Article By Nosheen Abbas
My last blog on marriage in Pakistan stirred quite a response and, as one reader put it in an email, ‘the article raised many questions but then left them unanswered.
Since marriage is one of the most discussed and yet the least understood phenomenon in Pakistan, I’ve decided to analyse it from a certain aspect – the girl’s perspective. For all the boredom with women’s rights, not enough people have had an insight into the experience many girls undergo before, during or after marriage. Specifically, I’m talking about educated, middle- or upper-class girls.
For the purposes of this post, you’re going to have to remember a few terms – feel free to use them regularly in everyday conversation!
1) ‘Larka wala’ syndrome
2) Shadow of your former self (SFS)
3) Post-marital rules (PMR)
The biggest problem educated girls face is the desi man’s mentality. And the first jolt an educated girl feels when she agrees to marry is when she is suddenly expected to bend over backwards to please the groom-to-be, his family and burgeoning platoon of relatives. And why? Just because they are the larkay walay.
To illustrate the above syndrome: A brilliant family friend married a lovely, simple boy. Soon after her marriage, she realised that her in-laws were feeding off the couple’s earnings. Still, the girl was expected to shower her in-laws with presents. At one social event, I saw her hand out Bareeze bags to her husband’s mother, sisters, sisters-in-law and cousins. At another time, she complained about having to lug a suitcase full of toys and chocolates for her husband’s nieces and nephews when returning from a trip. ‘And they weren’t happy with the chocolates I brought them…they said I should have brought Ferrero Rocher!’
The larka wala syndrome in its most extreme form played out with an acquaintance of mine who was married off quite young. She was beautiful and smart but her parents thought it better to wed her off rather than let her go to college. She had one of the grandest weddings in town but a few months later I heard that her in-laws had banned her from communicating wtih her family. Rather than condemn this absurdity, I overheard an aunty say, ‘Bhai, yeh to hotha hai – the larka walas get insecure so for a little while it’s okay for the girl to cut off from her family until things are settled.’ That girl, who now has two children, has not spoken to her parents to date. A strange scenario that can only be explained by the larka wala syndrome.
And what about smart, educating girls who wish to pursue greater things in the course of their marriage? Too many girls’ in-laws equate work with the need to make money, forgetting about bigger aspects like personal satisfaction and fulfillment and having a larger purpose in life. The boy’s side usually thinks that if the girl is well provided for, there’s no need for her to worry about anything else. And so they are forced to quit their jobs and abandon their hobbies, becoming shadows of their former selves (SFS). And I’ve seen up close the blatant suppression of many smart girls because our society validates the unconditional upper hand of the larka walas.
Recently, I heard about a girl who used to write regularly, and then married a man with a temper and a chauvinistic mindset. Finally, in the course of one argument, he yelled, ‘this is not your house. You are in my house and I will never treat you like your father did.’ The girl says that on hearing that she slumped in a corner and mumbled ‘I really don’t know who I am anymore…I feel like burning everything I have ever written.’ This is a common story – the brilliant girl who was discouraged from working after marriage. Too many men who seem liberal at the time expect their wives to become a SFS after marriage.
Finally, there’s the problem that a lot of desi boys are stuck in a strange era between their parents’ and grandparents’ times and the contemporary age. What they want in a wife is a classic example of an oxymoron, which they obtain by imposing post-marital rules (PMR): an educated, well spoken well and dressed girl who post marriage is expected to forget all she’s learnt (after a lifetime of investment) and drop all the activities that make her who she is (a.k.a SFS). It’s too often you hear of a girl who had to leave a life she knew after she got married. Dreams of becoming a dentist, doctor, lawyer are sacrificed to compromise, where compromise seems to be one sided. Pleasing the in-laws, bringing up the children and saving the relationship is her duty, and not his.
This not only occurs in arranged marriages but also in love marriages. I’ve often heard how ‘much he’s changed’ after marriage. I remember one particularly harrowing story of a brilliant girl who got married to an unreasonably suspicious and possessive man. After marriage, she was forced to wear a burka and her husband tagged along with her wherever she went, including all-girls’ lunches.
Of course, these situations are the exception and not the norm. But there are enough stories out there to make one believe that marriage for an educated Pakistan girl is not always a chance to turn a new page in her life. It can also be the moment when she has to slam a book shut and bring in new rules for living.
Nosheen Abbas is a columnist for Dawn and writes about youth issues. She has worked with the United Nations, Plan International, World Population Foundation and the Commonwealth Programme on a number of youth development initiatives.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.