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HindustanTimes Sun,23 Nov 2014

Love online challenges taboos

AFP  Muzaffarabad, December 17, 2012
First Published: 01:56 IST(17/12/2012) | Last Updated: 02:36 IST(17/12/2012)

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.

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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 Pakistan-occupied 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.

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.


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