By Aisha Sarwari
July 23, 2017
The Rishta aunty is the biggest omen of patriarchy. She reinforces the segregation of sexes and takes the agency of young women into her own hands by choosing who young women will spend the rest of their lives with. Probably, pushed to the sidelines of society all their youth that have retributive feelings towards the world which they then take out on young women who remind them of their lost youth. Their entire lives the biggest decisions they could make was to buy their choice of dishwashing soap after many failed attempts or to choose when to stop co-sleeping with their teenage sons. Therefore, this power over other young women is like their crack cocaine — giving them a rush of a lifetime.
They love watching a young suitable girl meekly walk into the Rishta room with a tray of tea and pastries that she herself made. They love scanning a young woman like a lioness watches grazing deer in the Serengeti. They love asking a young woman probing questions like a forensics doctor cuts open a cadaver in a mortuary. They love picking on flaws of these young women — too talkative, too short, too dark, too nervous, too uneducated, too educated, too dull or too intelligent. There is so much subjectivity at play that young girls don’t understand what they did wrong to be rejected by a suitor.
If Rishta aunties were anything to write home about, or were even matchmaking fairly decently, there wouldn’t be these many episodes of stove burning, acid burning, domestic violence and harassment that women face across Pakistan regardless of any factor.
Instead of extinguishing the Rishta aunty culture, the corporates want to establish it. Careem, the ride-sharing app of Pakistan, has now introduced a Rishta aunty sharing option while you ride. It is ingenious as a marketing strategy, but only if you care about men, for whom the Rishta aunties provide a way of checking a social equity box. The men for whom the world’s other wonders are open nonetheless, Rishta aunty or no Rishta aunty, marriage or no marriage. This service is an abomination to all women.
Women are rarely given any choices. The one choice to marry the person they are compatible with is only an urban and upper middle-class phenomenon that leaves out majority of Pakistani women. Even when women are allowed the veto on not marrying a man selected for them, there are so many social and religious and cultural mores to abide by that it’s much easier for them to just fall back on the heinous Rishta aunty culture — at least that way when all goes to hell after the marriage, young women may gather some pity because it would not be all on them. These young women who choose their own spouses have to face hellish wrath if the man turns out to be incompatible. There is so much blame.
Whereas the men have an infinite list of physical attributes to give the Rishta aunty as she ventures out to look for a suitable girl, the girl is only on the receiving end of the onslaught of demand. She cannot by any means ask for a stud muffin with an understanding of all things existential no matter what she does.
This is how it apparently works: the Rishta aunty moves her domain of question-asking and objectification from the drawing room to the car. This time, rather than spectators who belongs within the family, a stranger, the driver, is witness to this intellectual and emotional stripping down of a young girl. Whoever designed this, needs to go to the school where they train you to be an Aztec.
It is 2017, Muslim women have won the field’s medal, Pakistani women have scaled the Everest and won Oscars and still none of that is enough.