'All I can say about Careem's rishta aunty service is: what in the world?'

Here's why Careem's new 'rishta aunty' service has left so many regular customers rather perplexed.
Published July 19, 2017
  • Sonia Ashraf, Karachi:
  • It's quite possible that you received a notification from Careem this morning proclaiming, "Your rishta has arrived."

    What is your reaction to this rather unexpected manoeuvre? Here's what some of Careem's regular users are saying.

    Send us your thoughts as well at blog@dawn.com


    Sonia Ashraf, Karachi:

    I didn't realise how much I'd need Careem.

    As a single, working woman, it would bother me ─ and still does ─ that I can't use public transport. I have to depend on my father or a driver for travel.

    If I have a plan with friends, it can never be an impromptu, fun plan because we have to figure out the ride situation. And what's sad is, we've gotten used to it.

    But Careem helped. It made me feel independent to some extent. It helped me gain control in aspects I didn't think I'd get it. It got rid of my dependence on others and fixation on minuscule factors that should never have been a concern.

    This rishta thing may seem like a joke. I laughed when I saw it. But it does serve as a grim reminder that the most basic element of our lives — our daily commute — is also laden with a culture we are desperately trying to fight.

    It reminded me of all those moments when my external family would be concerned for my well being.

    I didn't expect the one place that contributed so much to my independence to be a place that would make me feel awkward about it.

    Awkward. That is what I feel about this whole situation.

    When I laughed it off, I did so because I felt awkward. I know it's entirely my choice to go for such an option. I know I won't go for it, but do we really need a transport service providing such an option?

    Is the concept of marriage so ingrained in our culture that it takes over everything in such a manner?

    Natasha Japanwala, Karachi:

    There was something dystopic about the push notification I found on my home screen this morning.

    "Your rishta has arrived…" is an alarming enough alert to receive, but it was particularly disconcerting when coming from Careem ─ an app that has, for the most part, been much more than a car-hailing service.

    For me, and many other young, single, working women in Pakistani metropolises, the app has provided a safe alternative to public transport — making it easier to get to work and to socialise, particularly later in the evenings.

    Careem is an important part of a millennial's arsenal — one of the biggest differences between the Karachi of my teens and the Karachi of my twenties.

    It actively supports the lifestyle many of my female friends and I dream of making possible for ourselves in our home country: the lifestyle of the modern career-woman who leaps from the office to parties, flying across the city while answering emails, swapping her workout shoes for heels.

    I imagine that the very last thing this woman would want while juggling her gym bag and smartphone in the back of her Careem, is a rishta aunty — an older woman who takes it upon herself to play matchmaker — peering at her through the rearview mirror.

    It’s the poorest marketing ploy I can think of — where a brand will come up with a promotion that runs antithetical to the values that it has built its name on.

    But it’s a ploy that does a lot more harm than just bad PR. Rishta aunties aren’t funny anymore — in fact, they never were.

    They strip us of the freedom to date in a messy, scandalous, utterly necessary way.

    They police us, suggesting that the gorgeous intoxication of falling in love with whom we please is fodder for their harmful gossip. And they reduce us, by the very fact of their existence — reduce our ambitions, our agency, and our dreams through the relentless way they suggest that nothing is as important as who we marry.

    And it’s precisely their relentlessness that has created and maintained a culture that celebrates heterosexual marriage as the ultimate achievement ─ the structure to exist within, other possibilities notwithstanding.

    To insert a stereotype that ultimately halts gender equality into a service that plays a role in facilitating it is backward, harmful, and frightening. It’s the unravelling of progress and, yes, the stuff of dystopia.

    Hamna Zubair, Karachi:

    I'm a fan of Careem, I think the service is a necessary step towards normalising male-female interactions in public life. I appreciate that male Careem captains are courteous and that they are coached to view female customers as clients first and as women or an object of romantic interest second or not at all.

    Which is why I think this rishta aunty initiative is really regressive.

    All the effort that was made to delink sex, romance and innuendo from everyday commerce in order to make a Careem a safe space for women is going to be reversed by bringing in discussions about rishtas.

    Tomorrow, after this initiative is over, what's to stop a Careem captain from turning around and asking a female customer 'toh aap ko rishta mila?'

