Women Empowerment And Media’s Subversive Role
The recent manipulation of videos from the Aurat March has highlighted the dangers of; how truth can be distorted and reality can be completely changed technologically and how media, both social and mainstream can be used as a force multiplier to subvert any cause and destroy any movement.
We can make a lot of noise and identify the clear and very obvious role of the social media in pushing back the movement for empowerment of women. Yet, there is a far more sinister and subversive role that is being played by the electronic media, especially the PAKISTANI DRAMAS, to disempower women.
Apparently it’s the TRPs that are to be blamed , the rating points calculated by meters installed across Pakistan that calculate which dramas are watched most and what times are most viewer intensive. Based on this data the channels apparently decide the themes and stories that the audience can most relate to. Hence the showing of miserable, pathetic, weak women walking on egg shells forever, constantly in the fear of losing their honour. Experienced producers are quoted in various articles written on this subject about how heart wrenching scenes of women getting the short end of the stick and ratings go hand in hand.
But without going into the merits of the rating game and what sells and what does not, one would like to ask what justification can the writers, directors and producers offer in defence of why a complete distortion of reality is shown regarding the legal rights of women which is the most subversive aspect of this game. An overwhelmingly large part of drama audience in Pakistan are women, dramas are a sort of infotainment for them; ask people who come from rural areas and small towns what value this form of entertainment holds for the rural women. Urban or rural these dramas have a huge viewership. It is through these dramas that a silent, sinister and subversive effort is being made to disempower women. The constant and consistent message coming from these dramas is that women have next to no legal rights in Pakistan. The repetitive pattern of the Triple pronouncement of Talaq (divorce), the husband sometimes openly and sometimes clandestinely engaging in polygamy without any consequence cannot but disempower women by making them feel vulnerable, weak and insecure.
March 2021 is special in that it marks 50 years of the promulgation of Muslim Families Law ordinance 1961 whereby the codification of laws pertaining to Family matters took place. For the first time, procedures regarding registration of marriages and divorce were set out. The right of Polygamy which was hitherto absolute was curtailed and regulated, and brought under the supervision of the legal system. The MFLO (Muslim families law Ordinance) laid down the procedure for DIVORCE, which if not followed can result in upto one year in jail. Yet our dramas which have a staggering amount of viewership have merrily being showing for the last fifty years a distorted view of reality, where men break all the laws in MFLO without facing any consequences.
Whether it’s ‘Meray Qatil Meray Dildaar’ – a play from a few years ago – or any of the latest plays like Jalan or Zebaish; the pronouncement of the Tripple Talaq figures prominently. Usually some elder is also warning the damsel in distress that be careful “teen bol keh ke tumhe faarigh kar sakta hai” (can divorce you with three figures). The reality is that the law has prescribed a certain way in which divorce is to be given and how it only take effect after three months. And if the divorce is given in any but the prescribed way one can land in jail for upto one year. The depiction of polygamy in our plays is another theme repeated over and over again. It was shocking to see recently how the drama Zebaish written by an artist of Bushra Ansari’s calibre dealt with the issue of polygamy in such a shoddy manner. The audience was given the message that permission from the first wife on a forged stamp paper can easily be produced in front of the nikah registrar in order to enter into a second marriage. Whereas, the law clearly states that the permission letter to be attached to the nikah nama is to be from the arbitration council and not the first wife. Interestingly, the legal machinery does get into motion on a complaint filed under the polygamy section and men do get punished but the same is never ever shown in our plays.
Drama Cheekh in the recent past, a brilliant suspense thriller with a lot of promise took the cake though. It showed the heroine getting locked up in a mental asylum because she got confused in the cross examination in the court and was unable to prove that the accused had killed her husband. Can one even imagine what a terrifying message that can be for anyone contemplating to approach the justice system besides of course being absolutely ridiculous. As a lawyer it’s difficult for me to believe that the writer, producer, director et al were naïve enough to believe that a person can be locked up in a mental asylum if they get trumped in a cross examination. The message in all these dramas is clear as day light. Don’t mess with men, the law the system and all else is on their side.
The media has long been considered a subtle form of social control, right from the time of Alfred Bandura’s experiment it has been recognised that entertainment industry through television, dramas and movies has a profound effect on the behaviour of the target audience. It is considered a powerful form of enculturation and education. It’s about time the writers and producers of our dramas take their work seriously and stop distorting legal reality.