What Pakistan can learn from India’s Daughter

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jyoti-mar5I finally gathered some courage to watch the much-talked-about India’s Daughter documentary by BBC Four. Going over the gruesome details of the gang-rape and murder of Jyoti Singh was gut-wrenching to say the least. The documentary highlighted the extent of the rampant problem of rape in India and people’s attitude towards it — the one that is the direct consequence of the deep-rooted patriarchy.

Like it was shown in the documentary, the natural reaction of the offenders and their apologists is “she deserved it” or “we did it to teach her a lesson”. One would hope to see the convicted rapists and murderers to show some remorse during the interview in the documentary, only to be disappointed.

So, other than bashing India and cheering that they have achieved extremely bad press, what does this documentary and the whole Jyoti Singh case mean for Pakistan? Is our rape problem any different? Are we any better? I’ll leave that for you to answer… can you swear to God and say that watching this documentary wasn’t like looking in a mirror? Rape, honour-killing, Wani and the deep-rooted patriarchy…sounds familiar right? The only difference, perhaps, is that several rape cases go unreported due to the reasons like shame, trauma and the legal system here.

There might be one other difference; India has actually started addressing the problem. Have we? Don’t be misguided by Punjab Chief Minister’s full page ‘women protection’ advertisements. The only way out is to truly tackle the problem. Following are the lessons that us, Pakistanis, should seriously learn from Jyoti Singh, the unfortunate India’s (or should I say South Asia’s) daughter.

1. Women are equal to men

Jyoti Singh and her parents’ message that is now reaching out to the masses teaches us the most basic lesson about the humanity; i.e. men and women, daughters and sons are equal. Women have a right to have ambitions and dreams; and a right to equal opportunities to achieve those dreams.

2. Break the silence

We have to commend people in India to come out on streets and break the silence. That is what we need to do here in Pakistan. Instead of urging rape victims to remain silent, we need to do our part to get help (psychological, trauma management and legal etc) to the survivor.

3. Awareness and Education

As sickening as it was listening to rapists’ defense lawyers telling how they were ‘proud’ of their ‘culture’ of treating women like objects; and how he would have burnt his own daughter had she been out late with a guy, it didn’t surprise me a bit. As someone from South Asian background, we’re used to hearing misogynistic and patriarchal slurs from people; especially men around us. I remember how a superior at one of the organizations where I worked once told me women are of ‘faulty-intellect’ by default; and how a female colleague once told me she doesn’t want rights because if women were in leadership place, the world would go upside down; Stockholm syndrome much?

And then we have religious leaders — some even educated (apparently) ones like Dr Zakir Naik — who say the way a woman dresses is to be blamed if she is raped. It’s time we started questioning these absurd beliefs. People need to be educated and made aware about gender-equality, rights and boundaries.

An individual’s voice might only falls to the deaf ears but with support from the civil society, community based organizations and the power of media, the ball can get rolling.

I can break it down to specifics if you still don’t get it:

– Staying out late doesn’t make her of bad character

– If you can wear whatever you want, she can too

– No, the way she dresses doesn’t mean she’s asking for it… the problem is with your gaze and instinct to assault someone

– She has a right to equal education

– She has the right to work along side men, and on equal footing — and just because a woman is working doesn’t automatically means she has a bad ‘character’. Because by your definition of character, she will be bad no matter what she does.

– She is equally capable of assuming a leadership role

If we still don’t get it then the joke is on us because we’re no different than those horrible men we saw in the documentary.

Only in Pakistan can women become ‘white’ and men restore their ‘manhood’ using soap

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This blog post was originally published on The Express Tribune Blogs

Screen grab from Macho soap commercial

Screen grab from Macho soap commercial

It is unfortunate that even in today’s day and age we have issues concerning gender identity. In fact, they have become more complex than ever and people are seen spewing offensive slurs at those whom they believe don’t adhere to their idea of a ‘specific’ gender.

What is worse is that things don’t end at picking on effeminate men or masculine women; it goes as far as people wanting to restore traditional (read: ancient) gender roles where men are the bread winners for the whole family while women are ‘property’ that stay home, serve their men and pop out babies.

As if hideous products like that ‘whitening soap’ named after and endorsed by an elderly celebrity that encouraged women to change their skin colour to white wasn’t enough, we now have a soap promising to restore your ‘macho manhood’ just by using it.

Let me walk you through the advertisement of this ‘manly’ soap.

