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Maya Khan,

I have no personal vendetta with you.

But you’re at it again.

Last time I found you chasing morality in parks frequented by lower-middle class citizens (they make fantastic targets for righteous condemnation); this time I found you cheering a minority into a further marginalized, compromised position. A conversion on national TV? In a country where minorities are forced to convert already? “Appalling lack of ethics” doesn’t even cut it.

I refuse to get into the whole “Secularize Pakistan!” vs. “Islamic Republic remains!” debate. I’ll be frank with you: I am sick of my Twitter and Facebook timeline where self-proclaimed “liberal thinkers” compete with self-appointed defenders of religion in a hypocritical race of selective outrage against issues within the country and around the world. Apparently you’re Muslim – and quite a passionate one (albeit misguided, misinformed). So am I. But, again, we’re universes apart. In your mind, it seems from your constant appearances on TV, Islam is not a sacred faith that has, in countless instances in history, guranteed that minority rights need not be sacrificed to consolidate an Islamic republic but a sickening opportunity to cash in on consumer-based ratings. Let us assume that Sunil did indeed desire to convert by consent, which is fine, but to air it on national TV in a country where minority rights remain a shaming case of state negligence and constitutionally-endorsed subjugation is a testimony of your indifference or, sometimes I hope, your unawareness of the ongoing oppression. Indifference is a lot worse than unawareness, Maya. I’m giving you the benefit of doubt here.

A few days ago at the Social Media Summit in Karachi, you were mentioned at the media regulation panel which I was invited to and someone told me how the backlash that took place after your park-chase episode was misogynistic against you because the internet had an easy target: A woman. To an extent, I agree. You and I will never find the same outrage and nasty memes against a lot worse people like, you know, Amir Liaquat Hussain (I think I owe him a letter too, just to say hi). So before I explain my stance briefly, I want you to know that I sincerely mean you no kind of harm at all. I don’t know you personally. I don’t even think you’re a bad person. I just think you really need to evaluate your sense of ethics and content selection. Could you possibly do a morning show on, let’s say, media content and the lack of moral responsibility exhibited by those working in said sector? People would love you for it, Maya – think big ratings. I would thank you for it. What better a topic than discussing the recklessness reporters, talk show hosts and anchors have shown in the past? You could win conscientious hearts with this, you could even bring a change in our media. So rich with talent and content this country, it’s a shame you would choose dating and conversion as themes for your show.

What hurts me the most, Maya, is how you have – like many others – used my faith for consumerism, for shoddy attempts at gaining more ratings and ravings. It hurts me when a friend of mine – a Christian – confides in me that she knows that most of the Muslim population in Pakistan would be extremely outraged had a Muslim been converted on TV in a country where they were a minority. It hurts me when I read how people instantly start defaming Islam, my faith that has inculcated in me a profound respect and harmony for non-Muslims, despite knowing that it was not Islam that taught you to run a talk show on a live conversion but your greed for more hits and your insensitivity to the fact that minorities in Pakistan are already isolated and marginalized, that people of non-state religion already know when to keep their mouths shut, that these people will never know that there are people like me who resent you for you irresponsibility – people who are Muslims – and will never, ever condone such a blatant misuse of faith under the guise of ‘spirituality’ on a cheesy TV show. You hurt and maim what you claim to love – a faith that does not encourage relegating minorities into public objects for viewership. That their conversions are utmost private. That their forced conversions are utmost inhumane. Your idea has again, subsequently, backfired.

I’ll keep it short. I’m not angry at you; I am disappointed and there’s a list I could go through. I am disappointed in the silence surrounding this act of hypocrisy. I am disappointed in those who automatically jumped to accuse Islam of such idiocy, never realizing that it wasn’t Islam but our talk show host here who needed to re-educate herself immediately. I am disappointed in what you done in the name of religion without understanding that such a display is another blow against minorities in Pakistan – whether Sunil did it by choice or not, remains an equally significant issue but you do know how it feels to see someone from your own community leave for another, right? Especially when you’re a minority. The number looks small, the number looks weak, the number looks endangered. It is a clear sign of moral superiority draped in congratulating messages.

