Religion dominates airwaves all year round in Pakistan. If it is not programs of religious variety offering religious advice on food, matrimony and Halal banking, then someone would be offering Istekhara services to those who seek divine guidance. If it is not the theological debates, then it would be programs targeting women telling them how to be good Muslim wives and daughters, tv serials telling women how to be submissive and regressive in name of religion, morning show hosts censoriously telling young men and women not to venture into parks and indulge in un-Islamic acts of sitting on the benches. If this is how things go all year around, the religiosity of the TV content goes up considerably during Ramazan.
The TV channels with more moolah put up huge sets, get hoards of people to come in, and cram in everything in those few hours: real life tragedies, sob stories, hyper religiosity, overt piety, a lot of charity, a bit of drama with a dash of emotions and tears, cooking shows, many give aways and gifts for the audience present in the studios and the audience glued to their TV sets in their homes, naats and religious sermons and last but not the least would be the transmission show hosts’ claims of grandiosity that they cook the best kebabs, give away most money to the needy on their show, get the best ratings and convert, or revert if you prefer that, people of other faiths to Islam – live on TV. It is reality TV with a hint of religion to make it palatable for most.
All that is fine because it is TV and at the end of the day, it’s a business and everyone wants to make some money. What gets my goat is that they are perpetuating a culture where people think asking others for money or begging is fine. In one example, a man who earns Rs8,000 per month came in and asked for half a million rupees to pay for his wife’s medical bills. One of his excuses was that he has four kids that he cannot afford to feed. The wife probably fell ill by bearing children after children when she was obviously physically weak and anemic. The host’s reaction was not only to sympathise with him but to urge his viewers to donate money to him. I, on the other hand, wanted the host to ask this man why he procreated four times when he knew he was earning just Rs. 8,000 a month. Was he expecting a miracle or did he think his financial conditions would change all of a sudden?
By offering him and the likes of him the money, aren’t TV channel being irresponsible and giving the message that it is ok to not plan your life or be responsible for your choices, we will guilt others with more money into giving it you. Lines like “Yeh bachi namaz parhtee hai, iskay ilaaj ke liye paisay dain” are also discriminatory. If a person is regular with his namaz, he or she deserves a greater chunk of the charity than the heathen who do not pray 5 times a day, no matter how grave their need is. Financial assistance is fine but it would be better if it comes with a bit counseling about family planning and life choices.
Instead of urging people to give away for charity, why don’t we urge the audience to give decent wages to the people who work for them so they do not need to be supplanted with charity? If you really want to make a lasting more dignified difference, how about vowing to pay decent wages to everyone who works for you –at your workplace, at your home and around you – and getting others around you to do the same.
Originally written for The Express Tribune, this is the longer version.
Though this is a serious piece but if you want to be entertained by the sheer stupidity of my countrymen, please go to the ET website and read comments.