Of revealing dresses and screenshots

This week Pakistan was noisy for it had been rattled. You see, there was this woman who was photographed wearing clothes that were too short. She was smoking too. To make matters worse, she was seen next to an Indian. The paparazzi photographs spread across Pakistan’s social media scape like wildfire. Apparently, everyone had something to say about the picture. Some insisted she had betrayed Pakistaniyat and had brought shame to the all-holy culture of our beautiful homeland. Others insisted that she was never really a role model for ethics so her photographs should not impact our social insecurities. None, however, looked away acknowledging that a) their point of view did not matter and b) they had no right whatsoever to judge the woman who was living her own life with her own rules.

Pakistan was scarred this week too for it saw something unholy about a man who is the epitome of holy. A man who lectures on piety, modesty and ethics was caught red-handed being purely unethical. Screenshots of his conversations were shared where he used stomach-churning naughty lingo with a woman. Many came out with pitchforks, shamming him for his hypocrisy. Even more came out to support him, terming all of this a mere conspiracy. There was much conversation, yet again people assuming that their views mattered and that they, as part of this society, played a part in dictating how modesty has to be defined. None, however, looked away acknowledging that a) their point of view really does not matter and b) humans are more of a (and indeed naturally so) sexual being than religion, culture or society is ready to admit them to be.

Why is the Pakistani society so obsessed with defining and imposing morality? A quick google search reveals that Pakistan is amongst the top 5 most unsafe countries for women in the world. Others that share our ranking include countries that are either warzones or similarly fixated on ensuring modesty within their society. This plays against the often-repeated comeback by morality policers in our country who continue to support their right to dictate on fictitious claims. For example, sit down with a Mullah and ask him about the paradox and he will reveal that the ‘American and European’ countries have higher rape rate than holier-than-thou us. Of course, this is untrue and yet, our society at large continues to believe such mis-facts, leading to the scenario that we are in now. The same ‘American and European’ countries our Mullahs love to paint pictures of might be ‘immoral’ according to their standards, are very safe environments for women. No wonder, their female population is more productive as the State keeps a check on any men who try to define their morality for them. Such women are big parts of the economy, society and polity and continue to be the dominant force that they have the potential to be. In Pakistan, however, before the women can realize their potential, they must chain themselves with the extremely male chauvinist social criteria of modesty, leaving them little space and freedom to devote themselves to their passions.

As a nation, we need to come out of our mole holes and see the world as it is, a world where social standards to morality don’t mitigate societal evils but, in fact, contribute to them. Our assumptions, for example, to train our younger generation on masturbation being a sin has been a blatant failure. The frustration caused by attempting to subdue wholly natural processes has led the country to drown itself in the same sinful activities the measures had sought to impede. For example, Pakistan’s Hidden Shame, a documentary tracking the rapes and sex-trade of massaging boys in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, has revealed how widespread and deeply institutionalized the social taboo of pedophilia is in our society. Similarly, while illegal, every city has a throng of prostitution centers catering to clienteles of all social cadres. It is this reason alone why internet cafes which should be venues of information and academic pursuits are synonymous with porn in Pakistan. Clearly, we as a society, have failed miserably at putting these things to an end.

And yet, we refuse to learn. We continue to assume that we can dictate morality on each other and those who don’t agree to it, have to face the same fate as Qandeel. Those who question our gender norms are harassed and punished. This endless cycle puts an end to any form of evolution we hope to achieve: evolution of mind or body. It is important we realize that these pursuits are futile and we must devote our time and energy on more important things than the length of the dress the women of Pakistan chose to wear or the language and form of personal chats between two people.

The writer is a Dissertation Researcher based in Finland. He conducts research on political, regional and societal changes with special focus on religious minorities in Europe.

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