Monday, April 26, 2004

Gonna get married... Sorry, elected

Onto Lib Dem stuff yesterday, I swapped the streets of Mile End for a big event in the Bangladeshi community.

The son of on of our prominent party members was getting married and I was invited to attend. Thank God it didn't go on for ten days though! But unknowingly, I turned up way before everyone else and had to wait an hour before people slowly started to arrive.

Having never been to a Bangladeshi wedding before, I wasn't sure what to expect. The bride and groom each arrived separately with their retinue, both dressed in indigenous clothing fancier than you'll see on the Whitechapel Road on a regular Monday morning. Oddly though, neither seemed particularly happy, although I was informed this was because weddings are a solemn occasion.

Similarly, the actual 'ceremony' passed me by; the men on stage listened to some readings from the Quran, read by the imam from Brick Lane mosque and the groom was asked if he accepted the pre-arranged oath offered by his bride. So by the time the bride arrived they were already married.

I was sat at one of the most prominent tables, along with some of Lib Dem councillors, Jonathan Fryer our European Parliament candidate and later Simon Hughes, the mayoral candidate. As well as councillors from Labour, community activists and the London-based Bangladeshi press and media were there as well. Simon was even called on stage to say a few words, although pleasingly he kept all politics out of it.

One of our local activists told me that unlike the sub-continent, arranged marriages in London tend to be more informal, with a family member knowing another family who has a son or daughter seeking to get married; there aren't as many professional match-makers yet. But this is slowly changing.

While arranged marriages seem to work, he told me that when they fail it's usually because the young people - especially the women - feel inhibited from speaking to their parents and elders about what they want and expect from a match. These young Bangladeshi women, many of whom are graduates and confident outside the home, can be shy and inhibited behind the family's front door.

And yet aspects of Bangladeshi society are changing. According to one of our councillors, it is becoming more common at events like these for men and women to sit together; a few years ago there would have been segregation.

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