Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 1, Issue 28, Tuesday, December 9, 2003







life is elsewhere, yet...

THE 27-year-old male, born and raised in the UK, can barely speak Bangla, knows very little about the way of life in Bangladesh and probably will never live here. However, when it came to marriage the UK citizen was looking for a girl who lived a life he couldn't imagine, in the place he never lived in. Eventually, he came all the way to Bangladesh to look for his partner for life.

This has been the case for most immigrants living around the world. Migration started just after the British left. Millions of Bangladeshi settling someplace else, the majority of them in UK, face the same dilemma while choosing a life partner. Even if the second generation wants to consider other options, their parents definitely want their wards to get married to someone from the native land.

In our story we have interviewed immigrants. Through the brief discussion that we have had with our candidates, we tried to find out why this phenomenon exists and what sort of problem the immigrants go through while looking for their spouses.

Answering our queries
We asked all our respondents: why marry a Bangladeshi when you are a citizen of some other country and will not return to your native land? "It's simply a matter of cultural difference," one of them answered. He is already married to a Bangladeshi girl. He adds, "If I marry someone from here she will not be able to understand my emotions perfectly." He explained cultural difference in his own way. "I will not be able to share the moment with her when I am listening to my favourite Rabindra Sangeet".

Another important issue for him was the fact that his parents would not be able to communicate with someone from a different culture. As Bangla is still spoken by most of them, others raised this question of language as well. Parents who migrated to the West tried their best to raise their children in the traditional Bangladeshi way. Although the second generation adopted a mixed culture, their parent's language and sentiments is nevertheless a big issue.

The most important issue among all was the religion factor. The ideal spouse preferred by our respondents was someone from the same race and religion. The Bangladeshi community living abroad still does not welcome spouses from other faiths.
We tried to point out that there would be cultural differences with native Bangladeshi spouses as well because they lived a different life. Most of our interviewees wished to adjust to the slight discomfort that might develop with the spouse because of their different lifestyle. One of them who migrated to Canada with her husband elaborated "I was culturally shocked when I first went to Canada. It was a little painful in the beginning but I am now over it."

It appeared that some of the women who migrated after marrying an immigrant enjoy the independent life that they suddenly ran into in the West. For many, life in the first world is like a dream. They forget the cultural shock pretty quickly.

Immigrant Bangladeshi men share the household chores, a practice which is popular with the women. In Bangladesh the scenario is completely different. A woman living in this country cannot dream of such support from her husband.

However some women do suffer from identity crises. These are mostly from the highly educated group. This identity crisis lasts for a while if they fail to pursue their own career or higher education.

Some other important facts came out of our discussion. It appears that it is mostly men who come looking for partners here. Interestingly enough, some immigrant women do not prefer partners straight from Bangladesh. According to one respondent "Bangladeshi men are less considerate." She would prefer someone who has spent some time in the West.

Men consider some other issues for choosing Bangladeshi bride. They realise that women in the West exercise a certain amount of freedom, which Bangladeshi women will not demand. Bangladeshi women will sacrifice more on certain issues on which Western women possess a complete different perspective.

Choosing Bangladeshi partner also has something to do with moral values. Even after schooling in the West and being surrounded by people with different lifestyles, values and cultures, Bangladeshi immigrants tend to possess the beliefs of their forefathers, which are obviously different from that of the West. These beliefs result from strict guidance by the first generation parents. So single immigrants search for someone who will value their beliefs.

At this point, we argued that the values and beliefs of someone straight from Bangladesh would be somewhat different from theirs. It appears that in order to enjoy all other benefits, they are willing to give in to some of the differences that might arise.

Dreaming the dreams
On the other hand, somewhere in Bangladesh, some parents are looking for an immigrant groom for their daughter. As some immigrants assign marriage consultants to do the job of finding a spouse, we decided to visit one hoping to interview some of the clients for our story.

There we met some parents who want their daughter to have all the luxury and happiness that the Western world offers. To them, with all the crime, poverty, traffic jam, the politics of hartals, and the violence, life in Bangladesh can be very painful. They want a secured life for their daughter and they consider life in the West to be 'more secure'.

