On October 15, 2015, a group of nurses in Lahore held a festive graduation ceremony. As a part of the evening, many of the nurses got together to celebrate and danced, a way of expressing their delight at having achieved a major goal in their lives.
What shocked me was the scandalous language used by television channels to describe the way these nurses were celebrating their graduation in their own hostel, which is a private space. Are we becoming an increasingly schizophrenic society? On the one hand, we want people to have hope, to love life, leaving behind the past decades-long overpowering depression that has been imposed on us by militants and terrorists. On the other hand, we slam those who do attempt to celebrate life and try to infuse our society with joy. Is our electronic media implying that women should not be allowed to come out of this state of depression? I am still grappling with the reporting of this issue while knowing full well that dancing, for men and women both, is very much a part of our culture; it is part of our folk heritage.
One relatively new channel reported with pride that it was the first to break the secret (bhanda phora) by reporting the nurses’ “dance party”. Many others, including the more established channels, complained that the medical superintendent was present at the event, but did not attempt to put a halt to this activity. Some channels actually circled his picture on the screen, as if he were a criminal, as he sat in the audience while juxtaposing his picture with some of the celebrating women.
In case readers think that I am talking about a pornographic show or young girls hired to provide entertainment and for those who missed out on the visuals splashed on our TV screens, let me fill you in: these nurses were regular, middle-aged women, in regular clothes, celebrating by dancing in the regular way our relatives often do at family weddings. What was the big deal, I wonder?
As I have begun to understand the internal dynamics of government offices, my first hunch is that a jealous competitor of the medical superintendent was looking for an excuse to embarrass him.
But have television talking heads decided that they must now replace the diminished jihadi and act as guardians of women’s morals in Pakistan? Clearly, these channels purposefully used the English words ‘dance party’, in an attempt to make the whole thing sound more scandalous. Second, they used sonorous tones while expressing their shocked disbelief: “how could nurses, who belong to such a noble profession, do this?” Third, while reporting this, channels purposefully used the word mujra to imply that these celebrating nurses were immoral, indeed that they might actually be prostitutes.
Are we still reduced to a level where we continue to debate whether dancing is a legitimate part of our culture? Is it still so easy to stigmatise working women, like these nurses? I realise that some narrow-minded people may make a fuss about a group of women dancing in celebration, but I remain shocked at our television media labelling a harmless festivity in a private space as a mujra, slandering the participants, and then falsely alleging that the Punjab chief minister had suspended the hospital’s medical superintendent. The print media, at least, should uncover who was behind this… and why? It is a woman’s right to reclaim her space to celebrate, to express herself and to engage in creative performing arts, but it is also the responsibility of our society and its institutions, like our media, to help protect this space.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 21st, 2015.
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