Friday, May 7, 2010

Hyderabadi Muslim brides are treated like dirt in Pakistan


Yet thousands of Hyderabadi fathers hanker after Pakistani alliances for their own daughters

Obedient Women


Hyderabad, March 31, 2010:

A celebrity wedding always turns heads but don’t expect Hyderabad to go gaga over Sania Mirza and Shoaib Malik’s “Indo-Pak alliance”. The city hosts about 1,000 such marriages every year.

Since Partition, Hyderabad has been a happy hunting ground for Pakistani grooms, attracted by the reputation Indian brides enjoy across the border. Every summer, eligible Pakistanis and their relatives descend on the Andhra Pradesh capital, which has a large Muslim population with daughters to marry off.

“The overseas grooms come on the strength of references from former Hyderabadis who now live in Pakistan,” said Mohammed Zaheeruddin, chief qazi of Hyderabad and Ranga Reddy district, who has solemnised several cross-border marriages.

When India took over the Nizam’s kingdom in 1948, over 25,000 Muslim families, with 1.5 lakh members, had moved into Pakistan and now live mostly in Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi.

They still have links with their old city and send their sons to find brides here, or act as matchmakers for other Pakistanis.

It’s the city’s large number of elite and affluent Muslim families that makes Hyderabad such a hotspot for cross-border marriages. These families’ influence also makes visas and permits easier to arrange for the groom and his relatives.

The key reason Hyderabad scores over places like Lucknow or Bhopal is that its “social position” in global Muslim circles is higher than that of other places on the subcontinent — or in Saudi Arabia, Iran or Afghanistan.

This has been especially so since 1921 when the last and exiled Caliph of the Ottoman empire, Abdul Majid II, gave his exquisitely beautiful daughter Durrushehvar and his niece in marriage to the Nizam’s sons. The Caliph had nominated the Nizam’s eldest son as heir to the Caliphate, thus uniting the supreme spiritual authority of the Muslim world with its greatest concentration of riches.

The cross-border marriages generally work well. “Why shouldn’t they? Their (Pakistanis’) customs, food habits and dress — even the Urdu they speak — are similar to ours,” said Assembly employee Habib Abdul Shafi, whose nephew recently married a Pakistani MBA.

“Our daughters feel comfortable living in Pakistan,” said Yusuf Saleem, a dentist whose daughter wed a Pakistani scientist last year.

That may be so for most, but Sania and Shoaib may have been wise in deciding to settle down in Dubai. Not only might living in Pakistan have posed a problem for Sania as she continued to represent India in international events, the international athlete may have found Pakistani culture and dress codes, especially those for married women, a little restrictive.

A cultural mismatch had broken the marriage of Shoaib’s peer Imran Khan, whose English heiress wife Jemima felt herself stifled by the conservative lifestyle imposed on her in Pakistan and lacerated by the constant spotlight on her cricket legend-turned-politician husband.

Qazi Zaheeruddin said most instances of an Indo-Pak alliance going wrong, or engagements being broken, come from affluent families. “But such occurrences are one in 10,000 among the common folk, whose engagement and nikaah occur almost together or within a week,” he said.

Shoaib has admitted to having been engaged to a Hyderabadi girl eight years ago and then split from her.

“Even Sania Mirza broke her engagement (to a Hyderabadi childhood friend) and got ready for another wedding within two months,” the qazi pointed out.

The cross-border marriages have, however, declined since the 1990s after terrorism soured the two countries’ relations. Earlier, Hyderabad used to host some 4,000 to 5,000 such weddings a year.

Getting no-objection certificates from the home departments of the two countries has become more difficult now, said Urdu journalist Quyyum Khan. “In the past decade and a half, the environment has got vitiated and problems in visa and stay permits have surfaced,” he said.

“One has to run from pillar to post to get clearances, which get delayed even if one pays large bribes,” said Abdul Hameed, whose daughter recently married a Pakistani.

Mohammed Faheemuddin, a research scholar in Islamic studies who married a Pakistani a decade ago, said: “We are looked upon as traitors just because we seek an alliance in Pakistan.”

But such weddings have their critics, such as Abdul Wahab, a high court lawyer.

“Most Indian settlers in Pakistan are termed muhajirs (refugees) by the Pakistanis who would not give their daughters in marriage to them. So, the Indian settlers come down to Hyderabad or other district towns in Andhra Pradesh looking for alliances,” Wahab said.

Some others speak of the problems of marrying members of the Pakistani elite. Dilshad Jah, descendant of a Hyderabadi nawab, had married a Pakistani aristocrat but says it ended in divorce because her society would not accept him.

“They do not consider us as having any blue blood at all,” he said.

A leading Hyderabad citizen whose spices and dry fruit business extends to Pakistan and West Asia spoke of his experience after his daughter married into a rich family in Sialkot.

“They treated us like subordinates. Eventually, I had to bring my daughter back,” he said.

“It wasn’t like this immediately after Partition but things changed during military rule in Pakistan. Even the bigwigs among the muhajirs couldn’t get brides in Pakistan and were forced to come to Hyderabad,” said Mohammed Bin Mohammed, a retired government official who once served the Nizam.

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