Before I end, I want you to know that this is not a message against you. This is a message against the electronic media in Pakistan and those ‘regulating’ it; for allowing such a program to be aired only shows how unfazed this board is by the real and unsettling cases of minority oppression in this country. I don’t want you to be fired – I didn’t in the first place. I don’t even want you to stop your show. I just simply wish you would try to understand the consequences of your words and actions. You have an audience, Maya. You have the power to sway public opinion. If you open your eyes, you could raise the public opinion into making Pakistan a friendlier, peaceful place for all faiths. I wish you would never use religion again and I mean this for every single TV personality out there. Using morality for ratings itself is an immoral act. Exploiting Islam is not a great idea. Like I said before, it backfires.

Some day we’ll meet. Maybe in a park, maybe in a temple, maybe in a masjid, who knows. I hope by then you have set a precedent for horrible TV hosts that media could be used as a tool of change instead of a shallow device for more ratings, less brains. Till then, please don’t give me another reason to write you a letter.

Amir Liaqat Hussain ne hi kaafi tabahi phelayi hui hai.

Sincerely,
Mehreen Kasana

An Iraqi prisoner of war comforts his 4-year-old son at a regroupment center for POWs of the 101st Airborne Division near An Najaf, March 31, 2003. The man was seized in An Najaf with his son. (AP Photo/Jean-Marc Bouju)

As a student and ex-teacher, I used to (and sometimes still do) find myself helpless before the constant influx of ‘academic’ and ‘political’ analyses emanating from the West concerning the Middle East, Asia and Islamic world – the East. The dichotomy mentioned by me here is deliberate due to the fact that it is highly obvious and perpetuated in Western ‘studies’ regarding 9/11 and post-9/11 dynamics in the world. The ideology of Us VS Them is endorsed directly and indirectly by the ones favored by the Empire – i.e. the United States of America. It becomes obvious when you read op-eds by Thomas Friedman, Seth Jones and Co simply because you can witness their views take practical form in the instances of drones, intervention, ‘necessary’ surveillance against a particular community, etc. When I spoke to Seth Jones on BBC WHYS after Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, I was very taken aback by the tone and assertion made – after being interrupted – by Mr. Jones that he “knew Osama more than anyone” and that his “regional knowledge of Pakistan” told him enough to understand the “militant ideology of its public.” He was, basically, claiming that the views of a native Pakistani were inadequate compared to his evaluation of the country – a land that is extremely diverse and subsequently complicated. This is a microcosmic example of how the Empire or the Super Power shuns the native voice and claims that its knowledge of a certain land, a certain people is all that should be heard and goes on to force others to accept it.

But it’s not completely bleak; There is hope. And that hope stems from those who choose to question the Empire and its modus operandi. I’ve learned from several people the powerful significance of reading between the lines and knowing that although imperialist powers would love to have matters committed in black and white, things are actually suspended in grey. A thick, murky and often bloody grey space that has to be delved into and sorted out by natives and those who openly oppose imperialism and rhetorical colonialism in, ironically enough, a post-colonial era.

But what is this narrative? What is the Empire? How does it function and how does it destroy the weak and hapless by simply using words? It is important to know the answers to these questions before you stand up and challenge the Empire. The narrative, as I would explain to my students and class fellows, is the description for a certain demographic/region/people established by the Empire. e.g. The narrative concerning Muslim populations has been a bigoted, racist and overly generalized set of theories, ideas and approaches.

