Even a simple love marriage is a fairytale story in Pakistan
My friend Ahmer once invited me to this quiet coffee place and strictly told me to come alone because he had something really shocking to share with me. I reached there and we sat down. He was all nervous. I started to get a little terrified thinking he might have committed a murder or a robbery. What if I become an accessory to the crime he committed? Is he really capable of doing such things? Questions like these hauntingly jumbled up in my mind. Nevertheless, I had my poker face on and was ready for whatever he was about to reveal to me.
I noticed his sweat dripping on the table like blood drops as he took a long, deep breath and confessed to me something which was shocking beyond belief because it was a bigger issue than any murder or robbery. He wanted to marry the girl he loved. I was appalled by what he had just revealed to me but I still tried to remain calm and let him speak because the poor guy was finally relieved to get this horrific confession of his chest. Ahmer told me that it was difficult because there was one big obstacle in his way, not his career or any other commitments but his loving parents who had planned an arranged marriage for him and probably wouldn’t agree to what he wanted to do.
As bizarre as it sounds, the idea of love marriages is looked down upon in Pakistan. Arranged marriages are more common, sometimes with the consent of those who are getting married, at other times forced. It is done in order to keep a ‘positive and modest’ image of one’s family in Pakistani society.
Ahmer is privileged due to his gender. It’s the girl he loves who will more commonly be shamed for indulging into something as heinous as love, because in Pakistan a woman is seen a sign of “honor” and if she dares change her fate against her family’s wishes, she is often faced with a strong opposition. Honor killing is a common problem in Pakistani society despite the fact that it is highly discouraged and there are strict laws against it. In a scene from the Oscar award winning documentary ‘A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness’, which is about a girl who miraculously survives an honor killing attempt when the culprits – the girl’s own father and uncle – are being asked why did they do such a thing, their answer can easily be interpreted as what is referred to as victim blaming. They are of the view that tarnishing the family’s reputation was a much bigger crime than killing someone for loving someone. Unfortunately, this is a mindset shared by many in conservative countries like Pakistan. As far as the fates of the victim’s killers are concerned, they are forgiven by her due to public pressure.
Another reason why love marriages are often discouraged is due to keeping one’s property within the safe hands of either a family member or a trusted friend. That is why, despite the health risks which many people seem to be aware of, cousin marriages are quite common in the country; to the point that they are often glorified in Pakistani television shows and movies. The marriage of their children is something parents see as business proposals and establishing good connections for themselves rather than taking into consideration what their children desire.
There is no law against love marriage in Pakistan but it is not something held in high esteem and discouraged due to cultural conservatism. People are more concerned about their so-called perfect image rather than giving their children the freedom to love whoever they want. It is quite difficult to say whether the mindset regarding love marriages in Pakistan will be changed in the coming years or not. As for Ahmer and others like him, they are sadly not living a Bollywood film where they can just dance their way through a 2-3 hour storyline. They have to find some other way. Whether they will find a way or not depends upon the circumstances and most importantly their own will power.