Brutality Against Women. Beatings of Women. Torture of Women. Women Crying. Women Wailing. Women Held By Their Neck. Women Pulled By Their Hair. Women Accused. Women Stigmatized. Wife Held Responsible For The Sadistic Behaviour of Her Husband. Wife Chained And Held Like Animals. This is the gory content that Pakistani television serials beam into Kashmiri homes and into our smartphones every day. Mareaya Fayaz explores how marital violence and dystopian family alliances showcased in Pakistani TV serials is impacting Kashmir. Analysts of Kashmir’s contemporary history write that Pakistan’s dictator Gen Zia ul Haq initiated the rigorous project of Kashmir’s indoctrination into hardline Islam. Even though Gen Zia ul Haq died in a plane crash in 1988, by the early 90s the radicalization and deep indoctrination of Kashmir was in full swing. Pakistan pushed Kashmir into insurgency by changing the levers of Kashmir’s politics and making it separatist. This was and continues to be a political project for Pakistan.
Through the upheaval of terror and militancy, Kashmir remained moored to its traditional ways. Even though Islam allows a man to have four wives, there was no social sanction for multiple marriages in Kashmir. A second marriage was highly frowned upon in Kashmir society. The incidence was so low that a man’s taking a second wife made news within his community and area. There were other ways in which Kashmir was different as a society and civilization. Triple talaq was not practiced. Domestic violence was known to take place but the incidence was comparatively low. Now again, courtesy the influence of Pakistan, Kashmir is in the grip of cross-border social indoctrination. This time, the agency for indoctrination isn’t the Pakistani establishment, the ISI or the deep state. It is Pakistan’s soft power – its television serials. The Pakistani television serials, streaming into homes and smartphones across Kashmir have become the agency for indoctrination in Kashmir. Pakistani dramas are increasingly becoming a powerful and compelling medium to influence social shifts in Kashmir. In Edition 15 of Kashmir Central, we are chronicling some of the ways in which Pakistani TV serials are influencing and indoctrinating Kashmir society. When it comes to depicting nikaah or talaaq on screen, both require considerable sensitivity and nuance. Unfortunately, both have been trivialized in Pakistani television serials. Such dystopian scripting is common also in the serials produced and aired in the mainland. But they are not watched in Kashmir in large numbers, hence their influence is negligible comparatively.
Pakistani TV Content Became A Rage In Kashmir 2014 Onwards
Pakistani serials became a sensation in Kashmir around 2014. A cable TV channel named Zindagi started airing these serials and found a ready audience within Kashmir – particularly Kashmiri women. These women followed Pakistani bridal fashion. Hum TV and other channels like ARY Zauq and ARY Masala followed. Women followed these channels to learn new recipes. The romance serials and comedy shows became talking points in Kashmir. A number of channels from Pakistan and some from Saudi Arabia were commonly seen by the Kashmiri society. Among these were ARY Zauq, ARY Masala, ARY Zindagi, Hum TV, PTV Sports, Paigam, Karbala TV, Geo News, ARY News Asia, Duniya News and Samna News. These channels generate news and religious content as well as infotainment, sports, satire, comedy and food shows.
The television content flowing into Kashmir from across the border included Peace TV English and Peace TV Urdu. These are owned by Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, who is on the run from the Indian authorities and is under investigation for terror links. In 2017, 34 television channels being broadcast from abroad were banned in Kashmir, apparently because they have the potential to disturb “peace and order”. The banning of the Pakistani channels was seen as an attack towards the people of Kashmir. It was criticized by then chief minister Mehbooba Mufti and also Hurriyat. The move was called as an attempt to “hurt the collective psyche of Kashmiris” through this “cultural aggression and politics of invasion”. The ban did not stop the Pakistani serials from flowing into Kashmir. By now, most of the serials were available on YouTube. They continue to remain popular in Kashmir and are easily accessible to anyone interested in watching them. While discussing the content of the television serials aired from Pakistan, I am reminded of how the serials on Ekta Kapoor were hated for their content. Even though many people admit that the content was ridiculous and corrupted the brains of youngsters, the serials continued to have high rating. It is the same with many serials aired from Pakistan. The content debases common family relationships. But the major issue of concern is that nobody is talking about the influence of these serials upon Kashmiri society.
