Earlier this month, a leading English daily reported that Edhi Foundation, Pakistan’s most widely recognized charitable organization, “recovered over 300 bodies  of newly born babies, mostly of girls, in different parts of the city [Karachi] during 2019 which were later on buried properly in graveyards, according to charity officials. The [Edhi’s] spokesperson, Saad Edhi, said that…bodies of [female] newborn babies were found at open places or roadsides in the metropolis in 2019,” as he also recalled that the number of female infanticide had doubled as compared to 2018.
In a country where this disturbing news is not headlining or shaking the corridors of power for law enforcement authorities to take action, it’s not wrong to assume that females have little space in society. Like most places in the world, the predominant order is a patriarchal one. And like most places in the world, women here must raise their voices if they are to be heard.
Couple that with an ideology borne out of this archaic set of social beliefs, you have glass ceilings, you have misogyny, you have social and economic gender inequality, female infanticide, and the list of injustices is long.
In 2018, Pakistan saw its first ever held Aurat March where slogans were chanted for the freedom, equality and justice of all women. Post Aurat March’s second iteration in 2019, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly held a protest “to prevent conspiracies aimed at destroying our social and cultural values in the form of immoral protests,” their official website states. The ten movers behind the official protest were all women.
Come January 2020, where the most popular drama serial captivating largely female audiences is Mere Paas Tum Ho in which it was recently seen that at one of the most critical junctures of the storyline, the male protagonist refers to his (former) wife as a doh takkay ki aurat (this girl worth only 2 takkas). This dialogue caused a bit of a furore amongst certain sections of the society, leading to some debate and eventually a talk show featuring its writer, Khalil ur Rehman Qamar along with leading Pakistani TV and print journalist, Owais Tohid as well as one of Pakistan’s most respected human rights activist and supporter of gender equality, Tahira Abdullah.
Before one goes on to understand what transpired in the recent talk show, it is imperative to analyze Qamar’s previous statements in regard to the role of women and his explicit opinion on their role in society, which prompted this debate.
In one of the older interviews conducted for a digital media house late last year, Qamar concludes (translated from Urdu) “When a married woman cheats [on her spouse], she doesn’t lower her gaze. She speaks with a strength that she draws from the promise of another man. When an unmarried woman cheats [on her relationship], she lowers her gaze.” In the same breath, he continues to say, “when a married man cheats [on his spouse], he lowers his gaze. When an unmarried man cheats [on his relationship] he speaks fearlessly.”
However, it doesn’t end there. Qamar directs women not to feel angry about representations depicted in the serial Mere Paas Tum Ho based on how they have actually ruined men’s lives, adding that the only beauty a woman has is her “honour” and her “fidelity” and if they don’t possess these elements, he would call them 'non-women' and henceforth, impossible for him to refer to every woman as a woman.
Qamar then abuses the ones who have been disloyal [to their spouses/in their relationships] and says he is fighting the fight for 'good women', stating that he is one of the biggest 'feminists' in the country. Expounding his argument further, he says that if women want to be equal, they should also kidnap and gang-rape a man.
According to Qamar, what women are demanding are part of men’s rights, which they won’t be getting. “Vulgarity doesn’t define women. You belong to nobody then…men don’t have the ability to say no [to acting upon physical attraction], but good women are always able to say no…"
Fast forward to now:
The explosive statements led to major social media backlash. Following the airing of the controversial dialogue, the talk show Qamar engaged in a heated debate with both Owais Tohid and Tahira Abdullah. Throughout the show, his unapologetic viewpoints drew criticism from both the other guests but they often found themselves having to deal with the famous writer’s more famous aggression.
However, being the trooper that she is, Tahira Abdullah did not back down and held her ground explaining the inherent rights of women as humans and the injustice of labelling them as either good or bad.
Video excerpts from the interview went viral and the aftermath has seen two distinct outcomes- 1) total admiration for the brave and eloquent Tahira Abdullah; and 2) hate for Tahira Abdullah from sections adhering to the far right.
Ironically, the far right is not the only section of society not siding with Abdullah, but many women who are ardent fans of the roaringly successful Mere Paas Tum Ho, have also thrown shade at her by ignoring the obvious misogyny for the sake of entertainment.
Meanwhile, for Women’s Day approaching on March 8, 2020, an increasing number of feminists nationwide are gearing up for the third iteration of Aurat March. The posters are up and the planning meetings are being set up as we type this report. Now let’s see how other provincial (pun intended) assemblies react to that.
May it also be known that Qamar has since then, also sent an abusive audio message to writer, blogger and TV critic, Uzma Razzaq for not possessing the intellect to appreciate the serial.
Post Script: On Sunday, January 26, 2020, Mere Paas Tum Ho was trending with different 4 hashtags amongst Twitter’s top 5 trends for Pakistan