    It blurs boundaries and opens the door for uncomfortable or even inappropriate discussions.

    Anonymous, Karachi:

    I feel I'm a lot luckier than most of my friends who are my age. They all seem to have stories about being approached — either by their parents or others — for rishtas, but I've never had to face any of that.

    So I was pretty excited when I saw that Careem was offering rishta aunty services. I'm curious about how they work and I've always wanted to see what they're like.

    I am of 'marriageable age', but I can never find any decent partners for myself. Most men I come across just aren't interested in marriage. Those who are are just too boring.

    Bas kya karen, hamain sub na-qabil-e-shaadi samajhte hain. Shayad rishta aunty se koi faidah hi ho jae.

    Sukena Rizvi, Karachi:

    Ride-hailing services should be more worried about harassment and nosy drivers chauffeuring female patrons instead of cheap marketing tricks.

    The pressure to get married, especially for young women, can be paralysing. Let’s not turn such a thing into a gimmick for publicity.

    They might think that they are helping people and ‘keeping it halal’ but in reality, they are pushing onto us a rather sexist construct.

    Also, what kind of rishta aunties have they hired?

    The ones most of us have encountered in our daily lives spend the whole time gawking at you, sizing you up, and a lot of times shaming you for being kaali or moti, and other haw hayes.

    The message being conveyed with this campaign is that you need to give in to the pressure of getting married because that is the only way you’ll find ‘happiness’ in life.

    Yusra Jabeen, Karachi:

    As a young, middle-class woman trying to regain control of my life and break away from patriarchal chains, I rely heavily on Careem to move around.

    I was able to earn money as I could go to work in a comfortable ride and did not need someone else to pay for it.

    So many times, an elder in the family would question my choice (as they did for many other things) to use Careem and say, "Jabeen, Did you take Careem again? You know you probably spend around Rs15,000 of your salary on it."

    With the advent of Careem, more and more young women started exercising bodily agency and moving around the city on their own, without having to depend on a brother, father, husband or an uncle to take them places.

    It also relieved men of their ‘responsibility’ to take women in their house shopping, though many patriarchs still object as the women in their houses have stopped depending on them.

    We had started to disrupt the order, fidgeting with the heavy chains of patriarchy around our legs.

    We were sending a message that we didn't need a husband, as long as we had a loving family to come back home to.

    That we'd much rather focus on our plans and ambitions than slap a fake smile on our faces and spend the evening pretending to like a bunch of strangers looking for a ‘perfect girl’ who will take care of their man-child.

    That we'd much rather find ourselves a companion than force ourselves to share a bedroom with someone we have nothing in common with.

    That we'd much rather the rishta aunty disappear into the wilderness and never again return to haunt our lives.

    But I guess, as a woman trying to do her own thing in a conservative and patriarchal society, I was asking for too much.

    Oh well! Gotta go! My rishta has arrived.

    Anonymous, Karachi:

    I'm confused, perplexed and horrified. All I can say at this point is, "Careem, what the hell?"

    Careem, for me, signifies liberty, freedom of mobility and a form of independence. However, this morning it felt anything but.

    When I woke up today (and thought of booking a ride to work), I got an email notification from Careem saying, "Your rishta has arrived!"

    I panicked! No joke. I gasped and my heartbeat almost stopped. And I didn't even bother reading the rest.

    For a car company that provided me with unconstrained movement in my city, it suddenly took all that away from me. I felt like prey again. I felt cornered. I felt targeted.

    So many questions ran through my mind and I found it hard to contain myself. It was jarring.

    Careem promising to provide women with a safe and secure car service, the ability to travel on their own, betrayed many of its female customers.

    Do I not deal with enough of this rishta business, that I now have to put up with it through my car-booking app?

    Rishtas are personal; they are meetups in a private setting between people seeking a partner. All of a sudden, Careem encroached that personal space and put it in the public sphere.

    Making people meet a rishta aunty in a car so that they can discuss intimate details about their lives in front of a Careem driver is an invasion of privacy, not to mention awkward.

    Where the Careem captain once saw women as customers, now he may view them in a sexualised manner.

    Such a let down by Careem to give women the space and comfort of owning their city and then taking it all back with such a regressive approach.