Agents of Change???

By Raza Habib Raja

I vividly remember when Veena Malik started to appear in a program named as “Big Boss”.   The way Veena Malik acted in that show was “bold” in the sense that it defied the conventional sexual morality expected of women. At the same time it also did what it was supposed to do: attract controversy and get high ratings.

However, this kind of “boldness”  is frowned upon by the hypocritical right-wing religious lobby and also the honour brigade which tends to view female chastity as the symbol of national “prestige’.  And since the show was in India, the brigade was bound to get perturbed and the Pakistani news channels also lapped on the controversy for commercial reasons. One news channel, desirous of commercial potential even arranged a live confrontation between Veena and a Mullah.  Ms Veena Malik during that “confrontation” resorted to the only possible defense she had: she was being targeted because of her gender. She may have been right but the fact is that before that point  Ms Veena Malik throughout her life had never stood for anything even remotely connected to women liberation. Yes she acted boldly but mostly that was not to break any taboos against women but to create sheer controversy. And that day she was just trying to grab on to any defense to just shut the Mullah up.

Television is a media which has the potential to transform moments into lifelong fames. It was her finest moment and she was spot on when she said that her castigation was only due to the fact that she was a woman. But at the same time those who agreed with her wholeheartedly simply overlooked that why was she saying it and whether she had any record whatsoever of being a champion of women before. Frankly it was just a defense,-albeit a correct one- and at a moment which was  captured on camera and then televised all over the world.

Suddenly Ms Veena Malik became the new “vanguard” of liberalism and for some even women liberation. Following that fateful confrontation, even those women who had previously been embarrassed by her behaviour suddenly found a ground to support her. On Facebook, groups were formed which advocated presidency of Pakistan for Veena Malik!! Our Veena, suddenly became the new icon for some liberals.

So can these shock creators like Veena actually play a meaningful role towards a tolerant Pakistan where women can have their fair share? I have very mixed feelings about it. At one end, I do fully acknowledge that our society is hypocritical and expects chastity from women while given men a completely free reign. Today Atif Aslam , Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Ali Zafar are bigger stars than Veena  and yet no one expects them to behave in a sexually restrictive way. In fact tomorrow, if Pakistanis find that Atif Aslam is having sex with some Bollywood actresses, no Pakistani is going to object. In fact most of them will take a sinister delight in the fact that Indian honour
has been violated.

To that extent  yes I would support Veena and her artificial bold behaviour. If men can get away with it then fairness demands that a woman should also get away with that. But beyond that, I really don’t think that there is any reason to pin hopes on her and glorify her as some kind of a role model. She is no Asma Jehangir.

What Veena Malik did in the Big Boss was not a “service” to the cause of women liberation but to simply act in an attention grabbing way to get noticed. In fact initially and before her spat with the Mulllah, a lot of women were dead against her because they rightly recognized that Veena Malik by no stretch of imagination was an epitome of female emancipation and her bold acting was in no way defiant of any “restrictions” but rather a loud way to get attention. If anything, Veena Malik in Big Boss had merely tried to tantalize sexual male predatory senses and while doing so female emancipation from traditional patriarchal society was the last thing in her mind.

I think right now women in Pakistan face much bigger problems than sexual freedom and the biased attitude of society with respect to it. And in Veena’s case the expression of sexual freedom is not even genuine. It is just a way to earn more money.  Sorry, but that is the reality…

And from a pragmatic point of view, Veena Malik gives a lot of ammunition to right wingers and allows them to portray women liberation as something “immoral” and only
sexual in its essence. In fact the religious lobby has always strived to portray women liberation as a vehicle of sexual perversion.

What we need to realize is that we have not reached a stage where female sexual freedom is the main contention. There are much bigger things with respect to women which need to be highlighted and fought for. We are living in an increasing conservative society where negotiating an equal deal for women has to be done rightly and
rationally.  And role models should be projected accordingly.




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