On Patriarchy and Privacy

On 14th November 2014 Pakistan Feminist Watch had the honour of attending Pakistan’s first national conference on data and privacy rights. Organised by DigitalRights Foundation, the event was a great means of initiating public discourse on an issue that has become prevalent internationally, but is oft neglected in the Pakistani context. Nighat and her team did a fantastic job in setting the ball rolling on an issue that is not taken seriously.

Nabiha was on the first panel, Right To Privacy in The Digital Age, moderated by Amber Rahim Shamshi. She was joined by Adnan Rehmat (International Media Support), Naveed ul Haq (Internet Society) and Fouad Bajwa (Open Internet Activist). As PFW’s work focuses upon the complicity in perpetuating misogynistic and problematic norms and trends online, Nabiha focussed on the connection between patriarchy and privacy. She argued that women are not permitted bodily autonomy but rather are rather treated as public property – something which has manifested itself in cyberspace. Their digital presence, as in the real world, is heavily controlled and privacy for women is not tolerated. In societies with strong patriarchal family setups and social infrastructure, ‘honour’ lies in the body of a woman. Thus, the concept of privacy for women is regarded as a threat to the patriarchy, as it denies said patriarchy the right to police and control women’s bodies and social movement.

To identify as female and to be online is to encounter the same patriarchal policing and controlling of women’s bodies, and to face hostility for supposedly transgressing ‘acceptable’ online spaces. Nabiha has been called “ugly” and “fat” on her own personal blog, for instance – recurring body-centric hate-speech that is generally directed at women, and never at male bloggers. By pursuing hurtful ad hominem attacks, it is generally hoped that Nabiha and others will leave the public sphere, because of sustained attacks on self-esteem. What Nabiha has experienced and continues to experience is not a rarity. Rather, it is something reluctantly accepted by women as being something to put up with if one identifies as female online.

With hostility against women online, complete with triggering threats, one would be disturbed at the level of victim blaming that is prevalent. The Federal Investigation Agency – which is the Pakistani government’s only body that has a cybercrime wing – in regards, to the accounts of young women being hacked, inferred that they should “not let them be easily hacked”, rather than focussing on the hackers themselves. What happens to those young women that are hacked, and thus themselves in danger of being physically attacked, is considered to be irrelevant and unfortunate.

Nabiha was asked by the moderator if “revenge porn” was an issue in Pakistan, which she strongly confirmed. It exists in Pakistan, but it is not talked about, less so than rape. Whenever “revenge porn” (or RP) manifests in the real world or on social media, the victim is blamed for being “stupid enough to send photos/videos”, while the person who leaks the RP (usually an ex-boyfriend or former spouse) is not condemned at all. Public hysteria and ad hominem attacks on the woman will continue, even by individuals that would condemn rape. There is a distressing connection between RP and suicide, and if a women does end her life, those that would rake her over the coals will pity her as a victim, albeit briefly, and with slightly muted victim blaming (“it’s sad, but…”). The “Pindi Net Cafe” case, which took place a decade go, led to the suicides of women who were exposed on camera, once they were tracked down by people that bought CDs that had the videos on them. No charges were filed, however, and news coverage died down. Since then, there have been several instances of women and young girls being filmed, whether consensually or in most cases being sexually assaulted, with no support provided to the women and young girls involved. By not ending this culture of sexual violence, and instead trivialising and blaming victims, Nabiha noted, we are all complicit and have blood on our hands.

Interestingly, privacy as a concept was only recognised as a human right shortly after World War 2, and never regarded as a natural right, according to Waqqas Mir, who presented an excellent white paper on digital surveillance and security at the conference, Surveillance Laws and Practices in Pakistan.Thus, what we may personally consider to constitute “privacy” actually is fairly recent and not yet part of the total collective consciousness. This is quite the case in Pakistan, where requesting privacy, or choosing to not hand over passwords or other personal information to friends and family, is considered “rude”. This does in part go back to patriarchal controlling mechanisms, where women are not generally “supposed” to lock the doors to their rooms, and are lectured for doing so.

Strong women asserting their rights and encouraging others to do so are a threat to the patriarchal state set up. Tech tools used to control privacy are new tools for patriarchal infrastructure. The liberty and freedom of speech that we celebrate the internet for, and that people rightly defend, is also abused without serious repercussions or consequences. Men, Pakistani and otherwise, have total impunity online or at least behave so, making dangerous threats and vicious rape jokes that they would not utter in polite company in the “real world”.