PAKISTANI TV SERIALS ARE NORMALIZING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN KASHMIR
Pakistani serials are increasingly emerging as a visual medium to promote domestic violence. Despite having a solid plot, storyline, faultless acting, and skilled direction, the themes, and content of Pakistani dramas cause more harm than good to the Kashmiri community. The obsession of Kashmiris with Pakistani serials is of another level. Over the years, these serials have gained huge popularity in Kashmir. These serials have a huge audience here, and people watch these dramas for entertainment. Sadly, there is no discussion in Kashmir on the deeply regressive content of these serials. There is no realization that serials which promote steep male chauvinism may be a bad influence on our society which already discriminates against women. If we look at television content worldwide, we shall find that it covers a wide range of topics. Television serials cover different genres from politics to science fiction and suspense thrillers. However, when we look at Pakistani plays, we find that the majority of them feature domestic violence, women as victims, second marriages, extramarital affairs and Triple Talaq. The popularity of this content in Kashmir reveals that it is being appreciated by the people.
Qayamat ranks among the highly popular Pakistan television series in Kashmir. One of the most-watched episodes of this series was the one in which a female character is brutally beaten by her husband. It is unfortunate that the stories of women’s physical and emotional abuse attract a lot of attention and generate high revenue for the makers. But how this TRP game is damaging minds and molding public opinion in Kashmir is something that no one is taking note one. The episode in which a woman was beaten mercilessly by her husband was watched so much that it became the highest-rated episode.
We need to observe this carefully. The regressive and deplorable content that should be rejected in disgust is being watched intently and obsessively. Sadly, such content that has been watched since years is now normalizing domestic violence within Kashmir society. This was already a pain point for the women of our society who have suffered domestic violence. The Pakistani serials are only making the situation worse.
INFLUENCING SOCIAL ACCEPTANCE OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
The society’s perspective on gender roles and the ramifications of marriage is one of the most powerful variables that determine social acceptance of domestic violence. The commonly perceived and accepted gender roles in a society give sanction to domestic violence. In many Arab and Asian civilizations, women are regarded to belong to their husband’s agnatic group. In these societies, it is a widely held belief that women are the family’s property and may be controlled as needed. This is specifically deeply entrenched in the Pakistani society. Such deep-seated patriarchal minds normalize domestic violence in Pakistan. Unfortunately, the continued impact of regressive television serials is leading to higher incidence of domestic violence in Kashmir. The continued absorption of Pakistani television content has made us consider domestic violence as ‘okay’, and something that happens or is justifiable.
THE PROMOTION OF FAMILISM OVER INDIVIDUAL WELL-BEING
Familism. A social pattern in which the family assumes a position of ascendance over individual interests. There is a tendency in many cultures to respect familism and prioritize the wellbeing of the family over the well-being or the choice of the individual. The matter of concern is that cultures of familism add to the prolonged acceptability of abusive behaviour. Familism is common in collectivist societies. It can help to facilitate and sustain physical and emotional abuse inside families. This happens by effectively deterring victims from seeking outside assistance or even identifying their treatment as abusive. This is also a very common pattern in Pakistani television serials. A familiar thread in the serials is that the husband abuses and beats the wife after being brainwashed by his mother and sisters. The abused wife continues to believe that she should endure domestic violence as her divine duty.
PAKISTANI TV SERIALS ARE NORMALIZING MULTIPLE MARRIAGES
A study being done on the contribution of mass media towards an increase in domestic violence also spoke to various religious leaders. The study established that no religion promotes violence against women or divorce.
So we have a dual play here. We see Pakistan projecting itself as the saviour of Muslims. At the same time, Pakistan is promoting a toxic masculinity which sanctions domestic violence and divorce. The television serials of Pakistan reflect the same pattern. Toxic masculinity, women suffering abuse, domestic violence, divorces. Pakistani television serials are indoctrinating Kashmiri society by promoting the same patterns here. I don’t know if the Pakistani television studios are aware of how Kashmiri society has become a fertile ground for Pakistan to embed the notion of destructive and violent male chauvinism. Socially, multiple marriages have been an anathema in Kashmir. The impact of Pakistani mass media is changing this. One can observe the shift in Kashmir society. The notion of multiple wives is getting normalized. The instant pronouncement of triple talaq to divorce the wife is getting normalized. The notion of beating the wife is getting normalized. This is the indoctrination we are suffering at the hands of the Pakistan mass media. Indoctrination – the process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically. Why is this shift in Kashmir being regarded as indoctrination? Because though Kashmir and Pakistan follow the same religion – Islam, at a civilizational and social level, we are starkly different communities. Kashmir has civilizationally been known for its liberal, accommodative ethos regarding women’s rights.