To answer some of these questions, I’ve found gold in the words of the witty and wise Manan Ahmed as well as my friend and the humanoid library Salman Hussain. They write for Chapati Mystery, a website dedicated to South Asian literature, world politics, reviews and essays as well as critical slam-downs on racism, Islamophobia, violations of civil liberties and more. In one of the best essays I’ve read on the topic, Salman explains how the Empire controls the narrative and projects a certain image of a land that is called the “frontier” which is the target. Another important aspect of this imperialist manner of dealing with the “backward, Muslim world” is how the Empire uses a traditionalist way of constantly stating that so-and-so is “on the verge of a collapse” or that <insert Muslim majority country> is a “failed state” (by the Empire’s standards). By reinforcing the idea the Country A on that side of the world is ‘unstable’ and thus requires ‘correction’ is how the Empire maintains a control on its brutal and inhumane foreign policies. i.e. All that is done – bombing, drones, torture methods, spying – is justified in the name of patriotism and security. Usually the Empire uses “experts” on the region, something explained by Manan Ahmed:

Such an “expert” is usually one who has not studied the region, and especially not in any academic capacity. As a result, they do not possess any significant knowledge of its languages, histories or cultures. They are often vetted by the market, having produced a bestselling book or secured a job as a journalist with a major newspaper. They are not necessarily tied to the “official” narratives or understandings, and can even be portrayed as being “a critic” of the official policy. In other words, this profile fits one who doesn’t know enough.

Furthermore Mr. Hussains explains:

[…] Globetrotters like Robert Kaplan “who claim expertise by staying in hotels and who produce nothing but banal observations;” unabashed apologists for empire such as historian Niall Ferguson; peddlers of racist tripe such as Thomas Friedman, reportedly a pundit President Obama reads “to get a local flavor for events;”and “authentic voices,” like that of Ahmed Rashid and Daniel Mueenuddin, that serve to confirm the caricature of violent brown masses.

I realized that many of you – curious and critical – asked me what I meant when I’d urge my students and readers to challenge the narrative. As someone from a land that was colonized during the days of the subcontinent and then, post-partition, waged a covert war upon – that was never and probably will never be officially declared – I believe it is important to understand that the legitimacy with which governments – local or foreign – silence and misrepresent people through literature, media and politics has to be aggressively questioned. Like Mr. Hussain says:

The time to contest the hegemonic narratives and systems of dominance is now. “The effort to be ethical in the world we inhabit,” writes Ahmed “cannot wait for better times and milder risks.” For while the tenured illuminati console themselves with doses of virtuous patience and cautious knowledges, drones continue to colonize the skies and rain death from afar like gods. And they are headed home to roost.

I grew up thinking what Frantz Fanon described aptly in his quote: “The oppressed will always believe the worst about themselves.” Because it was what I was fed through TV, newspapers, comics, ad infinitum until I realized: There is a lot more to the story and it is purposefully hidden from my sight. The Empire will do everything to justify its violence. If anything, I had to question it and for that I had to use my mind and my voice.

And before I end this haphazard but important post, I’ll leave you guys with some recommended reads of the week:

Brain food.

I speak from a South Asian perspective – briefly so. The idea of “saving” a woman’s “honor” is not a man’s job. It is highly complicated in the sense that when a woman is sexually assaulted or harrassed, she is seen as a lesser being because her “honor” has been “stolen.” The attacker against said honor is often a man. The guardian of that honor is, erroneously so, a man again. Therefore he has to “save” her and “protect” the “sanctity” of her reputation from that criminal not because he believes that women deserve equal rights and access to the same privilege he has, but because the honor of the woman – an object under him – has been violated. The running emotion behind it is often misguided in that instead of making it her issue, he makes it his own. He finds himself less masculine if his sister, wife, mother or daughter is assaulted. He blames himself. She becomes a fragile, easily-broken, easily-tainted object. The concept of “Ghairat” that continues to thrive in the minds of men in our society is also endorsed by many women. To believe that it is only men perpetuating this mindset, is overly simplified and flawed. I do encourage men and women to protect each other but also to view each other  as equal human beings, that an assault on a woman’s body is not supposed to undermine a male relative’s honor but that it is inherently the attacker’s fault, the shame should be thrown upon him. When a man is assaulted, his ‘honor’ isn’t fretted over upon by a woman. His issue is his alone, his body belongs to him. But when a woman is assaulted, the related man believes he has been insulted. Her body becomes a battlefield. Another problem that arises is that instead of holding the male attacker responsible for the crime, the woman is instantly hidden from public view. The belief is that by hiding her, the problem goes away. But it doesn’t; it grows stronger, angrier and more dangerous for the woman. Silence implies complicity in this case.