Pakistan Twitter users, for example, exploded with venomous hatred towards the teenage activist for female rights Malala Yousafzai, when she spoke at the UN general assembly in 2013, and again when she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. Though there were some positive tweets from Pakistanis, an overwhelming number of tweets wanted her to be shot again, some included rape threats, among other things. The vitriol did not go unnoticed, with the BBC, Guardian, New York Times and other international media commenting on the hatred from her fellow Pakistani. Had she been a man, it is unlikely that she would have been given such horrific treatment online, as a successful and effective change maker who “happens” to be female will usually lead to the patriarchy, and its feral conscious/subconscious defenders, lashing out leads to patriarchy lashing out.

Mir asked if we “are living in an age of the death of privacy”, and perhaps the digitally native generation raised on social media, and who believe in sharing everything, could find our generation’s views on privacy to be archaic and perhaps obsolete. As Nabiha said at the conference, our conception of our rights is necessarily connected to shifts in our consciousness regarding rights.

As with Mir, however, we caution against advocacy that appears to infer surveillance is a recent phenomenon. For those of us raised by activists and journalists in repressive states, the concept of bugged phones and the authorities reading your mail existed long before the internet. “National security” has long been used to justify government surveillance, with no clear definition as to what exactly constitutes “national security”. In the absence of any concrete definitions, feminist activists can and have been declared enemies of the Pakistani state, as they were during the lawyer’s movement, which itself is barely ten years old. Strong women that assert their rights and encourage others to assert theirs are regarded as threats to patriarchal state institutions.

Mir also noted that an argument used to defend surveillance and anti-privacy arguments is that when we are online, we generally share information in public ourselves, by choice. However, this argument leaves out any concept of consent, with consent presumed simply because we are on the internet. This logic seems as sinister as the ingrained patriarchy that exists within women which leads to us seemingly consenting to our oppression at times.

Privacy for us is not just a right but essential for human dignity. Surveillance hurts the vulnerable, especially females, more than it does the powerful. The patriarchy has absolutely no interest in ending any violence against women online – rather, it needs it to flourish in order to maintain its power in the world whether offline or online.

Cross posted from Pakistan Feminist Watch. Written and blogged by editors Nabiha Meher Shaikh and Adnan Ahmad (which is why I seem to be referring to myself in third person).

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Academic Terrorism

Nothing makes my blood boil more than when educators indulge in hate mongering, which is just too common in Pakistan. And they get away with it over and over again. They get away with hate speech and they get away with the most heinous crimes like threatening students based on their beliefs. It happens all the time without notice, without noise, without media attention. Anyone remember the case of the Ahmadi student who was expelled from Comsats because of her belief? Jahanzaib Haque blogged about it and asked “How do you fight an enemy planted inside the mind itself?” How indeed. All we can do is make noise.

So in the spirit of making noise, I stand by Arsalan Bilal who was recently unfairly rusticated (seriously hate using this archaic word but it’s fitting since targetting someone based on their belief should be archaic) from Bahria University, Islamabad. Details from The Nation:

A student of Bahria University, who was rusticated on the charges of threatening his faculty members by emailing them revolutionary poems, has decided to go on hunger strike on Friday (today), alleging victimisation at the hands of university administration for questioning the governing of the institution.

Arsalan Bilal, a student of Department of Humanities and Social Science, Bahria University, has decided to go on a hunger strike for an indefinite time period from Friday (today) in front of the university.

According to him, he has been subjected to the most appalling form of “academic terrorism” on campus as he was discriminated against and victimised by the university management and purported academics.

He said that he was rusticated from the university on the pretext that he is psychologically unstable, and had threatened his faculty members by emailing them revolutionary poems of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Noon Meem Rashid.

The student who has been studying on merit scholarship in the university believes that he was victimised for raising questions, in various discussion sessions, over the manner in which the military management and ‘pseudo intellectuals’ of Bahria University were governing the institution.

He alleges that he was marginalized as he belonged to a minority sect, which is pervasively persecuted across the country. It is noteworthy that Bilal was repeatedly discouraged from conducting his undergraduate research on “Politicisation of religion in Pakistan”.

It is worth mentioning that a lecturer of the university, Qamar Riaz, was also maltreated and fired by the management on raising a question at a seminar regarding governing of the institution.

“The students had protested to reinstate him and I have been victimised for being an active student in the movement, Bilal alleged.