This is changing. Our society is incorporating the trends of men opting for multiple marriages, the instant pronouncement of Triple Talaq and wife beating. In social discussions, one can hear men say that it is okay to beat one’s wife if she does not do what the husband expects from her. Astoundingly, one can watch even women express this opinion. In many such discussions, reference is made to the contemporary Pakistani serials. Pakistani script writers seem to have a horrific agenda at hand – turning the male generation into sadistic husbands and the women into submissive wives. In Kashmir, their script is being given social sanction.
BAND KHIRKIYAN – CLOSING THE WINDOWS OF LIFE
I was particularly disturbed by one of the serials titled Band Khirkiyan, which translates to closed windows. The male protagonist is shown as an over-protective, over-possessive stalker of a husband. He wants his wife to be around him all the time and seeks her attention every second. When this does not happen he beats her and abuses her constantly. The 28 episodes of the series are focused on how the husband isolates his wife from her sister and father. All through this, he somehow sets a vibe that this is love –he supposedly loves his wife so much that he only wants to keep her for himself. The man feeds his wife contraceptives without her knowledge because he can’t share her with a child. This portrayal of love is again so toxic. It seeks to establish that love means to own your wife, and keep her revolving around yourself. By the end of the show, both husband and wife are involved in a car accident. The wife goes into coma and the husband is sad that he “broke his possession”. He repents, wife regains consciousness, goes with her husband because “he changed”. Like most Pakistani serials, this series too promotes male chauvinism. The premise is that women are possessions of men. A husband can treat his wife any way he likes, and his sorry will set everything right. The messaging of all serials seems to be the same – that women should endure all pain, and at the end everything will be okay. This is the messaging for men and women alike. Treat your wife as your possession. Beat her, torture her, make her life a living hell because you have got control over her body and her mind. When she is on her death bed, apologize. Then all the trauma that the woman has suffered should supposedly get erased, and both of them can go singing in gardens.
EACH SERIAL ENCOURAGES WOMEN TO KEEP SUFFERING
Marital rape is wrapped and packaged in ways to make it acceptable. The messaging is that it is okay to rape your wife if she is a little aloof. At the end the man says sorry and his abused, tortured, assaulted wife goes back to him. Each serial encourages its victims to keep suffering. Each abuser receives exactly what she stayed back for. My heart cries for all those women who may be in similar circumstances and may be told to continue suffering in hell. These serials are easily accessible on YouTube. They are popular not just among women but men too. Perhaps they fit well with the male chauvinist outlook. It is also a matter of concern to see men treating their wife as their property, which can be disposed of according to their needs. Like the protagonists of the series, the men feel that their wives should not be bothered by the constant abusive behavior of their husbands. A 32-year-old woman was recently set ablaze by her husband and her parents-in-law. According to her family, she endured a lot of domestic violence. She endured for long, and finally, she was killed. Is this acceptable for a society to lose its daughter this way? A few months ago a video went viral in Kashmir. The woman was pleading that her husband and parents-in-law are always beating her and that she is an orphan. It is tragic that women are targeted and victimized despite so many laws for their protection. It is even more tragic that she is victimized by the man who is supposed to be her saviour.
PAKISTANI TV SERIALS ARE NORMALIZING TRIPLE TALAQ
Marriage is a sacred rite in our culture and religion, establishing a lifelong link between two individuals and their families. Rights relating to marriage and divorce necessitate nuanced and informed debates.Pakistani serials have trivialized these social realities in order to create cheap thrills in the name of entertainment. In all the years of growing up in Kashmir, I had never heard of Triple Talaq. I read about it only in my law books. But I now realize that children in Pakistan would be very familiar with this usage right from their childhood. In Pakistani serials, the husband pronounces instant Triple Talaq, and the marriage ends. The scriptwriters of Pakistani serials have made a joke of a life-changing decision like divorce. In the series Meherposh, the female protagonist is divorced by her husband a few hours after marriage because he suspects her of having an affair before marriage. The message delivered is two-pronged. One, you can divorce a woman on the assumption that she had an affair before marriage. Second, you should divorce a woman if she had a past relationship. The male protagonist in the serial divorces his wife when his sister threatens him with suicide if he does not divorce her. The hero divorces his wife in the heat of the moment to please his sister. The female protagonist, unable to bear the situation any longer, commits suicide on the spot. When the hero reaches out to touch her, he is prevented from doing so because he has now become her namehram since their divorce. The impact of this dystopian social exposure is that there is an increasing trend among Kashmiri men of pronouncing instant Triple Talaqs to their wives for the most unfathomed reasons. To an ordinary woman like me, it is very disturbing and hurtful to witness these emerging trends in my society.
