Pakistan absolutely needs to breakfree from its taboos now

Let’s face it: we as a nation are frustrated. Majority of us have no jobs, many of us have no education to help search for a good job, a great deal of us have no access to basic civic rights like clean drinking water and health facilities and more than those, many of us have no shelter and no food. But these may be the reasons for the violence emanating in our daily life situations. Another dimension of our frustration now quite visible is obsession of sexual gratification. And no matter how much we cup our mouths or close our eyes and ears to avoid the topic, it has seeped in like a malignant disease. How to tackle it is yet another mountain to climb.

Sex is a taboo subject in Pakistan. Public display of emotions is a crime punishable by law.Acceptability of sexual relations except between married couples is out of the question. And yet, in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, illicit relationships are not uncommon and no more a hidden secret. During the Zia regime, prostitution was declared illegal and brothelswere forced to close. But instead of the crackdown curbing immoral societal practices, it has led to a mushroom growth of prostitution rings through out the city and the country. Lack of sex education, a common concept in the West, has led to more curiosity about the opposite gender. Whilethe image of the ‘wild, wild west’ is strongly engraved in our minds, there is a secret desire in many to emulate the lifestyle and for whom the desire cannot be curbed, the outcome is disturbing.

With strong restrictions and no outlets available, the sexual frustration of young and even aged Pakistanis is quite visible. Shady and secluded corners of public places like parks, cinemas and even restaurants are commonly used as ‘dating spots’. Rape and sexual harassment of women is also not uncommon. And more disturbing is the rise of child sexual abuse. What we see in cases like that of Zainab and others is the height of unchecked and untreated frustration.

The generation of the 80s was still weaning out from a relatively moderate environment to a highly suffocated one. But the awareness of both realistic approaches and ethics was present. What the later generation grew in, was a sharp divide of dos and don’ts, good and bad, along with increased western influence. The outcome was quite horrific: a confused bunch of people either too scared to do anything deemed to be labelled bad or too rebellious to curtail any whim or desire. Worst was the lot, which while coming from traditional backgrounds, was suddenly exposed to possibilities of dabbling with taboos and was thus greatly amused. And yet there were some, who were forcibly taught what is good and evil, but not how to identify it.

So what should we do? Break all restrictions and let everyone be free? Of course that is not the answer. We can’t use one extreme to tackle another one. Increased vigilance would not do any help either. We have examples of other Muslim states like Saudi Arabia, which probably has the harshest laws promulgated. Yet, a closer look at their society reveals much leering, cyber and physical harassment and multiple relationships. What we need is a moderate approach to curb an active volcano ready to burst through the irregular seams of the society.

Along with the necessity of keeping our moral standards in check, we need to find and give answers to how to handle growing frustrations in our society. We need experts – psychologists, scholars, clerics, teachers to help people address their urges, keeping in mind our religious and cultural framework. Psychoanalysis of criminals reveal that sometimes, a person who abuses a child had himself been molested in his younger days. We need to stop the viscous cycle.

At homes, we need to educate our children about the right touch and the wrong touch. Sex education at schools, which can be framed in religious outlines to avoid unnecessary western influence, should be imparted on an urgent basis. At higher educational institutions, we not only need career counsellors but also those who can offer psychological guidance. We need to befriend the next generation. Our children cannot be hushed into silence. We need to discuss their dreams, answer their questions and encourage them to explore with our knowledge rather than keeping us in the dark. Since the internet is a fountain of knowledge, both good and bad, we need to make a joint effort in their search to help them identify from right to wrong.

In rural areas, we need volunteers who can help the uneducated identify destructive feelings and channelise them into something constructive. Moral education at all institutions should inculcate respect for an individual, rather than using hellfire as a deterrent.

Most importantly, projection of women by others and themselves also needs to be reconsidered. There maybe scattered examples of glamour contributing to going up on the corporate ladder, but by and large, in any professional field, be it education, health, law or the corporate sector itself, ultimately brains and hard effort are what guarantee success. Then why does the electronic media not conform to this standard? The largest stakeholder of a tv news channel often uses his or her position to make decisions which undermine journalistic practices. A dolled up expression, ability to speak in a glib and high pitched tone and few hectic sessions in oratory should not be considered sufficient for a young entrant in electronic media to be able to deliver news or host a talk show. Journalists in the developed countries first struggle for years to be labelled as seasoned. Only then, along with the presence of an agreeable and not glamorous personality, is a man or a woman allowed to appear on screen. What the policy of heightened use of physical appeal does is consciously and subconsciously increase the desire in the viewer of looking forward to pleasant faces on television rather than content and firmness of belief in aspiring journalists and other professionals that outwardly charming appearance is the key to success.

The next generation needs to grow in an atmosphere where there is respect and gradual demolition of defined roles. Not only in the rural but even in the urban areas of Pakistan, it is a common concept that a woman who steps out of her house, dressed to suit her desire, is of a questionable character. We need activists and volunteers to educate the uneducated and enlighten the closed minded that not using free will but forcing one’s will on another is immoral. To take advantage of a physically vulnerable person, be it a child or a woman, is the real sin. Not to be able to control harmful desires is the true sign of weakness. We need to break barriers. Not opening up on an issue and failure to resolve it should be the only taboo.

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