Demanding dignified restoration with apology from university management Bilal has resolved not to call off his hunger strike until his demands are fulfilled. He sought cessation of all kinds of discrimination on the basis of race, caste, creed, religion, affiliation, etc. on campus.

He has demanded abolishment of dress code at the university and to render more need-based scholarships to students by eliminating fee discounts for children of naval officers.

He has also sought the replacement of all retired military officers in the university gradually by qualified civilians and all serving military officers in the university be directed to quit their jobs and return to purely military functions.

He said the post of director campus should be occupied by a highly qualified academic and the plagiarism check policy on faculty members be tighten.

When an official of the university was contacted to have his comments he said there is no official spokesperson of the university right now so it is better not to include the official version of the university in the story.

This is the press release I was sent:

Announcement of indefinite Hunger Strike by Mr. Arsalan Bilal

Arsalan Bilal, a student of Bahria University, has decided to go on a hunger strike for an indefinite time period from Friday, April 6, 2012 in front of Bahria University Headquarters, Margalla Road, Islamabad. Bilal was subjected to the most appalling form of “Academic Terrorism” on campus as he was discriminated against and victimized by Bahria University’s top management and purported academics. Arsalan Bilal was rusticated from the university on the pretext that he is psychologically unstable, and had threatened his faculty members by emailing them revolutionary poems of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Noon Meem Rashid.

Bilal, who has been studying on merit scholarship in that same university, believes that he was victimized for raising questions, in various discussion sessions, over the manner in which the military management and pseudo intellectuals of Bahria University were governing the institution. Moreover, Bilal was marginalized as he belonged to a minority sect, which is pervasively persecuted across the country. It is noteworthy that Bilal was repeatedly discouraged from conducting his undergraduate research on “Politicization of religion in Pakistan”.

Bilal has resolved not to call off his hunger strike until the following 14 demands are fulfilled:

1- Dignified restoration of Arsalan Bilal with apology from university’s management
2- Redress all grievances by reprimanding those responsible for committing atrocities on Bilal
3- Cessation of all kinds of discrimination on basis of race, caste, creed, religion, affiliation, etc. on campus
4- All serving military officers in the university be directed to quit their jobs and return to purely military functions
5- All retired military officers in the university be gradually supplanted by qualified civilians
6- Post of Director Campus should be occupied by a highly qualified academic
7- Purge the university of pseudo intellectuals
8- Constitute a special autonomous body of academics to ensure checks on faculty members
9- Tighten the plagiarism check policy on faculty members
10- Decision to retain faculty members should hinge on students’ feedback
11- Empower Students’ Affairs department for allaying apprehensions of students
12- Public proceedings of all cases before the discipline committee
13- Abolish dress code
14- Render more need-based scholarships to students by eliminating fee discounts for children of naval officers
If you’d like to know more on the subject, or schedule an interview with Mr. Arsalan Bilal, please call his media spokesperson, Mohammad Hissan Khan on +92 (0)321 5899 478, or email him at hissankhan@hotmail.com.

 Here is Arsalan explaining what happened:

You can find updates on this facebook page.

Arsalan’s hunger strike alone won’t change anything. As someone who was worked in the education sector, I know the sector as a whole couldn’t care less. What will make a difference is supporting Arsalan and other students like him who want to make a change and aren’t afraid to challenge the powers that be.

Kathmandu Statement on the Internet and Freedom of Expression

We, participants in the South Asian Meeting on the Internet and Freedom of Expression, having met in Kathmandu, Nepal, on 2-4 November 2011 to deliberate on the state of freedom of expression in our region in the digital age, and coming from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka,

Considering the importance of social media and the Internet to the growth and advancement of democracy in our region,

Have adopted the following resolution:

Access to the Internet

  1. We note with great concern that Internet penetration rates around the region remain abysmally low and hover at the most around 25 percent in any South Asian country. As access to the Internet has become an essential precondition for citizens to make full use of their right to freedom of expression in the digital age, we call upon the Governments of South Asia to rectify this situation at the earliest by facilitating and ensuring access to Internet infrastructure that upholds high quality services for all.
  1. In addition to the provisioning of Internet infrastructure, we recognise the many barriers to equitable access of the Internet in South Asia, including identity, linguistic, cultural and gender based challenges. It is important that government and industry recognise these constraints and work collectively towards strengthening affordable, equitable access for all communities and peoples.
  1. While markets can play an important role in providing affordable access to infrastructure, markets alone will not be able to ensure that the Internet reaches all communities or to satisfy all needs. For this reason, we urge our Governments to ensure that provisions for open or shared spectrum, as well as for community initiatives to use such spectrum, are included in policy. We call upon the people of South Asia to form and support a South Asian Internet user movement that will advocate for provision of quality Internet access.
  1. In order to further promote access, including for marginalised groups, we also urge our Governments to, in cooperation with the relevant technical communities, develop, promote and offer at reduced or no cost quality hardware and free and open source software to promote cost-effective Internet access in all South Asian languages, and to also address Internet literacy needs. We urgently request industry to support such Government efforts in all ways possible, including by accepting Unicode as a standard at the earliest.
  1. In addition to the provisioning of hardware and software as noted above, we also recognise the paucity of local language content on the Internet. Communities must be encouraged to create their own content via text, photographic, audio, animation or a combination of these means. It is only when our people can express themselves fully and freely will they feel part of a national fabric, which in turn contributes to regional stability.

Arbitrary filtering and blocking of content and criminalization of expression

  1. We note with great concern that the possibilities the Internet allows for free expression are used around the region as an excuse to restrict free speech in unprecedented ways. We remind our Governments that freedom of expression is a corner stone of democracy that is carefully protected by a range of international instruments. In line with their obligations under these instruments, we urge our Governments to ensure that, online as offline, the blocking and filtering of content takes places only under very specific and restricted conditions that have been clearly and precisely established in law prior to the act of blocking or filtering. No blocking without a court order should be allowed to take place. In addition, we urge our Governments to make public lists of all blocked sites without delay.
  1. We also call upon our Governments, industry and civil society actors to facilitate and promote a culture of tolerance and respect for freedom of expression. Rather than through filtering and blocking, hate speech should be challenged by allowing and encouraging more critical thought to flourish. Freedom of expression should be decriminalised.
  1. Traditional print and broadcast media, also increasingly publishing, producing and curating content online, should collaborate with online media industries and related communities, including bloggers and citizen journalists, in strengthening and promoting freedom of expression online. This includes the promotion of better awareness of such standard-setting instruments as the Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information among industry personnel and journalists, campaigners, bloggers and activists.

Intermediary liability

  1. We are concerned that Internet intermediaries, such as social networking sites and Internet service providers, are insufficiently protected in South Asia. We strongly affirm that no Internet intermediary should be subject to liability for content of which they are not the author, until and unless they have refused to act in a timely manner on a court order to take down such content. Any restriction on or removal of content should be based on judicial order as well as fulfil the conditions noted in the section on arbitrary filtering and blocking above.
  1. We also call for policy guidelines that define the role of ISPs and other intermediaries and their responsibility to their users, with the goal of protecting users’ consumer and human rights.
  1. We call upon industry to take a proactive stance in ensuring that the consumer and human rights of their users are upheld at all times.

Surveillance, privacy and data protection

  1. Throughout South Asia, the Internet is increasingly being used as an excuse by Governments to accord to themselves sweeping surveillance powers that are no longer adequately balanced by judicial review. We remind our Governments of their obligation under international instruments to ensure that online communications are delivered to recipients/users sans interference/inspection by the State or third parties. We strongly reaffirm that surveillance should be undertaken as the exception and not the rule, by clearly specified and identified implementing authorities only, guided by transparent surveillance procedures, and with each surveillance action clearly justified as well as restricted in time and backed up by judicial order. Once the surveillance ceases, the person or institution that was under surveillance should be informed of the fact that surveillance has taken place.
  1. To ensure the highest levels of protection, the privacy of the citizen should be secured through explicit Constitutional guarantee. Policies for the restriction of privacy should be clearly defined and circumscribed, and could include the needs of public interest. States across South Asia should also introduce legislation, with redress mechanisms, on citizens’ data protection with a guarantee of non-disclosure of data. Such legislation should apply to governments and industry alike.
  1. Industry should ensure that online privacy policies are precise and clear. All Internet users should be made aware about inherent limits to their privacy online, and educated on how to take adequate precautions to safeguard their digital identity and communications.

Governance of the Internet

  1. We observe with great regret that multistakeholder mechanisms for Internet governance remain non-existent in our region. Recognising both the specific nature of the Internet and its development and the complexity of the many challenges facing its governance, we call upon our Governments to urgently allow for and adopt multistakeholder models of Internet governance as already well-established at the global level, such as at the Internet Governance Forum and ICANN, as well as in some national contexts, such as Brazil. We emphasise that the full involvement of all stakeholders, i.e. government, private sector and civil society, in the governance of the Internet is crucial if we are to ensure that the Internet’s benefits are to reach all in our countries.