THE REGRESSION WE ARE WITNESSING IN KASHMIR
Kashmir, which was once a highly progressive society, seems to be regressing. The indoctrination by the Pakistani serials is aiding the decline. We are aware that the spouse has the legal and religious right to end a marriage by divorce. There are specific legal and religious requirements entailed in the entire process that the television serials either ignore or fail to adequately depict. What the viewers see and hear are the three dreaded words pronounced in quick succession. In Zebaish, a 55-year-old lawyer divorces his wife while marrying the widow of a former employee. The explanation offered is that the man was irritated that his wife was preoccupied with her profession and didn’t provide him with the attention that he desired. He divorces her at the request of his second wife. Let us analyze what is being showcased here. It is acceptable for a man to divorce his wife if she is career-oriented. It does not matter that they have been married for 25 to 30 years. In a society which is already patriarchal, the deepening of such notions can lead to disastrous consequences. For those who are easily influenced, such ideas can have a very negative impact. In Pakistani serials, happy marriages built on mutual love and respect is a rarity. When casual divorces happen in seconds, we are aware of the messaging to the society – that such conduct is normal and acceptable.
PAKISTANI TV SERIALS ARE IMPACTING THE PSYCHE OF WOMEN TOO
Numm, a Pakistani series, portrays a woman forced into a marriage with a young boy as a punishment for a crime committed by her male relative. When the boy grows into a man, he is married to a young girl “for having babies”. The two-line explanation of this series says it all. First, a woman is fit to be punished for someone else’s crime. Why? Supposedly because the woman isn’t human. She exists simply for the convenience of men. The second construct here is that a woman is a baby-making machine. That is all there is to her.
There is another representation of the chauvinist culture shown in the series titled Muqaddar. A young woman is kidnapped for purpose of second marriage. And then begins the life of endless struggles for the poor soul. In a series titled Tera Gum Aur Hum, the man brings home a second wife. She was his former girlfriend and cousin. The examples are many. The Kashmir society traditionally did not accord social sanction to second marriage. Now the Pakistani serials are embedding the concept of multiple wives. Most Pakistani serials project overtly or covertly that it is acceptable that a man may need two or three wives, because one wife “cannot satisfy the needs of a man”. Pakistani serials normalize the notion that a man needs multiple wives to fulfill his male ego and give him a sense of superiority. This is one of the ways in which our youth get indoctrinated. They have no idea of the injunctions in Islam regarding multiple wives. But they willy-nilly absorb what is shown in Pakistani TV serials – that having multiple wives is acceptable.
IN THE NAME OF ENTERTAINMENT, WOMEN’S RIGHTS ARE BEING ERASED
These serials impact not just the men. They impact the psyche of women too. Their message to women and girls is that you must continue to silently endure the mental and physical pain inflicted upon you. Living in an abusive, loveless marriage is acceptable because your suffering does not matter. The social optics – what the society will think – is projected as the only criteria that matters. These serials teach women that they must accept all abuse dished to them. They should take all beatings from their parents-in-law or from their husband because one day things will supposedly change. When the apology is offered by the offender, all hurtful past must be left behind as if it never happened. All this and more is being ingrained in the minds of our youth. In the name of entertainment, women’s rights are erased. They may be abused or beaten, but it must be endured for the sake of the husband and the family. These bizarre ideas must not be taken lightly, especially by women. Being Muslim women, we all must know that a husband cannot have authority over his wife. A Muslim man is not allowed to beat his wife or any other woman. Islam gives legal rights to women. They do not need to endure emotional or physical pain inflicted upon them by their husbands or parents-in-law. Kashmir needs to boycott such shows. Such negative emotions infiltrate into the minds of young viewers, which can have a disastrous impact.
ALSO IN PAKISTAN: HEAVY CRITICISM OF REGRESSIVE CONTENT OF TV SERIALS
These serials have generated a lot of criticism in Pakistan, mostly by women who know their rights. But such criticism is restricted to the urban pockets of Kashmir. Most Kashmiris tend to absorb what is dished out on television. Families and elders alike turn on their television sets in the evening and absorb the content in big and small ways. They do not give any thought to the consequences of such content on the minds of youngsters. Families watch such content in front of their children, unmindful of how their children are absorbing filth and wrong ideas through television content. Exposure to such regressive content causes lifelong patterns that define our relationships. Such exposure makes young men male chauvinists who believe that women need to be controlled and used for one’s own pleasure.