The evolving conscience of society requires a change in attitudes towards traditional matchmaking
Marriage is not a recent obsession. The society we live in has always greatly valued this institution. The social construct is serious business for Pakistanis. At a time when the world is exploring possibilities of space tourism, desi households are busy matchmaking their children and planning weddings. It may seem like a hasty generalisation, but the statement holds some water.
Two interesting realities are pertinent to the marriage fever in a typical Pakistani household; the cut-off age for tying the knot is 25, not 30, for both genders, and arranged marriages are far more acceptable than love marriages. The pattern has been followed for generations, and has taken root in the local conscience.
It is usual for the elders to utilise all their resources and connections to find suitable matches for their sons and daughters as soon as they graduate from university. Interestingly, a majority of parents believe that matches are made in heaven, but the matchmaking is to be done by a third party, which, in most cases, is marriage bureaus.
There is an abundance of rishty waalay who sell themselves as agents of God, a waseela, their prime objective being to make parents content by assisting them in getting their children married “on time”. The databases they have are astonishing. Unfortunately, in the process, the parents often end up compromising the privacy, self-esteem and emotional health of their children.
The marriage bureau market is not run by the conventional word-of-mouth scheme only. They have professional websites, social media platforms and WhatsApp groups where personal profiles and pictures of hundreds of candidates are shared every day. The experience of scrolling through these electronic outlets feels familiar to exploring a product website. Even the layout is the same; a full-size picture accompanied with some details in the caption.
No matter how normalised or widely practiced such rishta search becomes, some serious repercussions must be understood. Following are some of the concerns highlighted by a group of educated individuals (names withheld on request) who understand the emotional toll toxic matchmaking processes can take on a person and their well-being.
According to N, such businesses need to stop advertising matchmaking services as serving society because it is all transactional. They show the best sides of both parties, generate unrealistic expectations on both sides, get the marriage finalised, and at the end are paid for their services. They cannot be held accountable for what happens afterwards.
According to N*, such businesses need to stop advertising matchmaking services as serving society because it really is transactional. They show the best sides of both parties, generate unrealistic expectations on both sides, get the marriage finalised, and at the end are paid for their services. They cannot be held accountable for what happens afterwards.
A* says the legitimisation of this practice means that youngsters are rushed into a lifelong relationship without realising what they want. This is particularly problematic nowadays because girls and women are increasingly becoming part of the workforce. They expect their spouses to take equal responsibility for household chores and raising children. Rishta agents cannot assure the right level of compatibility and understanding in a couple.
M* says that most of the time, parents cannot relate to their children’s concerns. There is a gulf between the preferences of the two age groups. Societal norms give little or no weight to the personal choice of the girl or the boy. The stigma attached to love marriage is still strong. Most of the time, the proposal brought by the marriage bureau does not resonate with the actual preference of the individual.
According to R*, the most problematic concern is the objectification and dehumanisation of girls. Factors like their looks, the location of their house, their culinary skills apart from their education make it to the top of the list that determines a ‘perfect package’ for marriage. These materialistic inclinations and misogynistic practices shatter the sanctity of marriage. Resultantly, the idea of marriage becomes burdensome for many girls and women.
S* says that on reaching a particular age, some girls start seeing striking changes in their family’s attitude. The conversation about them revolves only around the topic of marriage, completely disregarding their subsequent academic and professional endeavours.
In some orthodox families, the rishta culture is changing. Girls are no longer required to bring tea trolleys before families that come to see her. The families meet in a relatively casual manner. But the core purpose and underlying conditions of the activity remain largely the same.
It is high time for real stakeholders to take charge of their futures. They should have a say in who they are going to spend their lives with. Parents must focus on raising independent, empowered individuals who know the difference between valuable input and enforced norms. Social values need to change, too. Instead of relying on a third person to ‘fix’ the lives of their children, parents need to teach them self-sufficiency, self-respect and decision-making as core life skills.
*Names have been withheld to protect privacy
The writer works for Department of Governance and Global Studies at Information Technology University