“Cover yourself up, there are men all around”, “it’s a family gathering, you can’t go without wearing a dupatta” and the most popularly “Maa baap nay ghar may koi sharam aur haya nai sikhaye kya?” you are not desi enough if you have not, at least once, been a victim of “chastity shaming”. Often, such remarks are associated and limited to women alone.
Pardah, according to Wikipedia, is a social and religious practice of Muslim society of screening women from men and strangers as a form of seclusion. Islam defines pardah as the idea of modesty and decency in interactions between people of different genders. The two widely differing definitions signal the even wider connotations of the word itself. However, with the Pakistani culture in context where Islamic values are heavily infused in the creation of cultural identities and values, it is often challenging to tell the two apart. Who identifies what pardah is and how it is to be practiced? Do we resort to Islam or culture? How are the two intertwined in a balanced manner?
Upholding pardah is seen as the identifying feature of a supposedly “good woman.” It reflects a good family, and it is what constructs a good marriage. It is synonymous with the hijab and niqab and segregation. some argue that it is an ever-evolving idea to fit different contexts. It plays a pivotal role in the construction of a gendered space where binary gender roles are strictly identified and any deviation from the constructed norm is considered dishonorable, degrading, and disrespectful. It is seen as a means for women for attaining true happiness and ultimate empowerment by feeling protected from gazes of the unwanted but the manifestation of this idea itself is a recipe for misogyny. How can a women feel empowered through the means of purdah when it not only restricts their mobility but also interprets their movement, their language, their dress code, and their behavior? Why do they have to be protected through an external force instead of fostering an environment safe enough where women do not have to rely on anyone or anything? Why do they have to be subjected to constant surveillance when they are perfectly capable of making their own decisions?
The idea of pardah, as set forth in our culture, revolves around strict gender segregation and physical cover up in an attempt to eradicate “foul relations” (as defined by the culture and religion) has in turn, to an extent, served as the breeding ground for patriarchy whilst generating a sex starved society. How beneficial and protective has the idea of pardah truly been if Pakistan is amongst the ten worst countries for women to live in? A country that preaches respect for women yet still reports an average of four rape cases daily.
The famous show Churails has raised eyebrows as it subverts the stereotypes attached to what is identified as a good woman. It addresses topics of class, feminism, homosexuality, abuse, harassment, racism, and patriarchy through the eyes of women in multiple roles- a homemaker, a wedding planner, and a boxer. The show sets to empower women in the country only to be banned for "boldly" addressing matters that occur so commonly but behind closed doors. Since it challenged the traditional picture of an ideal docile woman, it was described as indecent and inappropriate. How are shows such as kaisa hai naseeban, hum kahan kay sachay thay, and qisa meher bano ka that glorify the abuse and objectification of women popularly produced but shows that empower women banned?
Perhaps what we demand is a social deconstruction of the idea of pardah itself to construct an entirely new idea of it within the framework of religion rather than an infusion of it with self-generated culture and society. Pardah is not just an entity for women but should not be gender specific rather gender neutral regardless of what a person’s sexual identification may be. And it is surely not the only guard of morality alone.