There used to be arranged marriages or love marriages, now there are Facebook weddings
CYBERWEDS: Kumar Acharya and Bandana married after a brief Facebook courtship.
After waiting for an answer for three months, 28-year-old Kumar Acharya finally blocked Bandana on Facebook. He had sent her 23 messages a day, having no clue if the girl was interested at all in marrying him.
Bandana did not update her status, and gave no indication if she was interested. But Kumar did not give up his Facebook courtship. He sent her a new friend request, and suddenly the relationship blossomed and the two got married.
“I read all the messages, but did not answer any of them,” Bandana, 24, recalls with a smile. “I was playing hard to get.”
Kumar and Bandana are among a growing number of married couples in Nepal who first met through social networking sites. Kumar’s mother introduced him to various prospective brides, but Facebook gave him the right choice he needed.
Social networking has therefore become the new match-maker for Nepali youth, and with the number of Facebook users crossing 4 million, there are plenty of matches waiting to be made.
Facebook also means the end of the geography, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world anymore to matchmake.
Even so, it is not always so easy to approach people on Facebook, since friend requests from strangers are often rejected. One may still need help from a family member or a relative.
“My cousin knew Bandana and in this sense he acted like a go-between,” says Kumar. And, just to keep to tradition, Bandana and Kumar also consulted an astrologer to find out if they were suited for each other before getting married.
Suresh Gurung proposed to Shanti on Valentine’s Day though they had never met face-to-face.
Suresh Gurung, 24, was also helped by his sister to become Facebook friends with his future wife, Shanti. It was much easier for Suresh since Shanti was an avid Facebook user, and replied to all his messages.
“After looking through her profile, I knew that I want to marry her,” says Suresh who proposed to Shanti on Valentine’s Day on (where else?) Facebook even though he had never met her face-to-face.
Suresh and Shanti describe their match as a “love marriage”, while Kumar and Bandana consider their marriage to be an “arranged marriage”. But both are actually “Facebook marriages”.
Kumar and Bandana giggled and held each others’ hands during a recent meeting, and it was clear they were very much in love. But with matchmaking made easier through social networks, the paradox is that Facebook also makes it easier to break up.
Bandana says she has now prohibited Kumar from spending time on Facebook. “I do not like him talking to other women,” she says with a wry smile.
Suresh Gurung, on the other hand, still follows his wife’s activity through Facebook. “When somebody comments on her photos, I always ask who is that guy?” he laughs.
Another negative of social networking sites such as Facebook is the ease with which people can fake identity and use it to harass others. Police on Wednesday arrested Ram Kumar Shyangbo, 30, of Sindhupalchok after receiving a complaint from a woman whom Shyangbo had befriended on Facebook. Shyangbo had been sending her vulgar messages including nude photos and soliciting for sex.
With social life in Nepal moving into the virtual world, it looks like the hyper-reality of Facebook is becoming more real than actual people. Kumar and Bandana both admit their partner is quite different in real life.
“In the pictures she looked more innocent,” says Kumar. “And he was very serious on Facebook,” says Bandana.
Facebook is a mask, enabling people to live their dreams and put out an idealised version of themselves. But it has allowed Nepalis separated by distances to meet up, and even young men and women living in the same neighbourhood to make the first contact.
Percentage of married by age 20 in age group 25-29 and percentage of married by age 18 in age group 20-24.
When Anu Lama, 19, of Ichok of Sindhupalchok went to Kuwait in 2009 to work as a maid, she bought a cell phone so she could keep in touch with fellow Nepalis there. Within a few months she started getting calls from a young Nepali man also working in Kuwait. Eventually they fell in love, and got married on return to Nepal. They had never met in person in Kuwait, only talked on the phone.
Marriages in Nepal are going high-tech as boy meets girl on the Internet or by phone. Adolescents now no longer wait for their parents to match-make, which suits the bride’s family fine because they no longer have to arrange a dowry. Studies show the median age of marriage in Nepal has risen from early to mid adolescence.
According to a 2012 study by Plan International, Save the Children and World Vision International, parents in 15 sample districts blamed mobile phones and mass media as a reason why teenagers are finding their own partners.
Children have no reservations about eloping with their classmates. School teachers, even principals, are powerless to prevent their brightest students from getting married,” says Raj Kumar Mahato of BHORE Nepal which works on child marriage and dowries in the eastern Tarai. To avoid complications, both families then sanction the ‘love marriages’.
In Majhgaun, Sindhupalchok, it is also the poor, uneducated, and marginalised youngsters who are more affected by mobile marriages. Parents and village elders try to discourage them, but peer pressure prevails.
Isha Danuwar(right) decided to buy a cell phone because most of her girlfriends had their own sets and were already talking to boys they had never met. Isha also found her future husband this way and eloped with him. Now 17, Isha is the mother of a two-month-old son, barely has enough to feed the family, and also dropped out of school.
Ola Perzcynska of Her Turn Nepal, an organisation that works to educate young girls in Gorkha and Sindhupalchok, says more child marriages now happen based on the girl’s decision. “We’ve met girls who were married by choice by the time they turned 14,” says Perzcynska. “But there are also others who learn about the negatives and swear they will keep studying and not marry before they turn 20.”
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No time for school