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The most screwed up country in the world

I don’t get Pakistan. I really don’t.

And I lived all my life in that country.

After a day reading technical work related documents, I indulged in some random surfing this evening and read this short beautiful piece by Vikram Seth on criminalization of gay sex by the top Indian court. The crux of his piece was that everyone who wishes to ban love between people of different religions and castes and of same sex is basically declaring one thing. “My love is right. Your love is wrong.”

I was quite taken in by that heartfelt piece, but then Vikram Seth is a brilliant writer and has this way with words that makes you think. While browsing through some other links on my facebook feed, I came across this video and am flabbergasted. I mean what is wrong with Pakistan, like seriously?

There is a Z list TV actress who apparently could not find any acting job, so she decided to try her luck at journalism and someone was stupid enough to actually hire her as well. In this clip, she lands in the house of a transvestite/intersex/transgender (because we don’t really know whether people who pose as Khwaja Siras in Pakistan are transvestites, intersex or transgender. They could be anyone of those) person with TV crew, cameras and police.

The Khwaja Sira who goes by the name Naila but is legally named Mohammed Saleem (a man’s name) is at home with another man Nadeem  ul Hassan. The journalist started off in a very patronizing tone   addressing the man as “tum”, a term used either to express familiarity or is for people who are considered inferior rather than a more professional “aap” that most journalists would/should use when interviewing a person. She asked him for how long he has been with Naila/Saleem and Nadeem  said that he has been in that house for over a year. Now we do know that no one who is of sound mind would willingly accept to be in a homosexual relationship in Pakistan – and that too in front of camera and police – because if one is lucky, it is tried as a penal offence and one can end up in jail for at least two years, if one is not lucky, it can be tried under Hadd.

The Khwaja Sira tried to cover that up and told the so called journalist that Nadeem is just staying with him after his parents death and that he is not well. Nadeem himself told her that he is undergoing psychiatric treatment with a doctor in a hospital in Gulshan-e-Iqbal  (a middle class locality in Karachi). She scoffed at that information and said that what kind of mentally ill patient would be aware that he is actually mentally instable. She then proceeded to enter in the inner rooms, checked out the closet as if she had an arrest warrant and pointed out the photos of Saleem/Naila  & Nadeem in wedding finery (they were two separate photo by the way) saying that they were committing sin.

She entered someone’s house without permission with police – I only saw the clip so I don’t know if they even have a court issued warrant to enter into that house but they did so. The local police aided and abetted this travesty passing for journalism. The whole report – if it can be called that – was conducted in a sanctimonious and holier than thou tone. That Z list former actor turned journalist ended her tirade against Nadeem and Saleem/Naila by putting the fear of impending epidemic of homosexuality that will engulf the children of all the viewers if strong measures were not taken against people like Nadeem (a man undergoing psych treatment for heaven knows what?) and  Naila/Saleem a Khwaja Sira. The report ended with Nadeem’s arrest. As a gay man undergoing psych treatment with no relative in the country – his brother lives in Canada – I fear what will happen to Nadeem in the police station.

I don’t get Pakistan, I really don’t. My heart went out for this man who looked lost and had no idea what happened to him. This woman – the Z list actress – couldn’t have found two more vulnerable people to attack, even if she tried, but no one will step up to support them because why invoke the wrath of mullah’s by supporting a man who has admitted to being with someone who was not a woman. This country is afraid to stand up to people who kill and maim innocent people but it is considered fair game to attack people in their home for their life style choices that do not affect anyone else but themselves. Nadeem was shown affection by a Naila/Saleem when he was apparently abandoned by his own family, but now he is arrested because he was not shown affection by the right gender. The word irony does not even begin cover this situation.

It’s about time we claim the title for being the most screwed up country in the world. I mean there is water shortage, energy crisis, population explosion, inflation and what not. The country is plagued with terrorism and sectarian violence but most important matter that should be reported is two people living in a house minding their own business and the arrest of a man who was clearly not all there. On the other hand, people like Malik Ishaq are allowed to roam free and spew more hatred.

PS: This is not the most coherent post but then I am angry, and anger strips away coherence at times. I apologize for that.

PPS: Watch the video at your risk, you might want to break a glass or two to vent after watching this. Trigger Warning.

PPPS: When will PEMRA wake up and take notice of this crap passing on as journalism.

 

 

Legal Status of LGBT in Pakistan

The Pakistani Constitution does not explicitly make mention of sexual orientation or rights of people of alternate lifestyle, but Article 377 of its penal code criminalized all consensual sexual activity outside marriage. As LGBT people cannot get married, any and all consensual sexual activities would be considered illegal and a person can land in jail for anytime between two to ten years for that. In addition, government appointed Islamic Nazariyati council also get to have a say in all matters as all laws, rules, regulations and other such legislation must be compatible with Islam, the official religion of the state so there is a chance that you can be tried under Hudood Ordinance, then you can be put in jail for life or can get life sentence.

 

Living with the internet nanny


Pakistan has the dubious distinction of being placed quite high on all the lists that a country must avoid. While it is one the most corrupt countries with bad governance record, it is also the most dangerous country in the world to practice journalism in. In addition, we are not far behind the countries that top the lists for suppressing the rights of religious minorities and have high maternal and infant mortality rates. Despite all this, Pakistan was doing ok as far as freedom to internet access was concerned. Not any more, as the government is just done seeking proposals to build a firewall that will filter and block a whopping50 million undesirable URLs. 
Censorship is not alien to Pakistan. The country has suffered numerous dictatorships and emergencies to be familiar with restriction and suppression. Nor it is the only country in the region that is trying its hand at internet filtering. Burma, Yemen, Bahrain, and Qatar monitor political discussion and access to information in their countries. The “great Firewall” that engulfs over a billion strong China is known to all. Governments in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and UAE also filter content which they deem unsuitable to the cultural and religious sensibilities of their societies. Unlike all these countries which are either monarchies or authoritarian regimes, Pakistan is a multiparty democracy. Paradoxical is the fact that the political party currently forming the government not only claims but also has a history of battling dictators and censorship in the past.
The proposal calls for a blanket ban on pornographic and undesirable content but who gets to decide what will be tabled under the category of pornography? Feminist and gay rights websites have been filed under pornography in the regimes that block cyber content to limit people’s access to gender awareness and alternative lifestyles in the past. Even high profile social media websites like Facebook and Twitter have been called dating websites spreading immorality to curb access to them.
The government has already blocked alternative news websites such as Baloch Hal and others featuring stories from Balochistan that do not get any space in mainstream media, who knows what else will be bracketed ‘undesirable’ once the filters are in place and will be blocked. The centralized nature of the database under the proposed filtering system will enable the government to do it efficiently. It should also be noted that proposal does not call for any oversight or contribution from the elected representatives, rights groups, civil society organizations or any of the consumer groups.
As part of their licensing agreement with Pakistan Telecom Authority, all the internet service providers donate money for the National ICT R&D Fund that called for the proposal. As the ISPs get their money from the users, it will be the users who will end up paying for the cyber surveillance against themselves. How ironic!
In the day and age when most people are moving away from traditional sources of information, entertainment and employment and turning to the World Wide Web for it all, people will find ways to circumvent the government ban and all the money spent on the project would go down the drain.
Life with a firewall which monitors content is just like living with an cyber nanny who has the authority to slap your wrists if you said something or sought information that she does not like, what sensible adult would want to live like that? 
First published in The Express Tribune
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