Page last updated at 23:54 GMT, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 00:54 UK

Arranged marriage 're-think' call

By Catrin Nye
BBC Asian Network

Arranged marriage has been a part of life for Sikhs in Edinburgh since the community arrived in the city in the 1950's.

Ragbir Singh and Gary Singh
Ragbir Singh and Gary Singh fear for the future of the tradition

But a rise in the number of traditional arranged marriages has led to calls for emergency action from community leaders and parents alike.

Edinburgh has a Sikh community of about 400 people who all worship at a single Gurdwara, or Sikh Temple, in Leith.

Traditionally, parents have chosen a suitable partner for their children, with the family arranging the resultant wedding.

And, until now, not meeting your bride until the wedding day itself has been the norm.

However, community elders have told the BBC Asian Network these marriages have increasingly been breaking down, with an unprecedented two splits in a single month.

It has led some to question whether old-fashioned values may not be working for a new generation of young Sikhs.

"We've been having meetings trying to solve it, trying to find out why marriages are breaking down so quickly," said Ragbir Singh, vice president of Edinburgh Gurdwara.

"Some marriages are breaking down within the first five or six weeks."

The Sikh community in Edinburgh is very proud of its traditional values and prides itself on the fact that strict arranged marriages have lasted so long in the city.

When I went to London or Manchester, the Sikh community there, they don't intrude on your personal lives
Sonny Singh

Elders admit other cities in the UK have not had the same success in keeping tradition alive, with families adapting more quickly to western ways.

Father-of-three Gary Singh did not meet his wife until his wedding day.

The 39-year-old said recent breakups in the community meant his sons may have to do things differently.

"A lot of people in England do that now, they're starting to move on," he said.

"They're taking their children with them, they'll go to their family and meet up and go for a coffee. Let the boy and girl talk.

"We don't do that in Edinburgh. Edinburgh's probably still in the dark ages. We're not moving fast that's the thing, but we're starting to see all these problems happening."

This difference in Edinburgh's community is something that 21-year-old Sonny Singh is all too aware of.

He was born and brought up in the city and is now a student. He said, during visits to England, he noticed more modern practices.

"You could say it's pretty old-school here," he said.

"I would really say it's more Westernised down south. When I went down to London or Manchester, the Sikh community there, they don't intrude on your personal lives and they're more open than what it is in Edinburgh."

'Must modernise'

Despite being only 21, Sonny values the traditionalism he has grown up with. He said it had kept families and communities close.

Ragbir, Gary and Sonny all talk very fondly of the huge Sikh family gatherings they have experienced in Edinburgh, and said it was tradition which has served to bind the community.

However, Sonny said bringing some aspects of these traditions more in line with Western culture was key to their survival.

He said he was not opposed to an arranged marriage, but not one so strict that he could not get to know his bride.

"I still believe the parents should be happy as well," he said, adding: "I would prefer to still get married to a Sikh because I was brought up that way.

This, it appears, is the solution the whole community has been coming to - adapting marriages without losing heritage.

Edinburgh's Sikh's are proud of their tight-knit, hand-picked community, but most understand it must modernise if it wants to stay that way.

Gary said: "Children are now standing up to their parents saying, 'I'm not happy with this, I want to do what I want to do in life'.

"This is where all the friction's coming in. Sometimes the boy's maybe fallen out with his parents because of it. Things are just starting to change."

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