Many people forget during feminist discourse on patriarchy that while patriarchy oppresses women, it also defines hyper-masculine, rigid requisites for men. “He must not cry, he must not express emotion, he must be strong every single day of his life.” Men should not define their masculinity by narrow concepts of “honor” but by supporting the idea that their masculinity is defined by the noble drive to hold women’s status and respect equal to that of men.

A real man is the one who respects the individual space and voice of a woman. A real man does not define honor for a woman. That her issue is hers alone and that the help and protection offered is not out of upholding his sense of ‘ghairat’ or honor but because it is her right to be safe from assaults. It is her right to be treated with respect.

Khatam shud.

Since everyone’s coming up with their own manifesto for whatever reason they believe in, I’ve decided to put forth my own because I am, much to my disappointment and irritation, surrounded by rishta zombies. Now let’s clear one thing before I even start: It’s not just the aunties. I see tweets on Twitter and status updates on Facebook bashing elderly ladies and claiming that they’re the sole reason why our society is obsessed with marriage and other gimmicks but guess what? No, they’re not. It is very convenient to throw the blame on one single group for the intrusive madness found in our culture. It’s not just these elderly folks or even slightly young ones; it is also men who assert the flawed notion that a chaste, successful woman is the one who ties the knot early without having her hymen touched. It is also people – even “liberal feminists” and “progressive thinkers” who forget, during their bouts of rage on social networks, that they indirectly define parameters and rules for other women as well when they yell, “I don’t get why she married so early!” when it just could be, if you consider the possibility, that said woman did so because of her own choice and priorities.

Which brings us to the first point in my manifesto replete with crayons and doodles:

Choice.

Holy shit. Choice. Listen to the word. Ch-oi-ce. God, that sounds so good. Choice. Ch-ch-ch-choice, baby. Prerogative, consciously thinking a step through in order to commit it, the idea to decide for yourself. Possibly one of the best words in the whole damn universe. Ironically enough, it is the least respected one by both spectrums of political, social and religious debates. So let’s set one thing straight: It is a person’s choice to marry or not and this decision is theirs alone. Now that we’ve established this basic truth, allow me to dispel several things our society makes us believe in:

i) “Larki ki shaadi x umer mai ho jani chahiye.” Translation: “A girl should get married when she is x-years-old.”

Stop setting an age limit for tying the knot. I’ve known several people to instantly throw in the biological reasons for marrying at so-and-so age because “it gets tough to have babies later on.” Let’s consider another real possibility: Maybe she doesn’t want to have children. That is completely fine. Stop forcing women to view themselves as reproductive machines in crisp aprons and nothing else. Some women don’t want to be mothers. Some women don’t want to have sex at all; They don’t want to touch your horny plans with a pole for the rest of their lives. That does not make them cold-blooded, baby-chewing demons from the deepest pits of hell. It makes them humans with their own ideas of living life. Stop punishing them for that.

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ii) “Jab shaadi hoti hai to sirf dulhan/dulha se nahi hojati; uske pooray khandaan se aik qism ki shaadi ho jati hai.” Translation: “When a wedding takes place, it’s not just the bride or groom you’re marrying; it’s like you’ve married the in-laws in a way too.”

How about no? While mutual respect and consideration for the legitimate needs of the family is fine, we need to stop conflating respect with blind subservience. Respecting a human does not mean fearing a human. Respect does not mean breaking your spine to please your mother-in-law or your husband’s second cousin’s uncle’s sister. Respect does not mean forgetting your own legitimate needs for the petty objection raised by the family you’ve become part of. Stop feeding young women and girls of our society this recipe of eternal subjugation. You’re raising slaves.

iii) “Larki ki rangat gori, kamar patli aur qadd acha hona chahiye warna larka nahi milay ga.” Translation: “The girl’s complexion should be fair, her waist slender and her height tall or else she won’t land a spouse.”