We've met men looking for immigrant wives. One of them, a man who is working at a government bank, is not satisfied with his life in Bangladesh. He wants life in the West and fast. Marrying an immigrant seems the easy way out.

Dreams are contagious. The presence of one family member in the West becomes the 'stairway to heaven'. One of the recurring tendencies of migrating males and females is to sponsor siblings, parents and relatives.

Problems encountered
Searching for the right partner does not always go so smoothly. There are some frequent problems that are faced by every immigrant who comes to Bangladesh looking for the perfect match.

The first issue that came out of our brief discussion was that there is no organised way to find a match in a settled marriage like this. It is either possible with the help from a marriage broker, or through news sources from various friends and relatives.

The first is carried out in a systematic way up to some level, although some parents complain of cheating. They say that some matchmaking agencies demand a lot of money, only to turn out as fakes. The immigrants are particularly vulnerable; as they do not reside in Bangladesh, it is hard for them to track down good marriage brokers. To assign a good matchmaking agent, families have to travel all the way to Bangladesh.

The latter method is harder. Relying on news from relatives sometimes forces the immigrants to meet several interested families, which is very time consuming. Some of them were successful in finding a match after their third or forth visit to Bangladesh. All these reasons increased the cost of marriage for immigrants.

For female immigrants, the situation can be very painful and embarrassing, compounded by additional suspense. As we have mentioned before, marrying an immigrant is an easy way in, so relatives in Bangladesh sometimes create pressure on the girl to marry their sons. There are incidents of threats of kidnapping and forced marriage to immigrant brides. There are even instances where parents had to take off in a hurry for the safety of their daughter.

Some complained of cheating by the opposite parties. They mentioned presentation of false information. Interestingly it was the Bangladeshi families who complained more about misrepresentation by immigrants. It is a common complaint that grooms sometimes present a higher profile about their status, which they do not possess in the West. When the truth comes out, it is often too late to do anything about the situation. Access to any legal aid is quite hard if something like this takes place.

However it is a problem for both sides to verify the information. Immigrants can verify with the help of their relatives living in Bangladesh but it does not work the other way for Bangladeshi parents.

Lifeline, an interesting effort
The problem remains. It is not very often that we see efforts to solve them. However some interesting efforts have been taken recently by some individuals.

Kazi Kamal Ahmed is a Sylheti lawyer. As a Sylheti, Kamal Ahmed came across some of the above-mentioned incidents involving immigrants. The apprehension is familiar to him as he also has an adult son living in the UK.

This has led him to the idea of building a platform for the immigrants. He opened a marriage media named Lifeline in May 2002, intending to help out the immigrants facing problems in searching for spouses.

This year in August, Lifeline, in collaboration with October Films of London organised a seminar on the issue. Brides and grooms with parents from both Bangladesh and UK were present at the seminar. In the open discussion, parents highlighted their concern over the issue. Why immigrants still look for Bangladeshi spouses, was discussed by brides and grooms from UK. This seminar created a chance for both sides to meet and understand each other.

October films of London filmed the seminar for their documentary in progress for Channel 4 Television of UK on the immigrant marriage issue.

Lifeline has three branches, one in Mitali mansion, Zindabazar, Sylhet, another in Mirpur Section 6, Dhaka, and one in London. As it is a common problem for the Bengali community living in UK, this effort received enormous support. Community leaders living in the UK have offered to help Lifeline by arranging meetings between parents.

Lifeline operates in a systematic way to some extent. Having branches both in Bangladesh and London makes it easier for them to gel the information and deliver them to the parents in both Bangladesh and UK. In the future they wish to open branches in other Western countries.
They also wish to open a complaint cell to resolve any incidence of misrepresentation by any party. They have plans to initiate schooling for Bangladeshi brides and grooms.

Finale to our story
With or without schooling, single Bangladeshi men and women living around the world are still searching for someone from the same cradle, as their soul mates. In quest for an answer to the question that we have asked in the beginning of our story, we have come to this conclusion that life may be elsewhere for the immigrants yet their hearts remain in their roots. Their souls remain in the land where their forefathers left their footprints.

More stories on page 4

By Shahnaz Parveen
Special thanks to all the respondents, who will not reveal their names.



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