Love online challenges Pakistan taboos

Published Dec 16, 2012 05:07am

Sania-Mohammad-Arif-AFP-670
Sania and her husband Mohammad Arif speak to AFP in Muzaffarabad. — Photo by AFP

MUZAFFARABAD: Sania was just a schoolgirl when she logged onto an Internet chat room and met a young college student called Mohammad. They fell in love and decided to get married.

Internet dating in the West is now so common that it is no longer considered an act of shameful desperation but an acceptable way for busy professionals to discover a like-minded partner.

But for Sania, the 22-year-old daughter of a conservative truck driver in Pakistan, online romance and her subsequent marriage has meant repeated beatings and death threats at the hands of her relatives.

“No one gets married outside our community. It is our tradition,” Sania told AFP. She is from the garrison city of Rawalpindi and Mohammad comes from Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

At first she and Mohammad chatted online. Then they both bought mobiles to continue their relationship by telephone. For several years they asked their parents for permission to marry, but were refused.

So Sania decided to escape.

She packed a bag and sneaked out while her brother was at school, her mother sleeping and her father out at work. She took the bus straight to Muzaffarabad.

“I spent the four-hour journey in fear. I kept thinking that if my family caught me, they'd kill me,” she told AFP.

In Muzaffarabad, Mohammad met her off the bus and they got married immediately. But while his family quickly accepted Sania, nearly two years later the couple still live in fear of her relatives.

Twice they have dragged her back to Rawalpindi since her marriage and have demanded repeatedly that she break off relations with Mohammad.

“Last time they took me back three months ago and put lot of pressure on me to break off this relationship. I got in contact with my husband and asked him to fetch me. I escaped from the house at midnight and we managed to flee,” she said.

Now Sania and her 24-year-old husband have moved to a new one-room house in a slum, changed their phone number and dare not venture out of the city.

“They say they will kill us whenever they find us,” Sania says.

Women in Pakistan who marry against the wishes of their parents are ostracised or even killed by male relatives for supposedly bringing dishonour on the family.

But online relationships are a new phenomenon.

More than 2.1 million people are officially estimated to have access to the Internet in Pakistan, a drop in the ocean of the population of 180 million, a reflection of the huge disparity in wealth and literacy.

Mohammad Zaman, professor of sociology at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, who has written a book about marriage, says arranged unions that have dominated for centuries are on the wane.

“Internet marriage is a new trend emerging in Pakistan. Technological advancement has entered into our homes and traditional taboos are slowly vanishing in educated and affluent families,” Zaman told AFP.

Online, they can share personal information and swap photographs — things that would be restricted or prohibited in the traditional selection of partners.

The Internet is changing mindsets, giving young people freedom and privacy, and a forum to discuss matters frowned upon by Pakistan's traditional, conservative society.

“There is a kind of emancipation in society and young people want their say in the selection of their future partner,” Zaman said, although he conceded that parents find it easier to accept a son's choice than that of a daughter.

Tahir, a Pakistani peace activist, knows only too well how the freedom of the Internet can collide with the restrictions of everyday life — not only conservative sensibilities but politics and war.

The 26-year-old fell for university student Nazia on Facebook and Skype.

All fine and good, except that Nazia lives on the other side of one of the most heavily militarised borders in the world — that which divides the Himalayan region of Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

Twice India and Pakistan have gone to war over Kashmir. Although tentative peace talks resumed last year, travel is tightly controlled.

Only those with special government permits are permitted to cross and take the bus service that runs once a week from Muzaffarabad to Srinagar, the capital of the Indian-administered portion.

Last month, a 22-year-old Indian girl was reportedly detained after trying to cross the Line of Control, as the de facto border is known, to meet her boyfriend from Pakistani-administered Kashmir, whom she allegedly met on Facebook, and to escape an arranged marriage at home.

Not even modern methods of communication are reliable.

“Sometimes when I speak to her on Skype, I can see her but there is a lot of noise and we cannot understand each other,” said 26-year-old Tahir, not his real name.

He says people in Indian Kashmir cannot call those in Pakistani Kashmir and that it can take three or four days for her to receive his text messages.

If the Internet is the only place Tahir and Nazia could have met, Kashmir is probably the last place they could ever meet in person.

"We understand each other from both sides of Kashmir, but they can't come to our side and we can't go there.... I love her a lot and don't think I can live without her, but I've decided there is no future," he told AFP.