Get the hell out of here. This is exactly where hypocrites step in and do the salsa with these “imperfect” girls. This obsession with white skin, waif thin bodies, aquiline noses, delicate features is not a recent development; it is steeped in a history where a colonized people are forced to think that there is something fundamentally wrong with their physical characteristics. This goes on for decades and then, down the lane, we are ‘freed’ to run our own country where our society can ‘flourish’ but that never actually happens. We allow industries to capitalize on our inferiority complex. Case in point: Fair ‘n’ Lovely, Stillman, Garnier and the list goes on. I still remember one commercial where a naturally fair-skinned actress encourages women to buy Garnier’s skin lightening cream to look “prettier.” If there is a way to punch TV without breaking the set, email me here.

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“Shit.”

This bullying of dark skinned women is found in classrooms, at tea parties, during subtle rishta-hunts at weddings, everywhere. Several girls in elementary school in Virginia called me and my mother “ugly” because we weren’t white, we were Asians and that incident can be classified under pure racism. But what do you call it when people of your own ethnicity, of your own race decide to cast you out because you’re not white enough or your eyes aren’t blue enough or you don’t look Nordic enough to land a husband? It’s called: Misfortune and internalized racism. So from now on, if you see someone making fun of a girl or a boy by calling them “kaala”, “choora” (way to go, bigots) or anything similar to that, you best break everything they love with a handy dandy crowbar.

A woman is a woman and she doesn’t need to be ‘gorgeous’ according to definitions by society. She can be thin, fat, dark, fair, big, small, hairy, shaved, single, married, button-nosed, thin-nosed, lanky, chunky, virgin, non-virgin, anything and no one is allowed to make her feel inferior. Parents, if you’re doing this, quit it. Teachers, if you haven’t talked about this to your students, do it. Sisters, if your sibling is found hating themselves in the mirror, snap them out of it. Brothers, if your sister is made to feel ugly because she doesn’t fit the typical image of a “beautiful” woman, love her and tell her she’s perfect the way she is. Fathers, make your girls feel at home, at ease, respect them. Mothers, my God, don’t ever buy colors that “complement” a girl’s complexion; let her wear the color she likes, quit buying creams that “enhance” her pigmentation.

iv) “Jiski shaadi na ho, uska janaza nahi parhaya jata.” Translation: “The janaza of an unmarried Muslim isn’t carried out.”

I really don’t enjoy bringing religion into cultural debates but since our country has mixed the two to dangerous levels, let’s clear one thing for the last time: Matrimony is not farz, it is a sunnah. A sunnah is not mandatory, it is only highly encouraged. But in the case of not committing it, no one will drag you to
hell as long as you conform to your religion’s prescribed idea of not performing gunaah. That is all. Quit quoting zaeef (weak) ahadith and scaring the lights out of people. There are unmarried Muslims out there doing a whole good to the society and I’m sure I’ll be saying their janaza when their time comes. If you choose not to pray for someone simply because they didn’t marry, you’re an idiot. For Non-Muslims: The fourth point doesn’t apply to you.

Now that we’ve tackled some nonsense we’re told to believe in, let’s come to the solution part of my manifesto.

Say No to Rishta-Window Shopping:

You are a human with feelings. You are not a commodity on the shelf of a super store. You do not have a price tag hanging from your left butt cheek. You are a person who deserves respect, consideration and space. And if someone deliberately violates any one of those rights, you have the right to call them out on their insensitivity. If I were you, I’d make sure I gave crass rishta people a memorable time. Say, surprise them:

