What’s with South Asia’s Kissing Cousins?

The subcontinent has some of the highest rates of cousin marriage in the world. Popular shows like ‘Humsafar’ only mirror this reality.

mahira staring humsafar
Mahira Khan as Khirad and Fawad Khan as Ashar in Humsafar (Hum TV)

Sadaf Ahsan


July 26, 2023


9 min

Since its debut on Hum TV in 2011, the Pakistani drama Humsafar (“life partner”) has remained the network’s most popular series, having won over audiences around the world. Starring the country’s beloved on-screen couple, Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan, critics dubbed it the start of Pakistan’s “golden age” of television.

The series is much like any romance — a poor girl and rich boy fall in love, despite initial misunderstandings. But one thing is hard to brush past: that girl and that boy are cousins. First cousins. 

For a country that temporarily banned the acclaimed film Joyland due to its depiction of a transgender woman and queer love, it’s surprising that this one phenomenon has made it onto Pakistani screens. Yet, incestuous relationships have a long history not just in Pakistan and Islam, but also in multiple cultures (the British royal family anyone?), which also explains why it isn’t a taboo at all.

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