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Healthy, loving relationships are the greatest threat to Pakistani society. Abuse, on the other hand, isn’t, according to PEMRA ( Pakistani Media Regulatory Authority).

It is often said that the best of intentions can result in the worst of actions. Unfortunately, this cannot be illustrated any clearer than in my culture, which emphasizes that women should never be allowed to leave their husbands’ households alone. And while the majority of men will say that this is due, in part, for the protection of Pakistani women, nobody ever really attempts to police or place restrictions on the men. This behavior does not empower women- it only empowers men like Ahsan Khan’s, Imtiaz (from the television series Udaari) who, unfortunately, prioritizes opportunity over ethics.

In the show, Imtiaz, a thirty-year-old bachelor, marries Samya Mumtaz’s, Sajida (who is twenty years his senior), claiming he wants to marry her due to his concerns of an older widow living alone. Sajida believes that Imtiaz is the best avenue towards financial stability for her daughter, Hina Altaf's, Zebo. But, Zebo never truly trusts her new stepfather and warns her mother after catching Imtiaz staring at her. Sajida refused to believe her. Meera, a close family friend of Sajida’s, had the misfortune of paying for Sajida’s mistake but fortunately, she escapes.

Meera reports this incident to their village. Unfortunately, much like Sajida and Pakistani society, they refused to believe her plight, instead stating she must have misinterpreted Imtiaz’s actions. As a result, they do not remove Imtiaz from the home- where he later rapes Zebo and threatens her and Sajida’s life if they speak out.

What broke my heart was not only that this occurred, it’s that Sajida still refused to believe her daughter.

I can hear the “Not all men” army charging at me. Here is all I will say to them: Not every snake is venomous and/or dangerous- but would you want to take the chance of letting one around you?

What is my point? It’s simple, really; this TV show highlighted rape, its power dynamics (how a stepfather can influence his stepdaughter) and as a result, educated people on the dangers of sexual assault and rape. However, here’s the kicker, shows like these will be limited in the future.

The Pakistani Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) issued a nationwide request to all Pakistani television stations and providers, asking them to refuse “airing objectionable dramas/content based on indecent dressing, caressing, bed scenes and gestures, sensitive/controversial plots and unnecessary detailing of the event(s)”. PEMRA claims that viewers nationwide complained about the content and topics of recent hit Pakistani dramas - claiming that they destroy the decency of Pakistani culture and society.

We need shows and media that highlight these issues. We need to validate the victim's experiences. PEMRA’s mandate is aggravating. Why do they take exception for romance and champion abuse?

PEMRA is concerned about the “image” of Pakistani society and culture. They want to preserve and protect our people. Allegedly.

We could take this down two different paths. In the first path, PEMRA is full of misogynistic people that censor the media due to their beliefs. However, let’s take the second path: where PEMRA ain’t lying- they really are speaking on behalf of nationwide Pakistani viewers.

This implies that the majority of Pakistani viewers nationwide believe that romantic, sensual (hugging, couples laying in bed together, being physically and/or emotionally intimate, kissing and/or sex) scenes between characters are the big, bad Boogeyman towards Pakistani society. They don’t want to view this product. That’s their right- if what PEMRA states is accurate. I won’t try to tell a nation how they should govern or decide what is imperative to their culture.

Yet the nation failed to mention Pakistan's current epidemic of femicide.

Why does PEMRA fail to notice this? Why did they not also ban scenes containing violence and abuse, if the basis of their complaints is within the protection and advancement of the Pakistani people?

As per the reputable Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 363 honor killings against females occurred in 2020. Twenty-eight percent of women aged 15-49 have been victims of gender-based violence. Sexual assault cases are only successfully convicted at less than three percent.

However, these statistics only cover the instances where women were brave enough for speaking out. This is not the entirety.

Noor Mukadam, a young Islamabadi woman, was raped and tortured for over two days before she was beheaded.

Qandeel Baloch, real name Fouzia Azzam, was murdered by her brother in an “honor killing”. Her brother stated that the murder was because she brought “dishonor” on her family. The crime? Baring her arms in pictures.

The world-renowned activist and hero, Malala Yousafzai, was at the center of Pakistani criticism for speaking out on her refusal to miss school. She could not have possibly survived the gunshot to the head. It must be a ploy to make Pakistan look bad. This is all, of course, Western propaganda.

If PEMRA wants to protect Pakistani society, then they must stop lying to everyone. They did not flag the show Dunk, which showed the plight of a professor that is facing an untrue allegation of rape from one of his students. And this TV show had the same scenes as Udaari.

Why is this being shown? Especially in a country where rape against women is astronomically high? What purpose does this premise serve?

Imagine the positivity that PEMRA could facilitate if they encouraged more dramas such as Ghayal (which covers rape from friends/acquaintances), Damsa (which covers child labor and the Pakistani crime scene’s involvement), or Iltijah (which covers the daily life of a child with Down Syndrome in Pakistan).

Not only does that create new jobs and more economic circulation into the Pakistani industry- it allows for diversity that is so desperately necessary in a pool overflowing with forbidden love and incompatible couples. I’d argue that using Pakistani television to highlight issues, instead of distracting from them, is what benefits Pakistan. Hiding them does no favors.

Zan Haider is a Writer/Director/student @fullsail

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