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Say Yes to Your Comfort

Uncomfortable with the idea of getting married to the guy you don’t even know? Have you tried talking to him and still felt that the communication wasn’t exactly the best one? Does he seem unfit for commitment with you? Does he exude the shining potential to be a complete jackass? Then say it out loud. Don’t hide it. Some people are completely okay with the idea of an arranged marriage/marrying early/marrying late and some aren’t. That’s their choice. No one should be able to define what a perfect marriage is for you. Find out for yourself. Marry when you’re ready or don’t marry at all. Stand your ground. Like this:

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Sorry. Wait. Like this:

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Prioritize:

My priority: I am only marrying when I’ve established a career for myself. Women in our society are whisked off when they’re not essentially ready in any way. I speak for the majority, before several of you decide to criticize me for my “generalizing.” The idea of becoming dependent on a male for financial assistance and a respectable social position is something that needs to stop. This argument can be challenged rightfully by the scenario in lower classes where marriages of convenience take place – something that will be discussed in another post. That said, the pinnacle of a woman’s life should not be getting married, in my opinion. There’s a thing called empowerment and it’s not emphasized enough because here’s what happens: Employment and education provide women with power and equality if done right. Something that our culture and society doesn’t exactly enjoy entertaining the thought of. Invest in your education, invest in your career, invest in your own priorities before marrying. I am not denouncing the institution of marriage at all. I am simply asking people to let women think and decide for themselves. For some women, settling down is the most important plan on their list and that’s fine as long as she is not at the mercy of her spouse. To make that possible, she should be aware of her rights as a human being. If you’re close to someone who doesn’t exactly know what her rights are, tell her. And remember: Don’t force liberation or your idea of “empowerment” on her. It’s her choice at the end of the day.

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Knock It Off With the “Larki Ka Ghar Uska Susraal Hota Hai”/”A Girl’s Real Home is With Her In-Laws”:

Fuck no. My home is where I was raised, it’s where my mother made breakfast for me and my siblings, it’s where my mineral face wash is. Don’t tell me some prospective house in another city or country is my “real” home. This mentality is such a destructive one, people don’t realize. The first time I saw this in action was when I was on a visit to my grandma’s and this commercial appeared. Here’s an image of it:

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“Sweetheart, I just wanted to tell you: This isn’t exactly your home. You need to get out right now. There, there. Don’t cry. I’m sending you off with some pretty dowry.”

“Meri nanhi parri naye ghar ko challi.” Really now. Where was she before? A boarding house? Oh, she was with her parents? That’s a strange place to be for a girl, right? The idea of telling a young girl that her parents’ house is not her home, is wrong for one reason: You’re feeding her mind with the idea that she is displaced and a burden on the family during her “stay.” When she gets married and lives with her spouse, society tells her then: “Your real home is your maika (parents’ house).” Thank you for confusing a woman with the idea that neither her mother and father’s abode is hers nor is her husband’s house. That she is a misfit in both places. What’s even worse is how many households never inform their sons that their “real” home is elsewhere; they’re already home. If you see someone telling a girl something so flawed, call them out on it right then and there. Marriage should not be the reason for a girl to validate her presence in any area. Why should anyone tell a girl her real home is B, not A when A is basically where she was raised?

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Divorce is NOT the End of the World:

Really. It’s not. A social orgy happens when a woman gets divorced. There is something inherently sickening about a society that experiences collective shock, horror and insatiable curiosity when a marriage is called off. The second thing that happens is how the majority speculates that there had to be something wrong with the girl’s character, past, appearance, family, bra, anything for the failed marriage. Very few people even consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe the husband was a jerk to nth level and so it would’ve been stupid to spend a lifetime with him. In this way, we make life impossible for women. Something we do not have the right to do. Stop hyping something so commonly-occuring. If someone tells you they’re divorced, don’t do this:

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Do this:

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Okay, sorry. Don’t tell them seagulls are fascinating (which they actually are). Just don’t offer pity. It’s insulting.

