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Imran Khan’s government wants to be Zia 2.0. The ban on holding hands and hugging on television is further proof of this




Pakistani electronic media regulatory authorities’ latest order banning hands-on and hugging scenes between characters depicting married couples on national television is an absurd measure to control privacy in a society riddled with problems of domestic violence.

The portrayal of privacy in the arts, especially on the critically acclaimed and highly regarded Pakistani big screen in the South Asian region and the diaspora across the globe, only undermines artistic freedoms in a growing industry. Such moral policing stems from an absurd and incorrect link between the sex crimes which are increasingly reported in recent times, with the consumption of intimacy and the perceived obscenity.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan himself continues to invoke Bollywood and social media to blame sexual violence, conveniently overlooking the patriarchal desire to exercise power over female bodies and the lack of certainty of punishment in the justice system which allows impunity. Such a state of mind to blame the victim has no place at this age.

It’s the same moral policing political mindset that censored TikTok, one of the biggest social media platforms used by a number of Pakistanis. It had been a catalyst for digital inclusion in the economy, with high usage in rural areas and among the less literate segments of the population.

Problems with society

What message is the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority trying to convey to the public in the country? That intimacy between partners is bad? That one should not show affection? How is holding hands and hugging so outrageous that it results in a ban? How should the media represent the intimacy between partners on screen?

This is of particular concern in a society where marital rape is still not recognized as a crime and where there is resistance in parliament to a bill criminalizing domestic violence and similar resistance to bills banning forced conversions. children of minority faiths and child marriages. Worse, the portrayal of domestic violence continues unabated on television. So is the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority suggesting that it’s okay for on-screen characters depicting married couples to fight but not hold hands or kiss?

It is bad enough that in the past television series depicting and condemning child sexual abuse received warnings. What do we want our TV shows to look like? Formal talk shows that only discuss acceptable criticism and don’t cross state red lines? No representation of reality between consenting adults?

It is not uncommon for couples in Pakistan to be harassed by the police asking them for proof of marriage in public, as if the law forbids unmarried people to meet, and married couples are walking around with their nikahnama. In reality, the moral police are used to instill fear and obtain a bribe.

Impact on the economy

It is perverse to pass such orders, especially in a democracy with a rich heritage and a history of resistance. Such measures will be short-lived no matter how hard the government tries to be a Zia 2.0, in the words of lawyer Imaan Hazir who compares the current government to the regime of dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haqs for its penchant. to bow to the religious right. which has little democratic legitimacy.

This perversion at the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority became evident when the Federal Workplace Harassment Ombudsman ruled against a senior official at the electronic media regulator for alleged sexual harassment of a colleague. . It’s rather rich for men who harass women at work and ask for sexual favors in exchange for ease at work to pass orders prohibiting privacy on television. He epitomizes what is wrong with our media regulatory framework.

There must be a defined criteria for officials to make content decisions within media and social media regulatory authorities such as Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority and Pakistan Telecommunications Authority. Civil servants without social science or media education and a distorted and fanatical sense of morality should not be in charge of such decisions and the diversity among them in terms of region, religion, gender, ethnicity, qualifications, minority status sexual and class must be taken into account.

Pakistanis are warm and loving people who exhibit these important qualities in their daily interactions with people. Don’t pretend we don’t hold hands or hug each other. That the arts are representative of our society, that the right to freedom of expression and artistic freedom be protected, and that the state does not become the nanny of a population perfectly capable of choosing the type of media content to be he has enough variety that he wants to consume.

Censorship only further suppresses a society, encourages people to rebel more, impacts the economy and leads to brain drain due to the suffocating societal conditions it creates. Pakistan is a diverse and inclusive country with a rich heritage. The popular love tales of Laila-Majnu, Sassi-Pannu, Adam Khan-Durkhanay endure for a reason: we resist being told who or how to love.

This article first appeared in Dawn.




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