Signed by:

JJ Robinson, Editor, Minivan News, the Maldives

Ujjwal Acharya, Chair, Digital Media Committee at the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), Nepal

Anja Kovacs, Internet Democracy Project, India

Aunohita Mojumdar, Contributing Editor (Kabul), Himal South Asia

Ahmed Swapan, VOICE, Bangladesh

Babu Ram Aryal, President, Internet Society, Nepal Chapter.

Geeta Seshu, Journalist and Co-ordinator of at Free Speech Hub at The Hoot, India

Syeda Gulshan Ferdous Jana, Head of Alliances/Co-Founder, Somewhere In Net, Bangladesh

Nabiha Meher Shaikh, Pakistan

Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Journalist and Lawyer, Sri Lanka

Binay Bohra, President, Internet Service Providers Association of Nepal

Bishakha Datta, Point of View, India

Sharmini Boyle, TV Producer, Sri Lanka

Bytes for All, Pakistan

Maraa, India

sflc.in, India

Centre for Internet and Society, India

To the one who has waited too long

Mukhtar Mai, my heart weeps for you, it bleeds for you. It wept the day I heard of you & what you had been through. It will continue to do until you get justice, which I fear you won’t. For years I have waited for our country to come to its senses & give you the justice you deserve. Instead, we have given you nothing but more pain, more grief.

Mukhtar, I apologise for your plight, a plight that could have prevented, could have been addressed had those in power created just laws. Alas, ours are not just unjust, but divinely so.

Mukhtar, your courage has been inspirational & your strength has been admirably formidable. You represent strength for so many women. We stand by you. We weep for you, we bleed for you. You are our pillar of strength.

Ridiculous Wedding Excuses

So you’re getting married. Great! Whoop dee doo. La la la. *rain dance*

Happy? Apparently not… somehow it seems that without a hoard of people clapping them into intercourse, they cannot be truly happy. I’ve had many people try and threaten me with: “I’m not ever coming to your wedding! No one will come to your wedding!”  only to hear this reply: “That’s the point, moron!”

Pakistani have perfected the fine art for being constantly offended for one not participating in their month long “oooh my money LOOK! Shaadi shaadi shaadi!” celebrations and Nabiha has perfected the art of sending them excessively sarcastic & rude excuses. Here are some:

  1. I fell in love
  2. I fell out of love
  3. I was about to get my period (PMS)
  4. I got my period
  5. I got post-menstrual crankiness after that. The whole month was ruined I tell you! RUINED!
  6. I chipped a nail & cried for 3 days since I’m a woman.
  7. Weddings depress me because my aim in life is to get married & pop 20 kids in a row since I am, after all, a woman. WHY won’t anyone marry me, damn it! (wailing starts)
  8. I’m due for a wedding induced aneurysm that day.
  9. My waxing lady fell sick. People would have thought a bear in sari has walked in.
  10. And I also couldn’t get my face waxed. I was shit scared someone would mistake me for a goat and sacrifice me!
  11. I am allergic to perfume. You don’t want me to die now, do you?
  12. I have erythrophobia, which is fear of the colour red (via @mahnooryawar)
  13. I burnt my sari while ironing it.
  14. I burnt the house down actually.
  15. I died temporarily. Want a doctor’s note?
  16. I went into a coma for a few weeks. What a coincidence it was during the mating season…
  17. I had promised my belly button I’d take care of all that fuzz.
  18. I have a big date with my toe-nails. They’re very long with loads of dirt. Wanna see?
  19. You spelt my name wrong. I’m not a Sheikh with an E. If you truly loved me, you’d know that. I’m so offended.  I thought we were close. I guess I was wrong. I feel betrayed. You betrayed me! (wailing)
  20. What card? Something came for Mr & Mrs Shaikh & family. My name is not family.
  21. You called my mother a Mrs. You are sexist & I a feminist. Conflict of interest here!
  22. I converted to a new religion & going to weddings is strictly prohibited. You’re welcome to join me in a pork eating ceremony though. Ooops that conflicts with your beliefs now does it? Awww but come on it’s for my happiness, na!
  23. I don’t believe in marriage. No seriously I don’t & if you don’t know that then we’re not good enough friends for me to attend your wedding anyway.
  24. I absolutely refuse to reward this shameless display of heterosexuality.
  25. I don’t attend weddings that don’t invite hijras.
  26. I’m lactose intolerant. I accidentally ate some cheese and spent the evening farting.
  27. You’re a firm believer in horoscopes, right? Well, my astrologer told me not to leave the house because I was in danger since Venus was in retrograde & Scorpio was blocking the sun! Apparently an anvil would have hit me on the head…
  28. I was busy writing a rant about how much I hate you for inviting me to your wedding. Oh, and your present is not making it public by putting it up on my blog.
  29. Errmm when were we even friends?! Just because I know you, doesn’t mean I like you enough to put on a sari.

