Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Unhappy Husbands: Masculinity and Migration in Transnational Pakistani Marriages

Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Unhappy Husbands: Masculinity and Migration in Transnational Pakistani Marriages

Article excerpt

In the year 2000, over ten thousand Pakistani nationals obtained entry clearance to join spouses in the UK. (1) The British-born children and grandchildren of Pakistani migrants to Britain are increasingly marrying Pakistani nationals rather than others born and raised in Britain. These marriages are predominantly with first cousins or more distant kin (Shaw 2001). (2) Most weddings take place in Pakistan, after which the husband or wife usually applies for permission to come to Britain. Until 1997, the majority of these migrant spouses were women, in keeping with traditions of virilocal residence. Indeed, British immigration officials sometimes used the convention that a bride would move to her husband's home, rather than vice versa, to justify the refusal of visas to husbands from the Indian subcontinent, on the grounds that the 'primary purpose' of such marriages was to gain entry to Britain (Gardner & Shukur 1994: 156). The 'Primary Purpose Rule' required spouses to prove that immigration was not their principal motivation for entering into the marriage, with male marriage migrants under greater suspicion of having an economic/labour motivation for moving to Britain. (3) The regulation was abolished in 1997, having been criticized as being specifically tailored to discourage continued South Asian immigration through arranged marriages (Menski 1999). Since then, the numbers of husbands applying for visas, and the proportion being accepted for entry to Britain, has increased to the point where there have been almost equal numbers of male and female spousal migrants in recent years (Home Office 2002). (4) Spousal immigration to Britain on this kind of scale is a uniquely South Asian phenomenon, with substantial numbers also coming from Bangladesh and India, but by far the largest contribution is made by Pakistan (Home Office 2001).

Academic commentators have generally interpreted such marital choices as representing the fulfilment of obligations to kin, enhancing reputation by demonstrating kin group solidarity, and as the primary means to continue labour migration to the UK (Ballard 1987; Shaw 2000a; 2001). (5) My own research, carried out between 2000 and 2002 in the Pakistani Punjab and with people predominantly of Punjabi Muslim backgrounds in the English city of Bristol, uncovers additional motivations for these transnational marriages, chief among which are emotional aspects of kinship. The marriage of a child presents an opportunity to strengthen connections between much-missed kin separated by migration decades earlier. Parental exegeses also stress the need to protect daughters, conceptualized as vulnerable to mistreatment by in-laws. For some, the marriage of a daughter in Britain to a trusted relative who has been raised in an Islamic society is one response to this risk.

Bristol, a city in the southwest of England, has a population of just over 380,000, of whom 4,050 were recorded as Pakistani in the 2001 Census (the third largest non-White ethnic group after Black Caribbeans and Indians). This represents a slightly lower proportion than the average for England (1.1 per cent against 1.4 per cent). Bristolians tend to have a clear conceptual map of ethnic minority residential concentration in the city, with Easton, a neighbourhood east of the city centre, talked of as the main 'Asian' area. Although South Asian households are in fact found across the city, Easton has become a centre for Muslim and South Asian services, with food and cloth shops, mosques and community centres, and a large Pakistani population. Many Bristolians would, however, be surprised to learn that according to the last census Pakistanis make up only 5.53 per cent of the residents of the ward, with Indians and Bangladeshis accounting for a further 2.7 per cent and 1.49 per cent, respectively. To give a rough idea of the ethnic geography of the city, Easton can be thought of as the centre of a wedge of East Bristol in which Pakistanis are concentrated. …

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