Pity the Nation one dare not, at least not in the Khosaeque fashion. But appalled one certainly is at the depravity of the independent private electronic media in the country; and furious at the impunity with which it is allowed to break the law in its pursuit for ratings.
The latest horror in a string of repulsive telecasts aired only a few days ago on the channel Ab Tak had a young, holier than thou airhead chasing transgender persons on the roads of Karachi, bullying them to find out whether they were transgender by nature, had had procedures carried out on their sexual organs or whether they were in fact biologically men, merely cross dressing to sell their services. One victim on a roadside was harassed to the point of lifting his shirt to pull down his shalwar to prove the truth of his assertions.
The voiceover introduction at the start of the program clearly identified a sinister conspiracy of the Jews and the west to infect this great Muslim country with such sinful and filthy practices. It is quite another matter, of course, that the producer or the script writer of the program were neither aware of the background of Iqbal’s Mehmood-o-Ayaz nor of Mir and Abru’s tiflan-e-tih-bazaar nor of innumerable other references in Urdu, Persian, Arabic or Moroccan poetry alluding to love or sex between men, and the testimonials these provide to the existence of gay love and sex in Muslim societies without Jewish or western help. Suffice it to say, this ‘deviant behaviour’ was pronounced to be a conspiracy of the Jews and west.
But distorted narrative aside, the anchor and the crew of the program merrily moved along self-righteously harassing people of ‘abnormal’ sexual orientations into confessing they were ‘gay’, pronouncing them criminal, and responsible for the spread of AIDS and Hepatitis in the country.
It did not end there. Entered Mr. Ansar Burney, an ex-caretaker Federal Minister for human rights and in charge of establishing a human rights ministry in Pakistan not too long ago. He duly registered his fear of the possibility of these people being terrorists or spies by virtue of being present on every road or every crossing - watching, maybe reporting or planning terrorist attacks in Pakistan. He was so thankful to the Ab Tak team for doing sublime service to the country, chasing and hounding gays around the streets of Karachi. This gentleman claims thirty years of human rights work experience in Pakistan, defending human rights. Clearly, gays, lesbians, transgenders and other deviants are not human.
To add insult to injury, the second half of the program focused on the media team ‘raiding’ homes aided by local police teams to ‘catch’ gays in action, with the sweet anchor of the program at one point announcing to the audience in a piece to camera, ‘khair ab tak tau unhon nay kapray pehen liyay hon gay’ (by now they would probably have put their clothes on). One couldn’t help but notice the voyeuristic nature of the anchor’s remarks. At one point the anchor ran through narrow streets shrieking ‘pakro, pakro issay’ (catch him, catch him/her) at the crew, while giving chase to a wretched person who, after being caught like a hunted animal, began to cry. She then proceeded to ‘interview’ him into tearfully confessing that he was indeed a man (and not a ‘hijra’ or eunich) who cross dresses to perpetrate immoral acts. On the streets and inside people’s homes this anchor queried the TV channel’s victims as to why if they were men their mannerisms were effeminate; the look in their eyes and their gestures feminine.
But every time sickening, offensive and criminal programming like this is aired, critics focus their attention only on the public faces of these crimes perpetrated by entire teams. Equally, if not more, culpable are the department heads and custodians of editorial policy, or the owners when they set policy. Not that public faces like Maya Khan or Maria Zulfiqar who variously preyed on, humiliated and endangered young couples in parks, or prostitutes, in turn should be exonerated either – they earn their keep actively preying upon the most marginalized and the most wretched of society. However, it is editors, policy setters or owners of media channels that must be held accountable foremost. In a sense, we the critics behave like the media when we criticize only the anchors, they being the easiest to pick on within the channels, just like their victims.
It’s time viewers became aware that every time they watch such a show, they are witnessing crimes being committed on air. They are witnessing invasion of privacy, violation of dignity, trespassing of property, harassment, and physically endangering the victims of these shows, and that the entire human chain involved in producing and airing such programs are party to the act. Another little fact to bear in mind is that rich and high class gays, prostitutes or transgenders are never targeted by our independent media. Profits are earned at the cost of the most helpless, marginalized and invisible communities – the nonhumans without human rights.
The writer is a human rights worker and freelance columnist.