The ad begins with a frame showing a couple of guys sitting together, feeling insecure and uncertain whilst they check out a good-looking girl, not really sure if they should ask her out or not. After some time, one of them gathers the guts to approach her – only to get turned down. After this, a supposedly attractive man appears on a bike and, predicting the obvious, all the women start ogling him, while the other guys start feeling even more insecure and pathetic. Suddenly, the attractive man screams in a high pitched, squeaky voice and shouts ‘badtameez’ – only God knows why – and everyone starts laughing at him. Then what is seen is a vision on its own: animated flower petals begin to flow out of the attractive man to depict that he smells like flowers. Perhaps it was the advertiser’s idea of a joke and wanted you to think that the man was screaming like that because of the soap he used. Instantly, in the next frame, the voiceover goes,

“You shower with a beauty soap and then show attitude as well?”

And then a shirtless, and might I add completely hairless, Caucasian-looking guy appears and tells you to use this ‘man-soap’ (yes, apparently it’s a thing) for it has a “storm of freshness and confidence”. Also, might I add, the motto of the soap is “mardon ka bharam” (men’s attitude).

Seriously? Is this how low our advertising agencies have stooped?

I can’t believe that the ad executives or whoever is behind creating this abomination are this ignorant! Are they telling us that men with high pitched voices or men who use beauty soaps are not real men? Who are they to pass such judgments?

I wish it was only these marketing executives who thought this way but it looks like we, as a society, are used to these kinds of stereotypical ideas. Lets jog your memory, shall we?

Recently, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) held a jalsa in Karachi and the chairman of the party was insensitively referred to as ‘gay’, ‘hijra’, ‘girl’ and was also bestowed names like ‘Billo Rani’. Why? Just because he comes off as what one might call as a little ‘effeminate’? Do we really think this little of our women and transgender community that, if we have to insult someone, we compare them with women and transgender people?

All of this may be very amusing to you today, but let me tell you something, to the people behind that soap commercial and all those who subscribe to the stereotypical ideas of gender roles and identities, what you’re starting now doesn’t end here.

Soon, there will be people – in fact there already are such people – who say that ‘real men’ have body hair (sorry soap guys, even your projection of a ‘real man’ can’t beat that), men don’t wear pink, women don’t wear blue, and so on and so forth. Stereotypes like these have a domino effect and before you know it you will be hearing someone say that women can’t work in leading roles and men shouldn’t cook. And shortly after that, you will hear others saying women shouldn’t work at all. And this will continue until we go back to living like cavemen.

Is that really the kind of world we want to live in?

Talking to IndiaPostLive on “Pak: Landmine for journos”

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Screen grab of the webcast

Screen grab of the webcast

I was invited on the panel of IndiaPostLive.com’s live Webcast to speak on the subject of “Pakistan: A landmine for journalists?

Journalists from both sides of the border came together to have an insightful discussion without reaching for each others throats.

On the panel from India:

– Vinod Sharma

– Snehesh Alex Philip

– Meena Menon

And of course the wonderful host Neelanjana Banerjee and the coordinator Subha Roy.

Representing Pakistan side:

– Beena Sarwar

– Aamir Mughal

– Yours truly

– Gul Bukhari

– Aisha Sarwari

– Meher Tarar

– Kamran Shafi

– Rab Nawaz

I mostly talked about…well why don’t you find out what I talked about by watching the show?

I am brought in at around 00:18:30 but I am cut short because of the poor bandwidth. I again speak at around 00:40:20 and this time the connection was better (thank heavens). And then for the final comment at 01:02:00.

Here’s the video. Feel free to comment.


Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

Turkish soap opera Mera Sultan aired in 45+ Muslim countries is ‘blasphemous’?

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The good ol' 'Khara Sach'

The good ol’ ‘Khara Sach’

In the time and atmosphere when everyone seems to be playing blasphemy-blasphemy, Hazrat Mubasher Lucman with spike-inspired youthful haircut branded the Turkish soap opera Muhteşem Yüzyıl – dubbed The Magnificent Century in English and Mera Sultan in Urdu – as blasphemous in his latest show.

The apt first reaction, other than rising of an eyebrow would be, as was mine, ‘say what??’

So the show begins with recitation of Quranic verses partly mentioning the story of two prophets Hazrat Musa (AS) and Hazrat Khizer (AS). It is followed by the Urdu translation in Mubasher Lucman’s voice whose pitch suggested he had probably found treasure. He then shows a clip from Geo Kahani’s Urdu version of the show where a pretty woman is narrating a similar story to motivate some bearded man in the show but the characters in this woman’s story are Sheikh Saadi and Hakim Shirazi instead of the prophets mentioned in Quran.

I know right! There is supposed to be some sort of blasphemy in there. Let me know if you find it while reading this blog post.

What Mubasher Lucman asserted was that Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman took foreign money to ‘change’ the Quran and termed the reference in the soap opera as an ‘attempt to modify Quran’.

