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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Of Shadi's and Segregation

As the holy month of Ramzan comes to an end we are greeted by the festivities of Eid, and immediately without wasting any further time as soon as Eid ends, it is the start of a very busy shadi season. It is almost an annual ritual off sorts, Eid ul Fitr goes, a busy hectic tightly packed shadi season begins. For me the tradition of having a schedule fully loaded with Shadi's continued post Eid in 2013 as well. By the time I am writing this, I have attended over 10 events following Eid, and I am still due to attend 2 more before I can say Shadi season is over, well atleast to the best of my knowledge I have just 2 more to attend. Another card pops or a Facebook invite, might happen, it seems everyone I know is in the rush to tie the knot get married. Weddings are and can be fun, depends on the setting of the wedding, the venue, the food, the entertainment planned out, the people in attendance makes Shadi's a great evening out also. And if it is a close friend getting married, there is no excusing missing Shadi's for every day outings or pure laziness.

The season started with one of my closest friends wedding. That was indeed a memorable wedding affair. It had the usual 3 function set up, the mehndi, the baraat and the valima. For foreigners who are not familiar with our marriage event set up ordeal, here is a quick summary. The Mehndi is a Semi formal event which can be a large gathering or a small one with close friends and family depending on the would be married couple. It usually comprises of application of Henna on the hands of the girl's usually cousins and close friends of the bride, followed by a dance-a-thon of sorts. The latter assuming the family is not conservative about guys and girls dancing off in a competitive style like it's dancing with the Star's in front of wedding guests. The Baraat/Shadi function is where the Groom's family arrives at a Shadi Venue usually at a Shadi Hall or in a Hotel with his entire army of close friends and family and the function ends with the Groom taking the bride home. This function is usually hosted by the bride's family with the nikkah ceremony taking place also if not already taken place at the mosque. The Valima on the other end is a religious tradition sort of event which is hosted by the groom's family for the bride's family, as well as their own close family friends. For many traditionalist families, this is the only event on the cards. If the wedding is in a Punjabi family in particular, expect it to be loud and colorful with very extrovert people.

Over the last ten to fifteen years or so, urban Pakistani society has started experiencing a wave of religious conservatism, a lot of credit for which should go to very extreme right wing religious schools such as the Al Huda School for men and women, or the men's religious revivalist movement the Tableeghi Jamat. The latter is famous for it's massive annual gatherings in Malir, Karachi, and in Raivand, Lahore. Both the schools as well as this revivalist gathering mission seems hell bent on proactively creating and enforcing a culture of rigid literal implementation of religion on Pakistani society. Pakistani society has historically been conservative and old school, but courtesy of the effects of local culture, sufism and having lived in a pre parition India for centuries, the religiousness effect has been relatively moderate through most of Pakistan's history. The effect's of the wahabi style symbolic ritual focused Islam kicked into Pakistan during Zia's dark tenure as Pakistan's head of state. Following Zia's death, society returned towards liberalization in the 90's as democracy also returned to Pakistan, however as we headed towards the late 90's and awaited the 21st century, these right wing religious schools gained prominence as well as the Tableeghi Jamat and began undoing the the years of social progress of society. Their goals include a literal implementation of Islam,  an over emphasis on symbolic rituals and a disconnect from the worldly life for the life here after.

This has had an effect on people's social behavior and as a by product an effect on weddings in Pakistan. Growing up in the 90's for me it was a rarity to see such religiously influenced wedding ceremonies even among the religious lot. The drive to have a Sharia Law compliant or a religious compliant wedding is very intense among not just the elders of the house but also among the youth of the house that have subscribed to such schools of thought. The result of which is you see a fair amount of gender segregation at Shadi's, the music and entertainment in many cases has disappeared and a huge rise in the number of religious people in attendance, or atleast visibly religious people. Such has become the passion with segregation that many even among Pakistan's educated urban middle classes find mixed gatherings a disgusting sight. Every shadi season every year I have seen the occurrence of where people including close family of the the to be married couple walk out upon discovering that the event is a mixed affair and doesn't involve segregation of genders. This puts also added pressure on families that usually do not have segregated affairs to enforce segregation in their events so that they do not end up having an event where close relatives are boycotting or people socially relevant to them. This not only prevents, friends and close family from meeting and socializing with one another, but it stimulates and reinforces a belief that all hell will break loose should a gathering not be segregated, and we will go all to hell at the sight or being spotted by a Non Mehram man/woman and severe punishments lie waiting for us in the after life.

So far I haven't seen all hell break loose, and a lot of these so called segregated events that I have attended do not fully adhere to segregation trends either. The staff serving is usually male, so are the security guards, as well as the camera men and photographers. In addition to that, in some segregated weddings, the groom is the only guy present in the hall sitting on the stage with his new bride while his friends and male relatives are kept on the other side not visible from the eye. One should spare a thought or two for the groom, bechara, one never asks how he feels, or the newly married couple how they feel about what is supposed to be the single happiest moment in their life forced away from plan due to irrational social and peer pressure, especially from the religious lot, who if they were truly religious would show compassion and enthusiasm as others celebrate new beginnings in life in very much the same manner others participate at their crucial events regardless of the segregation even though they may find it a needless practice. We can atleast try and not cave into bullying if our beliefs state otherwise, were just encouraging a needles trend.