How COVID-19 has redefined weddings in Pakistan

A story by Momina Mindeel

Weddings are grand and expensive affairs in Pakistan, lasting anywhere from a few days to more than a week. For some, especially the parents of the bride, who are expected to organize expensive weddings, a wedding can feel like a colossal burden. However, COVID-19 might change that.

Pakistani weddings, particularly for the wealthy, are grand and expensive affairs. They can last three days to a week, or more, depending on your budget and societal reputation. More often than not, the latter takes priority over the former, resulting in people going above and beyond to keep up appearances despite the financial strain.

These weddings can, therefore, be burdensome, not only for the bride and groom, but also for their families and friends. From elaborate outfits and makeup to costly venues, DJs, and henna artists, the list of requisite things that make a Pakistani wedding can seem endless. As for the size of Pakistani weddings, they vary, on average, between 300 to 600 guests, contributing to an overall tab that can stretch into the equivalent of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of U.S. dollars.

Amid all this opulence lies Pakistan’s dowry culture, wherein the bride’s parents spend their life savings on buying big-ticket items for their daughter and her groom, like furniture, a car, or even a house. However, all of these matrimonial standards and expectations could soon be reexamined. In just a few months, the emergence of COVID-19 has transformed Pakistani weddings in ways no one could have imagined before the pandemic.

On March 13, Pakistan closed all wedding halls and banned big gatherings until further notice. A small number of people who were scheduled to get married around the time the ban was announced went ahead with their weddings. These weddings, however, looked nothing like a quintessential Pakistani wedding. For one, they were held at the homes of the couples getting married, and the guest list numbered 30 people or less. Other expenses, like food and photography, were slashed, and yet, people still enjoyed themselves, somehow.

Aleena Shafique and Samavia Kamran, both went through with their respective weddings two days after the government closed the country’s wedding halls. In the following video, they each describe how the pandemic’s restrictions ironically enabled them to have the weddings they secretly wanted instead of the ones they felt obliged to plan.

Made by NYU's Studio 20 graduate journalism program.