Lucman seemed to be trying real hard to find endorsements; probably the reason that the ‘scholars’ on his show were unorthodox for a TV show like this one. One of them is Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi of Ahle Sunnah Wal Jamat (ASWJ) that is an alias of the banned Sipah Sahabah Pakistan (SSP) notorious for sparking anti-Shia hatred and inciting violence.

If you finally happen to find what Mubasher Lucman found, I have to congratulate you because you and the likes of Mubasher Lucman have serviced Islam like no other could. I have to remind you that this show has aired in 55+ countries, majority of which are Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia and some European countries.

I hope Mubasher Lucman realizes that this is what he is saying:

Geo TV owner Mir Shakil conspired against Islam at the hands of some foreign powers who gave Shakil money to have the full show made in Turkey, pay off huge chunks of money to Turkish actors and production teams only to have a poor quality dubbed version of it broadcast in Pakistan on a TV channel that airs second hand shows. And the sole purpose of this massive mission is to ‘amend’ Quran (God forbids).

It’s only fair to bring blasphemy charges to all the actors and production teams and people of every Muslim country who saw and loved this show, don’t you think?

But hey don’t you dare say anything about Lucman, if you don’t wanna end up in his show facing blasphemy charges.

So what if Mubasher Lucman appears to be in bondage/submissive relation with militants? So what if his incitement turns things bloody? So what if his ‘Khara Sachh’ seems more like ‘Khari %$@^@%’? So what if he has run out of topics to cover? So what if he has tasted his own medicine and has his channel banned in several areas? So what if people say ‘RIP journalism’ while watching his show? So what if journalism teachers show clips of his show to students as example of worst form of journalism? So what if he gave several minutes of precious airtime to the man accused of being responsible for killing hundreds of Shias? So what if he might just be inciting sectarian hatred? So what if provocation leads people to take law in own hands?

The man has to tell the good ol’ ‘truth’ on prime time TV.

Malala Under Attack Again – This Time by Taliban 2.0

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This blog post was originally published on Bertelsmann Stiftung’s FutureChallenges.org.

Malala_Yousafzai_Oval_Office_11_Oct_2013_cropBy reading this title, you might be wondering what in God’s name I mean by “Taliban 2.0.” Well, they are the people among us who pretend to be progressive but leave no stone unturned when it comes to being apologists for the very ideology Taliban carry out. You see, I don’t believe Taliban are the only people openly taking up arms and committing acts of terror against innocent people. No! It’s beyond that. The Taliban’s is a sort of ideology that has been around for ages. There have always been people living among us who support the very ideology we all loathe. Now equipped with digital technologies, these people are operating on a whole new level – the next level, if you will – hence, “Taliban 2.0.”

Teenage education equality activist Malala Yousafzai – whom you might also know as the girl who was shot by Taliban – has come under attack once again. The recent controversy in Pakistan mostly surrounds around her book, I Am Malala. She is accused of something as grave as committing blasphemy merely for petty issues such as the book not “carrying the Islamic salutation ‘peace be upon him’ where the names of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) are mentioned” among others.

Unless you’ve been asleep or living under a rock, you know by now that Malala Yousafzai has been made a controversial figure within Pakistan, mostly by the keyboard warriors on the Social Media. It’s not just the social media though! If you talk to urban middle-class people in Pakistan, you see extremely polarized views, many of which are heavily based on conspiracy theories.

Other objections include instances where her quotes have been twisted. For instance, there is one where she mentions that her father found Salman Rushdie’s anti-Islam book offensive but believed it to represent freedom of speech.  In response, critics have said that Malala is merely a tool being used, or rather abused, or even exploited, by the ‘evil West’ for its own agenda. The conclusions put forth by Taliban 2.0 are that she has maligned the image of the country and tried to make us look bad – as if we had a presentable image in the world at the moment. If anything, Malala’s work has boosted the image of the country with the perception that even in the war- and terror-stricken areas in Pakistan, brave and vibrant people like Malala exist.

Almost all of the things being said by this faction of the society are either misunderstandings or  purposeful accusations intended to discredit Malala’s work. Lists of all of those accusations along with detailed rebuttals to each are available at this blog.

This is the bottom line: This war on terror will take a lot more for Pakistan than just a number of battles. We are up against a mindset, an ideology that believes in the use of force – no matter how ruthless – in order to impose its agenda. Why is it no surprise that the heads of two Islamist political parties that have elected members in assemblies have openly called the Taliban commander killed in the recent drone strike a martyr. Maulana Fazalur Rehman went one step farther by saying “even a dog would be considered a martyr if it’s killed by Americans and Jews.” Well, what do you know: this little blog post of mine would then also be considered to be the words of a Jewish agent.