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Comments (19) (Closed)


Mano
Dec 16, 2012 04:32pm
so go to him in pakistan?
Aditya
Dec 17, 2012 03:55am
As long as they are happy!! who cares?
abbastoronto
Dec 16, 2012 09:26pm
Muslims forget that the marriage between UmmulMomineen Khadija and our Prophet was a love marriage. That is the only kind of marriage allowed under the Sharia.
Sadia Zafar
Dec 16, 2012 08:32pm
While I am all for progress and egalitarian values, I certainly detest the mind set that suggests that this progress has to follow Western model. Progress for every culture and society has to take the course charted by its values, traditions and needs, otherwise its not progress its intellectual enslavement. So please take pride in our arranged marriages tradition. Remember there is a difference between arranged marriages and forced marriages. Online mate selection is no match for the wisdom and blessings of family elders.
khomi100
Dec 17, 2012 10:08am
Kudos to young couple.
khomi100
Dec 17, 2012 10:08am
Kudos to young couple!
Akash
Dec 17, 2012 10:15am
Read "Not without my Daughter" by Betty Mehmoody before you taken one more Step. You will bless me for this.
Mohammed Shuaib Sheikh
Dec 16, 2012 09:54am
"Internet dating in the West is now so common that it is no longer considered an act of shameful desperation but an acceptable way for busy professionals to discover a like-minded partner". And so are no strings attached "meetings" escorts in the West. Newspapers and Internet thrive on advertisements for the above
Ash
Dec 16, 2012 09:37am
I am in love with a Pakistani, met him on the Internet, I am white English and Christian. Getting him into the UK is difficult for me, if I was a British Asian I could get him in, I could say it was an ARRANGED marriage, as a caucasian I cant do that. We must wait and see what happens, His Parents seem to accept our love. Love has no boundaries, it does not see colour or race. The more we all mix the better this world will be.
Muhammad Farooq
Dec 17, 2012 04:28am
In my opinion, Internet is a double-edged sword; it can be beneficial and it can be harmful depending upon its use. So the brunt is on the user and not on modern communication media. Users in such a case (a chat room) are nobodies but our children. They will use internet with care and prudence if they are properly trained (by parents and teachers) or else they can be led astray. Yes we cannot stop someone from falling in love online or offline but there is more to internet than just love. Misuse of internet especially by young age boys and girls can have many negative consequences for all concerned. It is true for the East and the West.
Naseer
Dec 16, 2012 11:51pm
If Taliban have their way, both of them will be killed in front of everyone.
Neer Nayan
Dec 16, 2012 04:51pm
ALLAH bless the loving couple with a happy & prosperous life!
saqib
Dec 16, 2012 09:03am
good to hear that internet changes lifes and styles.
s shah
Dec 16, 2012 08:21pm
My understanding is that in Wahabi thinking ( with which I do not agree) a female cannot consent to marriage but her guardian has to consent for her. Hence the opposition of Mullahs to free-will marriages. When families object to their daughter choosing her own spouse, it is due to ego and arrogance, but the ideological justification is also there in most cases.
wahid
Dec 17, 2012 12:42am
There is no problem for you to bring your love to UK as a fiancee and get married but you have to satsify the draconian British Immigration laws.You should have reasonable and adequate accommodation for two and earn at least
aku
Dec 16, 2012 06:07am
I hope the parents of both families understand that two adults have chosen their destiny. So let it be. I hope we as nation can become more tolerant and learn peaceful co-existence with people who are different from us.
Muhammad
Dec 16, 2012 06:50am
Well the point is if they are married than they have completed the SHARIA requirement. Now why the hell people are frustrated over it. They liked each other and got married and made ALLAH witness over there marriage. there family should let them live peacefully
gir na
Dec 16, 2012 06:56am
conservative culture is to be blamed for.
Reality Check Please?
Dec 16, 2012 07:23am
Violence should be condemned in any and every case....as there is no excuse! However one must also note that these social changes are taking place all over the world, in particular in developing and fast urbanising countries! These kind of things were common the west also where society frowned upon and often lead to prejudice and violence against mix-race marriages.... Thus the reporting should look at the bigger picyure rather than its narrow perspective. This will help people gauge and rationalise the social changes rather than thinking these changes are somewhat exclusive to us in Pakistan and therefore represents another Breaking News!