Online marriage searches on the rise in Pakistan
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: Marriages may be made in heaven, but quite a few are being made on the Internet – and in Pakistan of all places.
A report in the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday says a popular match-making site being used in Pakistan is www.mehndi.com.
One young woman who accessed the website is now trying to pick up the most suitable match from the 20 proposals that her listing produced. According to the report, she is 23-year-old Amber Khan, a fashion student from Lahore.
“Everyone has the right to choose their own life partner. They can choose, they can select, they can communicate with them - they can even meet them before they’re married,” she said. The enthusiasm with which increasing numbers of Pakistanis such as Ms Khan have embraced online matchmaking casts a spotlight on the constant tension between modernity and tradition in this overwhelmingly Muslim country, says the report.
The story mentions the Geo TV programme Shaadi Online anchored by Mustansar Hussain Tarrar, which its producer Nadia Mazhar says is part of a revolution that has brought to Pakistan’s masses the sort of power over their personal lives that was once available only to the country’s more secular elite. “If you go to the middle class,” Ms Mazhar said, “this is a big deal to them - ‘We can do this!’ ” However, the scene in Pakistan, the report points out, is “a long way from the freewheeling romantic marketplace of the Western world, as Pakistanis try to adapt new resources to their customs”.
The newspaper quotes a local man as lamenting that the centuries-old system of arranged marriages is being eroded by a new media age that preaches Western-style relationships. Local tradition that the man believes also meets Islamic requirements, in which elders should be in charge of their children’s lives, is being lost.
“The new matchmaking mediums usually stress that they are intended as tools for marriage rather than casual relationships. Parents can post on Mehndi.com and similar websites on behalf of their children, and all pictures displayed aremodest,” says Mehndi founder Hayee Bokhari.
But there’s no guarantee that the sites won’t be used for dating. Bokhari, a Pakistani who lives in Canada and launched Mehndi.com in March, estimates that half his users seek dates rather than matrimony.
The newspaper points out that although it’s a path increasingly being taken by Muslims around the world, the use of the Internet to find a partner has acquired an unsavoury taint in some quarters of Pakistan.
Newspaper columnists bemoan unseemly surfing in the Internet cafes that have sprouted in even the smallest towns. In one notorious case, several couples met in a private room of one cafe for sexual liaisons, unaware they were being videotaped.
Online streaming video is a cautionary tale for the country’s traditionalists but a matter of amusement for Pakistan’s new generation of Web surfers, such as Mariam Alam. The 21-year-old Islamabad teacher cruises Internet chat rooms and has arranged dates with numerous men – “I’ve lost count,” she says.
Often, according to her, the relationships don’t last beyond the third date, and usually revolve around secret meetings in cars so as not to destroy her reputation. She was prepared to marry one of the men, she says, but had to call off the wedding when her father found she’d met her fiancé online. She says women of her generation are discovering the joys of having careers and control over their lives. That naturally leads to resistance to the old institution of arranged marriages. Of the last seven arranged marriages she’s attended, she said, five have already ended in divorce.
The newspaper says, “Even for men, spouse-hunting in Pakistan has been no picnic. Take Asif Iqbal-Naz, a Lahore travel agent who has been looking for six months for a woman who fits his criteria. His complaint will sound familiar to anyone who’s been single: ‘Noble, honest, smart and well-educated,’ he lamented, ‘are not available.’ No eligible woman in his small extended family fit that bill. He’s not allowed to interact with women at work or meet them socially. So, at his parents’ urging, Iqbal Naz called ‘Shaadi Online’. ‘This way, you’re in contact with so many people,’ he said. ‘Otherwise, the search is confined. You just have your own circle.”’
The show is about to extend its reach - the producers are preparing a searchable online database of marriage candidates and will air the programme via satellite in the US in July. The show already airs in Dubai, home to a sizable Pakistani community. Part of the success of ‘Shaadi Online’ lies in the fact that people like Raheel and Iqbal Naz do not see it as contrary to Pakistani tradition. The producers interview the parents of the ‘candidate’ as well as the bachelor or bachelorette. The express goal is marriage.