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By Nazarul Islam, Edited By Adam Rizvi, New York TIO: A few days ago, something unusual happened in Pakistan —which I construe, being a directional change in the conservative moral compass. Pakistanis live in a country, charged with patriarchy. Recently, a court in Pakistan had summoned the creators of a wildly popular television series—after a petition was filed, demanding from all those involved in the drama, to apologize; for portraying Pakistani women as ‘greedy, selfish and non-professional’.
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In a petition filed at the Sindh high court last month, lawyer Sana Saleem had alleged that the television series ‘Meray Paas Tum Ho’ (I Have You) had but ‘ridiculed a woman who makes the same decision, like every other man in society’.
The drama series had followed the story of a married couple whose relationship fell apart when the ‘unfaithful woman’ promoted an ‘affair’ with another wealthy man. Pakistani television dramas routinely show women forgiving their cheating husbands, but this series had presented a fresh direction and a question: should a (macho) man forgive his unfaithful wife?
The TV episodes have mesmerized the audience—the shows had also polarized the weaker nation. Women had turned over to Facebook to strike out the drama series from being aired further. Due to sensitivities involved in such a controversial theme, viewers felt that the writer, Khalilur ur Rehman Qamar, had perhaps lost both—his balance and sense of direction in the musings of his misogynistic, story-telling.
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As the show gained in momentum, Qamar courted even greater controversy after he had appeared on talk shows—to justify that his script had made sense in the real world. This had only to inflame the situation, by suggesting that ‘women should gang rape men if they want equality’, and that ‘women are able to resist temptation, while men are unable to do so’. Twenty-three episodes had run successfully from August 2019 to January this year, on a private TV channel, to become the most-watched show and drama serial, in Pakistan.
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The climax and the final episode was watched by nearly eighty million viewers, as the last episode was also screened in cinemas across the country, raking in a record-breaking 38 million rupees on the first day in ticket sales. This drama series had a huge impact, that obviously hurt women, across the country. Now, the courts felt that they had a duty to redress a new Public ‘grievance’ which had adversely impacted the Pakistani society.
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Pakistan’s most popular Television critic and journalist Mahwash Ajaz has placed her views on record: ‘These characters are unrealistic: overtly beautiful and modern, but also astoundingly stupid.’ Perhaps, only a (chauvinist) man could write such a script’.
However, many viewers were swayed with the character of the male lead, the ‘unfortunate’ victim of infidelity, and had praised him for one particularly controversial scene in which he tells his wife’s lover that, she is ‘barely worth spare change’—and not the 50 million rupees the businessman rival-in love, had offered him, for a divorce.
A court in Pakistan has summoned the producer, Humayun Saeed, who also plays the lead role, to appear on Thursday along with the lawyers of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority. Justice Muhammad Ali Mansha had made his famous remark: ‘if the bench would determine that the show features immoral discourse, action will be taken against the producers’.
For the students of law, this case is significant. Although it is not uncommon in Pakistan for people to ask the courts to mediate in this way, it is unusual for a petitioner to demand justice for women. A separate petition to stop the airing of the final episode of the show had earlier, been tossed out by the learned court.
Sana Saleem, Pakistan’s Women’s Right activist and attorney had stated: ‘The show had a huge impact which hurt women….. therefore, courts have a duty to correct something that had adversely affected the social fabric of the country.
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In her petition, she also had objected to the storylines of an unmarried couple living together, and a six-year-old child playing Cupid to set up his father and schoolteacher. However, lawyer Reema Omer had opined that by prohibiting content, regardless of the offensive’ nature of the TV series, it will still be deemed as ‘pariah’ to the freedom of expression. And…’ It is not the business of the state to decide what people should or should not watch on television; unless the content violates certain clearly defined limitations set by law, such as incitement to violence, for example.’
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Going back, Omer the Attorney had further voiced that critiquing the show in the media was a ‘far more potent way’ to respond to sexism than draconian censorship and court directives to make the actors apologize. Salman Iqbal, the founder, and CEO of the ARY Digital, the private Pakistani channel that had aired the controversial episodes, had defended the show. ‘Pakistani dramas for years have shown men abusing and cheating on women, yet no petitions were filed by men against such content. So why must this be accomplished now?’
He had also furthered the justification…’ If Tom kills Jerry in the cartoon, should we feel compelled to launch a campaign for animal rights? No, we should just enjoy it. And (We need to) forget about the nitty-gritty for a while, and experiment to see what the audience responds to.’
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In the historical context, Pakistani women have shared a history of taking to the streets. They had demonstrated this very bravely during the pre-Partition days of the subcontinent when the Pakistan Movement Was in the fullest swing. Thirty years after the independence, women had loudly demonstrated again, during a deranged military leader’s rule. Remember, General Zia-ul-Haq who had patronized greater Fundamental views, to appease clergy in the country.
And, this had led to the rise of extremism and violence against women in Pakistan. Beyond any doubt, In the past, they have lived by examples. There is a tradition of women in Pakistan, not being politically aggressive—bit being quite progressive in their outlook.
While Pakistan has made major strides towards gender equality —achieving greater workforce participation, reserved seats in parliament, and anti-discrimination laws for women —poorer, marginalized women and transgender citizens have continued to struggle in the margin.
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The time for change is now on. I believe that the Pakistani mindset has always tended to be Victorian, in character. A system like this has frequently granted mothers—lawful custody of minor children but in the process, had also made ‘life’ a living hell for them, with little or no support for raising their children.
While Pakistan has made major strides towards gender equality – achieving greater workforce participation, reserved seats in parliament, and anti-discrimination laws for Pakistan’s poorer, marginalized women and transgender citizens— have continued to struggle!
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Another paradox in the social paradigm, within the country, has existed—where male and female students are afforded different levels of freedom, at the institutions of higher learning. Most university hostels have a relationship of mistrust, triggering steps designed for constant surveillance of women. This is a genuine complaint in the Universities and needs to be addressed. And then, it goes on further —to the over-policing of dress and behavior codes, followed by early curfews for women.
Quite recently, a Pakistani university caused a furor on social media by prohibiting women from wearing skinny jeans and sleeveless shirts. Given these issues which the average Pakistani women face every day—– sometimes with nowhere to go — has created a space that recognizes a woman’s right to be there, being in good faith, genuine and integral.
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All this was pointed out by Women March leader Kanwal Ahmed, the founder behind a women-only Facebook group called the ‘soul sisters’. Unbelievably so, this page has attracted nearly 150,000 followers who like to adopt the lifestyle of ‘liberated’ Pakistani women!
Compiled & Curated By Maham Abbasi of TIO