Recently I saw a documentary. I tend to favour Channel 4 over most channels because they produce really quirky, thought provoking, controversial programmes – just the stuff I like! This documentary was beyond anything I’ve ever seen and to be honest, I was surprised that it happens in the UK. It was called: “Men with Many Wives” and was centred around the trials and tribulations of men who had more than one wife and their children both in the UK and abroad. One man had 3 wives; 2 in the UK and 1 in Morocco with their 2 children, whom he only saw every 7 – 9 months.
Polygamy is something I didn’t know too much about it or why people chose to have multiple wives. The first thing that sprang to mind was that TV show “Sister Wives” which was a bit full on for me. However, it is interesting to note that the documentary didn’t mention or show cases of polyandry (women having multiple husbands). For those in the know, it is illegal to practise polgamy under British law, yet over 20,000 polygamous marriages exist in the UK.
I generally have a “live and let live” attitude with regards to what people get up to in their private lives – as long as it’s not illegal and/or causing harm to others. There were aspects of the documentary that I found interesting, valid, infuriating and unacceptable – all at once! My main beef with it was that the reasons for polygamous marriage largely came from a male perspective and what they were doing is illegal under British law.
When the director Masood Khan asked why these men practised polygamy their responses ranged from: “It makes a nice, big family” to “…wanting companionship” and “polygamy is something normal in Africa and many parts of the world” to “looking after and protecting women.” One man went as far as comparing his wife to “a nice car that you cover up so that other people don’t desire or want it.” This didn’t sit too well with me – especially the last point.
Over 20,000 polygamous marriages exist in the UK
I personally believe that marriage is something undertaken by 2 people who want to dedicate their lives to each other and raise a family; to me it’s not just a romance thing (though that might help). If you want to be committed to multiple partners, it’s called an open relationship. It’s all well and good wanting a nice big family, but there needs to be financial, emotional and mental stability in order for both people to provide for their children. With a sky high living costs and dwindling salaries, it is important for people to be able to look after themselves and their families. In the programme, most of the men were unable to adequately provide for their wives and their children which made me question why they wanted more than one wife. It’s all very well and good saying that you want a big family, companionship etc, but if you cannot sustain or look after your family sufficiently, then there’s no point having more than one wife and having lots of kids – it’s not fair on them.
Yesterday morning, I appeared on BBC Asian Network – exciting times – and gave my views on a fairly eyebrow raising topic: marriage detectives. You can listen to the show so click here to hear my velvety voice! (I come in at 37 minutes) with the inspiration coming from this article which you can read here. It was a fascinating yet thought provoking topic which has naturally resulted in a blog post.
The brains behind the Delhi based marriage detective agency is Taralika Lahir, who has worked in the private detective industry for 25 years. Lahiri’s investigations range from anxious parents or would be brides and grooms to run a full background check on their partner to couples who suspect their other half of playing away. Lahiri’s methods involve 24 hour surveillance, recording phone calls, running financial background checks to taking photographs and more, provided that she is able to present physical evidence of her findings to her clients.
I personally feel quite conflicted about marriage detectives: on one hand I think it can be a force for good as it can really avert major disasters that could potentially wreck someone’s life (fraudsters, serial cheats). But I also believe that you should listen to your gut instinct: if you don’t initially trust or feel comfortable around someone then you shouldn’t marry them or be with them – regardless of it being an arranged or a love marriage. In addition, if you can’t be faithful or responsible or mature enough to get married or be in a relationship, don’t get into one and ruin the other person’s life and their family.
As expressed in the radio interview, I find it really sad that people feel the need to resort to using marriage detectives in order to find out about their prospective partner. For me it boils down to trust; without that you can’t be with someone. Many British born Asians joke and complain about “the aunty network” who report back to our parents and families by exaggerating little lies about us (no aunty, I was not smoking, I was eating a lollipop!) – but they come in handy for things like this even though their intentions are questionable, their timing isn’t always right nor is their venue of choice appropriate (mandhirs and gurudwaras).
A marriage detective agency sounds crazy: 24 hour surveillance? Recording phone calls? Having undercover detectives snooping around with a camera in their hands ready to catch you at your worst? I thought it was too until I had a proper think about it: we’re more or less under surveillance for the majority of our lives (CCTV) and I know many couples who admit to going through their other half’s phones, Facebook messages and Whatsapp chats. Isn’t that just a smaller and more personal scale of what Lahiri is doing? And more so: why do we do it?
Lately I’ve been having a think of things and have reached an uncomfortable stage in my life so far. It is difficult to accept certain things, especially the ones where your heart has decided to staple itself to, will not or may never happen.Whether it’s romantically, emotionally, personally or careers wise – it hurts a lot. A part of that realisation comes with growing up and realising that time, energy and resources are horribly limited. And the rest of that realisation gradually occurs when your heart realises that its been scarred and wounded by the staple.
A shocking statistic recently showed that less than 2% of black, Asian and minority ethnic people (BAME) are in mainstream British media whilst they make up over 6% of the population. It’s a disproportionate figure that really puts things into perspective: this is 2014. Whilst we have made strides in certain areas of British society, it is clear that we still have an incredibly long way to go before we achieve “equality.” I’ve seen a number of organisations aimed at “promoting diversity” and giving ethnic minorities a “helping hand” through funds, schemes and campaigns. This is all very well and good but I feel like it’s not enough: you cannot constantly throw money at things and expect them to change over night. Yes funding and money are important, after all the world runs on them, but sometimes all people need is a chance. I find that those of ethnic origin who have managed to smash the glass ceiling and get to a high post, very very rarely do they give back to their communities and help the coming generation. In addition, many organisations are reluctant to do that; instead the positions are magically created out of thin air for Debbie in HR’s daughter’s best friend’s sister’s nephew.
Earlier this year, British comedian Lenny Henry, began a campaign to force British media outlets and organisations to promote greater diversity on TV. Click to read. This was amazing and so encouraging to see; I just hope with all my heart that it works out and 10 years down the line the issue of diversity on TV and in the media isn’t around and doesn’t become a talking house.
You cannot constantly throw money at things and expect them to change
It got me thinking of the implications that this statistic has had and would have. For a long time I’ve always wondered why we have ethnic minority papers in the UK; The Voice, The Eastern Eye to name a few. If Britain was as truly cohesive and accepting of talent from all backgrounds as it claims, why do we still have newspapers and magazines aimed at ethnic minorities? Back in the day, when the migrant generation first arrived in Britain the need, the demand and the comfort of having a newspaper that spoke about a specific community is understandable. I had a conversation with a friend who said that we should abolish ethnic minority newspapers altogether because it indicates that we are not considered to be a “fully integrated part of the British establishment.” I personally think that ethnic minority newspapers are still a necessity especially given the above statistic. Ethnic minority papers discuss community issues in an open manner, bind people and provide many with a sense of comfort that their issues are not being ignored. The main challenge that many of these newspapers face, is making their organisations accessible and understood by a second, third or even fourth generation audience. For many of these establishments play a key role in how young British ethnic minority citizens view themselves, their communities, their cultures and themselves against the backdrop of contemporary British society.