I am strongly resisting the temptation to make sweeping statements, but as a general rule I find nowhere else in the world is individuality and free thinking penalised as it is in the land of the pure. From school when the teacher frowned at your blatant use of ‘imagination’, to the fear inducing lessons with maulvi sahib, to adulthood when society already has your course of life charted out and heaven’s forbid if you should dare to deviate.
Yes, I cannot think of a society that has a more perverted notion of life; fervently abiding to religious practise whilst ignoring the spirit behind it, reducing education to vicious competitiveness not self growth and enlightenment, harbouring absolute deference towards dictators and absolute abhorrence for our representatives. Point being that this is the essence of Pakistaniat; a deep mistrust of free will and thinking and firm devotion to conformity and empty practise.
We may believe we are cocooned from this perverted psychology until it begins to infiltrate our lives, shape our perceptions of ourselves and influence the most important decisions we will ever make.Nobody can cheapen and corrupt the institution of marriage like we can. Just look at how it’s played out; you are inducted into the rishta meat market like a commodity to be traded, meetings with rishta aunties ensue so they can appraise your value in terms of your ‘vital’ statistics i.e. age, social status, what your daddy owns, whom your daddy knows, so on and so forth.
Once you have been sized up and appropriately labelled, the hunt for the ‘suitable’ bachelor begins and soon you’re inviting total strangers to your home to scrutinize you, gauge what prosperity this match could bestow upon them and then politely depart only to wait for them to pass judgement.
Even those who have not wilfully inducted themselves to be traded like bakras are not insulated from the pervasive rishta culture. Increasingly at weddings, iftaris, heck even funerals you come across women, barely familiar with your name, having no qualms in assaulting you with disturbingly personal questions. It is almost as if, having dared to not conform to the societal norm of ‘settling’ before twenty five warrants punishment in the form of a Spanish Inquisition of your personal life.
Some argue, isn’t this the norm the world over?
Are not most women foremost identified with their roles as mothers or wives? No man is safe from the incessant pestering by his family to settle down; then why give Pakistan a bad rap? Well my gripe is not with this pressure but how in its wake a misogynist, downright repressive culture has taken shape that is not only corroding the institution of marriage but perpetuating a highly class based mindset and society.
Not to suggest that the rishta game is a joyride for the guys, but speaking from a female’s perspective I have to say that it proves especially detrimental to any sane woman’s sense of self worth. A woman maybe a lecturer, an entrepreneur, an activist; she has qualities at par with any man and is most certainly celebrated amongst her peers for her intellect, abilities and nature. However when it comes to the rishta market she is stripped of all this and judged on only the labels that matter; age, looks and who her daddy is?
The most demeaning thing is how we are packaged and advertised on the basis of a few labels, which in no way define the depth and richness of our true nature. If I were to send out an advertisement for a best friend, how can I possibly quantify which characteristics and ‘labels’ that person must possess to qualify. I mean barring all those with a perversion akin to Paris Hilton, most of us would agree that a true friend has nothing to do with superficial labels like their education, number of siblings, income; then why does this disgusting psychology dictate us when we are looking for one of the most significant persons in our life?
Possibly because the goal of the rishta game is not to find a companion, but a person who can effectively fulfil a certain role i.e. bread winner or home maker. This approach is losing relevance especially now since for many couples both partners shoulder the financial burden and participate in domestic work, the distinction in functions is beginning to blur.
On the contrary as women are becoming more self reliant and rounded individuals, the need of the proverbial knight in shining armour is diminishing. Implying they are no longer motivated by the need to be saved or financial security alone but the need for meaningful companionship and emotional security. How can this be gauged through the rishta game where all talk is about salaries, status and financial responsibilities is beyond me.
As a society our standards for valuing the worth of an individual are upside down and the rishta game is the most telling example. I bet many of us can think of countless incidents when a rishta was rejected because the girl’s parents were divorced, her brother was jobless, were not Jatt or Syeds; curiously this rishta brigade punishes individuals for circumstances they have inherited and have no need to be apologetic about, but overlooks glaring faults that might be entirely their own doing like materialism, superficiality, small-mindedness.
In order to evolve as a collective we need to question this rishta mentality and practise. Who is it serving? Is the overwhelming feeling of inadequacy over your ‘flaws’, the fear to get hitched before your ‘expiry’ date or the hideous obsession with fitting into some socially acceptable mould resulting in successful marriages or happy people? Finding a partner like choosing a career path should be a journey of self discovery. You should operate from a place of inner peace and strength, not fear and close-mindedness.
Surely the more myopic your vision, the more petty your mindset, the more likely you are to live a life that maybe ‘great on paper’ but so very lacking in every other way.
A development activist, based in Lahore. She completed an undergrad from LUMS and when on to earn a Masters degree in development economics and policy from Manchester University. She has been working in different development organisations off and on for three years. She is also training to become a documentary filmmaker. This article was previously published in the blog of the Express Tribune