Ernest Dempsey – In Pakistan, the tradition of marriage and the expectations that arise from it cause problems for the country and its poor.
Tradition can be your ultimate sickness in the long run. At least that is what you experience in poor, developing (used only for the lack of a fitting alternative) nations like Pakistan. Take marriage, for example. When one grows up in a society where marriage is the only acceptable form of sexual gratification and very few, if any, channels of actualizing your creative energy (read ‘principle’ if traditional taste prevails), wedding is considered a great achievement. It’s like winning a right to enjoy sex and reproduce. Sadly, this is often attempted blindly and with damaging effects in a country where birth control is still a ‘no no’ and the inflation rate is cruising ahead of the earning potential of millions.
Lately, the media has been publishing news of poor couples getting married through the financial support of non-government organizations (NGOs). In Swat, for example, 45 couples tied the knot early this year with the help of an NGO that paid for the wedding ceremony. A similar case was reported from Punjab and then more recently one from the Sindh province. There may be others of the kind, all sponsored by NGOs. Young, non-or-poorly-educated, and lacking any reliable financial means, these citizens of the country are not sure how they will manage their finances after marriage, especially after the kids arrive (and that of course happens almost every year till the couples get sexually exhausted or the doctor alarms them). They don’t know whether they’ll be able to educate their children, buy them medicine if need arose, or even feed them properly. In many cases, the children born in masses out of these mass weddings end up in labor, some begging on the streets at an early age, not to say those who will fall into criminal hands.
All this happens in the first place not only because the tradition, rooted in religion, assures the masses that marriage is a sacred duty to be performed at the earliest, but also because it discourages its followers from practicing birth control (though opinions vary according to various Islamic interpretations). Children are considered divine blessings not to be missed, no matter how large their number against however few means of nurturing available to the family. Both man and woman in wedlock are under social pressure, internal as well as from outside, to procreate, at least as far as they can. In particular, the more sons (future workers) they get, the better their elderly years will go. By the time, the sons and daughters get in their mid 20s, they themselves have become parents after getting wed with loans or, if they happen to be lucky, with financial aid from NGOs. Tying the knot repeats itself timelessly!
Media meanwhile continues to play the ocean of propaganda for promoting thoughtless obsessions of tradition. The quoted sources are just a few cases in view. The mass weddings are reported with credit going to the NGOs that are financing the poor to get married. Virtually no pen-holder spares time or cares enough to critically look at the toll it takes on the life of individuals, the nation, and the human race in the long run. Or else we would be hearing questions like ‘How much financial aid will these same NGOs spare each family with the birth of every new child?’ and ‘Do these NGOs ensure that the couples will not produce kids that they can’t bring up as independent and useful citizens of the state?’ The apparently charitable act of supporting poor masses to satiate tradition has dismal fallout for the families and the nation at large. For the NGOs, however, it is instant publicity, meaning prospects of getting more funds and hence more profit for these so-called ‘non-profit’ bodies.
Currently, Pakistan has to support about 180 million people while the country is plagued with poverty, terrorism, corruption, mismanagement, and lack of resources and technology for developing its industry and export. Do poor Pakistani couples care? If they don’t, then maybe it doesn’t matter for them to tie the knot. What does it matter if they don’t know that the knot they are tying today is going to grow tight around their neck, and that of their nation.