Tsunami in Pakistani society in next 15 years! In a society where art, culture, TV, drama, and films are tempting the imaginations of men, where women dresses are far shorter then males, where pornography is readily available, where women fashion shows are igniting the fire, where marriage is possible only when enough funds are available, and where polygamy is not allowed (for those who could afford multiple marriages) then what outcome would be expected – rape, child abuse, bonded slaves, illicit relationships, prostitution, and so on!
Are we going to witness worst ever cultural-Tsunami in Pakistan in next 10-15 years due to these factors? All segments of society including those who aligned themselves with religion and are the front-runner of anti US & West policies in Pakistan, shall look into this hidden issue, very seriously!