Be Vocal

You have every right to voice your concerns, needs, wants, dreams, goals to your parents and guardians and if need be, the society we live in. If you’re not ready for such a big change in your life, it’s okay. Tell your parents, tell your partner, tell your friends. Let them know. Getting badgered by the whole town is really annoying, I know. But what you can do is speak up. It takes guts and I’m sure you have them. If someone uses the what-will-people-say card on you, tell them: You don’t live for public approval. If someone throws the religious card on you, tell them: Religion states that a person doesn’t have to marry if they’re not ready, that their consent is extremely important. If someone tells you you’re getting old/unwanted/etc, tell them to find another hobby instead of pampering their ego by picking on others. There are so many people out there who genuinely have nothing better to do but the good thing is, I believe there’s a special spot for them in hell and karma also does them a favor eventually but that their sole punishment in life is simple: Being their miserable, pathetic selves.

Rise above them.

See, the thing this society won’t tell you is that you need to think your plans through, you need to ask yourself before you commit to something, you have to think for yourself. This society won’t ever tell you that your worth is not determined by the melanin in your skin, the pounds you weigh or don’t, how many jewels you have or not, how hot a partner you’ve scored, the cash in your account, etc. The society will always make you feel rushed, incompetent and disrespected. Challenge that. Fight against it. Call people out on their bullshit. Make mistakes, learn from them. Live life the way you want to. Don’t let anyone define anything for you. But above all, be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Learn and live and be happy.

And marry when you want to.

End of my manifesto.

Ran out of crayons.

From the trailer:

In India, China and many other parts of the world today, girls are killed, aborted and abandoned simply because they are girls. The United Nations estimates as many as 200 million girls are missing in the world today because of this so-called “gendercide”.

This documentary film tells the stories of abandoned and trafficked girls, of women who suffer extreme dowry-related violence, of brave mothers fighting to save their daughters’ lives, and of other mothers who would kill for a son. Global experts and grassroots activists put the stories in context and advocate different paths towards change, while collectively lamenting the lack of any truly effective action against this injustice.

One intensely riveting documentary. Recommended to those with a palate and zest for social justice, gender equality and harmony in cultures around the world. There are several parts in this documentary where the incidents narrated are highly graphic and unsettling (wherein some mothers killed female offspring due to pressure and stigma from the society) but this is a reality and the only way to tackle and eliminate it is to address it, firstly, and, secondly, rebel against the status quo that establishes this brutal approach. This is a warped amalgamation of cultural norms, societal obsessions with power and status as a result of patriarchy’s megalomania, religious orthodoxy and mass misinterpretation further reinforced by authoritarian institution(s), economic reasons, so on and so forth. It begins with the idea that (i) a female carries the evil potential to bring “dishonor” to the family and (ii) she is incapable of bringing food to the table like a “true man” would. Therefore she is seen as a potentially promiscuous burden on the monetary capacity of the household. In order to satiate the society and to uphold “integrity”, many female infants have been killed throughout Asia, Middle East and beyond.

As a female from a similar culture, I know how difficult it has been for me and my parents to receive comments on them having daughters only; from well-phrased sympathy and pity like “Well, may you have many grandsons if not sons!” to suggestions for my father to abandon my mother because she ‘couldn’t bring sons in the house.’ He stayed with her not only because he loved her but because no woman deserves to become a pariah for the gender she carries in her womb.

It is important to view this documentary and to read on how female infanticide is a dilemma our region faces but has done little to combat against. I honestly wish that our classrooms were less of master-slave cells where raising questions and objections are viewed as desecration, never curiosity. As someone with experience in teaching, I have yet to meet a teacher who drops the textbook in at least one class and addresses the questions and resentment that our girls have. I am not advocating the exclusion of male pupils in these discussions. You’re more than welcome to share your thoughts if you do indeed want a society where women are revered and treated as equal beings. I still remember mentioning this entire topic in front of a high school class. By the end of the discussion, majority of the girls did admit feeling that their sex was used as an excuse for all sorts of abuse. The male students confessed that they did, at least once in their lives, use the gender card to put a female relative, sibling, friend down. It’s about time teachers, parents, activists, the guy at the corner of the damn street acknowledged that there is inequality but more importantly something has to be done about it. Use education, activism, words, pictures, your voice, anything to fight against it.