And here are some actual conversations I’ve had:

“Oh you see the thing is that I fell off the toilet, hit my head on the floor & got amnesia.”

“But you missed the WHOLE wedding. When did this happen?”

“Errmm what were your dates again?”

“You missed my wedding!” said an indignant cousin. “WHY weren’t you there?”

“Oh sweetie, I’m so sorry. My allergies were acting up. I thought I was going to die! It’s a miracle I’m alive, really.”

“That’s so sad, Nabs. So sorry to hear that & now I understand, you poor thing. What are you allergic to anyway?”

“Weddings and aunties…”

All jokes aside, the people I personally judge the most are those who don’t even consider giving me a break for this very genuine excuse: “it’s exam/essay time. My students need me & I need to mark papers, not shake butt cheeks.” Just the very fact that someone is asking me to sacrifice education for their shameless display of riches in a poor land speaks volumes about their character. Anyone who thinks that their self-indulgent events are more important than education is, frankly, someone I’d rather not associate with. They are not the kind of company I keep.

Furthermore, the next time someone tells me to at least show my face (the moun to dekha do! whine) I’m going in pjs with oil in hair, unthreaded, unshowered, looking worse than anyone can even imagine. Either that or I’m sending this picture:

How Low Can You Go?

A couple of weeks or so ago, I wrote this article, which was also published here. The reaction was ferocious & people decided to only read the ironic part as serious and chose to ignore my actual opinion. I was threatened as expected and since then, people have been trying to change my blog’s password.

My point in this blog post simply was that the Newsweek list of women shaking Pakistan was not a representative list. I used what made for good content and my personal opinion of the women I’ve mentioned is that what they are doing is commendable and worthy of admiration.

However, some people chose to read this only for offense and now they’re crossing all limits. My blog comments are moderated and I have the right to reject comments that are slanderous & threatening.

I was issued the following rape threat by a Saima Ameen Hameed, presumably a transvestite who still uses her male name as her email address, which is khan.moeen@yahoo.com & whose IP address is 207.204.234.24: “I think all you need is a really big one in your cunt. Do you agree Nabiha? I would love to give it to you…”

And then said: “I’m going to be posting a short (but vivid) video of you on Youtube.com. Watch this space… Black bra, pink top. Stay tuned!”

Am I personally worried? No, not at all because obviously no such video exists and unless someone spends a lot of time & money on having a great fake video made, it’ll be easy to point out that it’s a fake. And if someone does go ahead and use up their resources, then it’ll be a waste because it wouldn’t affect me. I truly have thick skin unlike most Pakistanis I know. What others say about me does not affect me. If I don’t respect someone, then it doesn’t matter to me what they think of me. Why? Because I’m not insecure. It’s just as simple as that.

Similarly, people swearing at me, and calling me any names, doesn’t affect me. Why? Again, I’m not insecure & if I don’t care for someone, then it doesn’t matter what they say. What I aim for self respect and the love of those I love in return.

But what I do pose to everyone is the following question: does criticising a list justify threatening someone with rape & fake porn videos? And does the man who is being included, who had nothing to do with it, deserve this? And do my family deserve this?

In Pakistan, a family’s worth & honour is measured by the sexual purity of the female members of the family. Even if my parents don’t believe that to be true, this live in THIS culture, and in THIS country. What did they do wrong other than spawn me? Do they deserve to be this humiliated? Does my sister, who has nothing, whatsoever to do with my writing, deserve this? And what about my innocent brother in London?

Is this a game, I wonder, called “How Low Can You Go?” If so, congratulations dear offended, you’ve proven that it’s possible to easily hit the lowest of the lows and have proven that it’s possible to be an elite terrorist.

