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March 10, 2020

For our brave women


March 10, 2020

The temper tantrums and frustration among misogynists gave impetus to the Aurat Azadi March in Pakistan.

The march is a brave move by our revolutionary women amidst the growing animosity from the keepers and custodians of outmoded tribalism and the value system of patriarchy. A society built on a hypocritical moral facade will always prefer to stand by power at the cost of public dignity and sanctity of its own will to freedom.

Submissiveness may pay off for individual gains but it enslaves society as a whole. This enslavement continues to function as a means of self-censorship in Pakistan where the self-righteous moral police has little to do to trigger among the public fear of going astray. Those who go astray or those who have the guts to question the masculinity of power are portrayed as the enemies of morality and order.

The moral turpitude expressed by Khalilur Rehamn Qamar hints at a deeper social crisis within our society which needs a complete ethical reconstruction. When a society accepts necrophilia as a norm, obscenity must not be a big deal; it is something else which irritates men like Khalilur Rehman Qamar. Their inflated egos and their sense of masculinity find it hard to be challenged by a woman. They are so deeply immersed in their own imagination about the magnificence of heroes and brave men of connected history books that they cannot think of any free space in their historically burdened brains. Freedom for them is some sort of cultural appropriation of character, morality and expression in a patriarchal order.

Not only our officially accredited historians but also our poets and playwrights find it easiest to become popular by playing to the gallery of some sensually dead society. Death is inevitable for each individual but a society dying sensually is what worries thinking souls. Thinking souls, freedom lovers and advocates of an inclusive society become a laughing stock on our sensation-filled media of a dead society. And most of our private TV channels are busy minting money by allowing spitting souls to spew filth on our faces in the name of a bygone morality.

The teeming army of ignorants, fascists, chauvinists and extremists is on a rampage to deface all secular and liberal values that were so cautiously cultivated by a few brave men and women of our society. This tiny minority of sanity is invited on TV talk shows to bash people publically. The self-proclaimed custodians of faith and morality are only ploys of a bigger problem of our collective inanity. It is not only about individuals but also the institutions of our society which suffer from a sort of nostalgia of some past glory of brave men which never existed in reality.

Our 73 years of ideological indoctrination through education has now come to haunt us all as we are on the verge of total collapse as a society. Our spaces of free and objective discussion have shrunk to private gatherings only and in public we have become a schizophrenic crowd to dispel each other out of the fear of being exposed and being intellectually undermined.

This fear comes from the polarization of our education system between piety and profanity. Piety asserts itself and finds protection because it has been cultivated through decades of de-educating the masses in the name of ideologically induced education. We have been taught to live in a glorious past of invaders and plunderers deemed as heroes in our curriculum. Those who challenge this imposed piety fall in the domain of profanity. And when profanity asserts itself it becomes seditious, insidious and harmful to our insensitive nerves.

The role of men and women are predefined and there are selective injunctions used as reference from Holy Scriptures to reinforce this patriarchal order of society. But this piety has become a boon rather than a blessing and has destroyed the possibility of peaceful co-existence.

The Aurat Azadi March is one of the ways to challenge our deeply imbued cultural and religious stereotypes about the role of men and women in human society. Religious extremism and cultural conservatism are intertwined to reinforce each other when patriarchy is challenged. Patriarchy serves the political and economic interests of a feudal structure in property rights, domestic labor, social control and erotic pleasure and therefore conservatives and extremists would go to any extent to defend it.

For cultural conservatives and religious extremists alike, patriarchy is key to expressing power and masculinity where woman becomes one of the commodities of pleasure to satisfy manhood. Therefore, those who speak foul about women on TV talk shows represent a large segment of our fast deteriorating society which is mired in conservatism, hypocrisy and extremism.

You cannot blame people in general when highly educated men come forward to defend patriarchy as a natural way of living. They are not content on defending patriarchy only; they also bash feminism as sin, promiscuity and obscenity. For them women have a natural disadvantage, being an inferior creature living on the margins of a male dominant society. This moralizing lot reduces women to an instrument of reproduction, a sex machine and a means of family sanctity. Women, therefore, must remain obedient, subservient and submissive to the moral and material demands of society.

Those who challenge this socially and politically constructed mindset of patriarchy are deemed as agents of some external forces and the enemies of state. Nobody would question the morality of Khaleelur Rehman Qamar for his abusive language and filth-filled mind to denigrate a respected lady in public on a TV talk show. This moral brigade expects women to tie a chastity belt and become an object of pleasure only at the volition of men.

The best indicator of the fraying moral fabric of an existing culture in a society is collective frenzy against the torchbearers of new ethics. Old morality is always embedded in the power structure and works as a smokescreen to hide the excesses and oppression of the powerful and hence those in power come forward as saviors of an existing moral system. Morality is not equal to ethics because it does not necessarily function to create an inclusive value system to serve humanity at large. Morality is culture specific and tends to create ‘otherness’ out of those who do not share the same culture.

In theory, ethics is universal – based on the fundamental rights of all human beings irrespective of sex, religion, color, creed and geography. We usually use ethics and morality interchangeably in our daily discussion but in reality they are poles apart if not antonyms.

Morality leads to moralizing which simply means preaching one’s set of beliefs and cultural practices as the absolute truth and as superior to the belief system and cultural practices that others follow. The ethical precepts of the Aurat Azadi March are clear that they promote an inclusive, equalitarian and tolerant society but moralists find it hard to digest when their masculinity is challenged.

The writer is a socialdevelopment and policyadviser, and a freelancecolumnist based in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @AmirHussain76