I will have daughters one day, deo volente, and they will know that their mother is more than proud to have them; she’s blessed.

In the light of what has been discussed after I posted my open letter to Maya Khan which was later on published on Express Tribune’s blog, I’ve decided to clear several things out for the first and last time before someone misunderstands me for supporting sex trafficking and prostitution in family parks.

I don’t.

I don’t support occupying family spots for these acts. I don’t encourage anyone to strip naked on a wooden bench while kids play on the seesaw. I really don’t endorse the idea of soliciting people for paid sex in such vicinities. I’m not here, as several argued, to incinerate the very fabric of ‘Islamic’ social and moral conduct. Some people accused me of being in favor of letting young males and females engage in “questionable” acts due to which they get hurt sexually, physically and emotionally. One even told me to “leave the country” and “go back to USA” where “this shit happens on a daily basis.”  Implying that this “shit” is perfectly contained and controlled in the land of pure Pakistani perfection. Delusional people are most entertaining.

Some people also alleged that I am trying to be “hip” and “in” by conforming to the modern idea of PDA, socializing and modern relationships. They tell me that I am oblivious of what happens to young people when they are not told to avoid sneaking out, lying to guardians or parents, etc. They inform me that what Maya Khan and her kind did, was simply “interview” young couples in parks. Conflating “interviewing” with “harassing” is a dangerous misunderstanding. I could “interview” you too. It won’t be pleasant.

So here’s what I’ve proposed to all those who misconstrue me needlessly on two major fronts among others:

  • Concerned about indecency in public places? Use the right medium to educate

    Closet Maya Khans sit comfortably in their privilege as they preach those under them. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Her act was not just a moral policing one, but also a classist lashing against those with less a chance to meet in the places she goes to. We all know what happens in opulent, endowed settings. There is no difference between the “illegal” act happening in a poor man’s household and that taking place in a rich man’s mansion. It is very easy to attack and admonish the weaker party. You can use religion, morality or simple concern as an excuse. I don’t deny the reality that unsettling things do occur in parks and the idea to address those happenings is valid. But there are ways to go about these problems. Creating social and religious stigma around them is the least preferable thing to do. Someone with a little decent knowledge of ethics – media and otherwise – would know. Stigmatizing public places not only deviates the majority from the real issue but also limits accessibility to them. You are not helping by locking the venue up.

  • “Girls get hurt when they don’t tell their parents about their lives!” 

    They actually do, you’re right. However please help me wrap my head around the approach consisting of publicly naming and shaming a young person in order to make them aware of their actions. How does shoving a camera into a young girl’s face rectify her dishonesty? If we all are so worried about our young women, why hasn’t any one of us ever considered talking to them in their classrooms, in their school halls, in their colleges? Why hasn’t anyone of us bothered writing about it? Some of you seem so horrified behind your screens about the looming danger waiting to claw at our girls yet you offer no pragmatic solution to solve this problem. If Maya Khan and her troupe wanted to help girls from getting harmed, why didn’t she turn the camera off, implored the girl to listen and offered her well-intended advice in privacy? A group of panting men and women holding cameras after a young couple doesn’t change anything. You were not assigned by the government, constitution or God to ram “naseehat” down someone’s throat. Worried about young girls’ safety? Guide them without shaming them. Disgusted by indecency tainting the family park? Report to authorities firmly and promptly. Public vigilantism is not the right way to go about it.

It may sound tangential but many of you want to help women from getting hurt. That’s wonderful. I realize that many of our parents and well wishers do not have access to internet or open media sources to learn more in terms of going about discussing sexual safety, rights, etc. This is where you become useful and spread the word without becoming a moral preacher like the woman aforementioned. Tell young women how to fight against sexual harassment, educate young girls about sex because it is one of their primary rights, empower them through education, conduct classes, seminars and conferences open for everyone and talk about it in Urdu, Punjabi, Pashto, English, whatever.

Get to it or

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