Shaking Pakistan with Lipstick

I must say that Newsweek Pakistan has outdone itself with its list of the 100 Women Who Shake Pakistan. Never has such an extraordinary list been created. I bow down.

Some of the women listed here have “shaken” Pakistan on such a large scale that it’s a wonder that they haven’t had a street named after them yet. The most commendable of the lot, also very well known to all Pakistanis as our very own Estee Lauder, is Mehrbano Sethi, who introduced cosmetics in a country where makeup was largely unavailable. Her contribution to Pakistani womanhood is unparalleled in the history of the country. Let’s bow down.

Sethi has, incredibly, shaken Pakistan with lipstick unlike the no make-up Hina Jillani who was left out of this list for surely a life-long, country-wide, feminist struggle is nowhere near the empowerment women get from layers of foundation. Nothing feels better than sticky lipgloss which gets stuck in your hair. Undoubtedly, nothing is more empowering than nailpolish. Pretty hands stand above and beyond women’s shelters & justice. Only a “jealous” non-elite fool would deny that.

And the women agree. Women from all over the country travel to our major cities where it is available, often in droves, cleaning up shops as they go along. News of Luscious has spread so far & wide in the land that poems based on the products are being memorised in order to advertise to the illiterate. Women in Thar dance to the tunes. Activists have volunteered hours of their lives to translate them into all our national languages. They are jingles so powerful that Abida Parveen herself wouldn’t be able to do them justice. Near eid, our shopkeepers can hardly keep up with the large demand. Medora, Swiss Miss & all the other local beauty brands are seriously considering shutting down. “Even though we’re cheaper, poor people are more than willing to spend money on a product that puts Estee Lauder to shame,” said an employee with tears in her eyes.

“It’s true,” said a woman in a store in Peshawar who had come all the way from Waziristan looking for things she could use to empower the oppressed women of her area with. “We are willing to spend more. Look it’s simple. Medora nailpolish chips in 2 days whereas Luscious lasts me 2.5 days.” In front of my very eyes, she bought everything in the store. “This is the best present I could give to the women living under the Taliban. I don’t care about these rights groups or shelters etc. Women aren’t interested in this funny concept of freedom or equality you silly city fool! They want to look pretty. Don’t you know that’s the only way to feel good?” I hung my head in shame & instantly decided to get a manicure. It didn’t make me feel better, so I’m wondering if I should get my sex changed to male officially…

But in all seriousness, although what Sethi & the other women who I don’t think should be on this list have achieved is commendable, and should indeed be lauded, they are not a patch on the worthier ones who were left out. I admire them for their resolve, but they are not known to most Pakistanis. The only ones who do know them well are those who are catering to their own elite crowd through a publication. It’s something we’ve all witnessed before: sycophantic elite self-love, giving each other way more importance than necessary & making an erroneous assumption that they can speak for Pakistan without knowing the ground realities. How many people even know who Selina Rashid is for example? I do but only because she happens to be related to me & knows the same tiny circle. Much as I admire her & laud her for creating a company that is definitely praiseworthy, I do not think she has “shaken” Pakistan. Her market is a tiny elite circle or those who can afford her services. What she has done is commendable & I sincerely hope more women follow in her footsteps instead of sitting home or baking cupcakes. What I object to is the fact that too many worthier women, who actually represent Pakistan, were left out.

Honestly, I often wonder what planet our elite live on in general, but that’s another story.

And let me state here, again, like I have so many times in the past, that the elite self-love circle will probably be out for my blood for even daring to say this. And I will indeed report all their hilarious comments back. I will be accused of being “jealous” & “insecure” (which is basically the following wail: “WHY DON’T YOU LIKE ME DAMN IT?! WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME BLINDLY LIKE YOU SHOULD?!”) because, after all, who on earth would voluntarily make the decision to be a low-life teacher?  This is the only way they know how to deal with valid & logical criticism which makes me sad, especially as a teacher, to see so many parhay likhay jahils. What makes this whole song & dance the Lahori elite and I have going is the fact that the more they hate me, the more confident I become as a writer for, after all, being detested by those who lack brains is sometimes a bigger compliment than critical acclaim. I won’t deny that I find it all terrible amusing and when they do the whole drama, I thoroughly enjoy watching them drive themselves up the wall for no good reason whatsoever. It’s comical, really.

Let the witch hunt begin. I’m quite used to it and I have elephant skin. But first let me bow down to this shameless display of irresponsible “journalism”.