Our reaction to Muniba Mazari vs Khurram Shahzad is proof that in Pakistan, we’ll believe any allegation as long as it’s against a woman

Published: December 9, 2017
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People immediately jumped on the bandwagon and defended the husband and her former in-laws. PHOTO: MUNIBA MAZARI FACEBOOK

It is almost frightening to see how we are left with only a few role models now. Some have died, some were killed, and others have their status hanging in between. Passing away is not always physical – sometimes heroes suffer what can be termed as a metaphorical death. 

In Pakistan, our society is so strictly patriarchal that even having a female boss can be problematic, let alone a female role model. Working women will perhaps corroborate that it can be difficult for their male colleagues to accept a woman as their boss. Gossip about the boss is always stronger when she is a woman, and is also directly targeted to her personal life, in a way that a man’s is not.

Attacking a woman’s personal life is always the lowest, yet the easiest blow. When you have nothing else to attack her for, assassinate her character, and there you go! The damage is done, irreparably.

This mentality applies to all Pakistanis, and comes out whenever a woman decides to take action instead of staying helpless and silent at home. Strong, independent women are considered a threat in Pakistan, which is why we ridicule them by labelling them as self-centred and opportunistic. Yet, these same attributes, when applied to men, are perceived as “ambitious”.

So where do female heroes fit in such a society? Virtually nowhere.

From Fatima Jinnah to Benazir Bhutto, from Malala Yousafzai to Muniba Mazari, is there a single powerful woman whom we haven’t maligned? From calling them foreign agents to witches, our creativity in this department is endless. Even when we try to malign a man, to do so we shamelessly discuss the character of the women in his family.

Mazari is one such role model – an activist, a model, a motivational speaker; I have always been an ardent admirer of her valour and spirit. Her smile, which lights up her face, makes me feel ashamed when I think of the times I have been upset over petty issues.

In a motivational talk which went viral, Mazari disclosed that she was forced into a marriage at the tender age of 18. After only a few years, she was in a car accident that proved to be life-changing, as it left her paralysed and in a wheelchair. She didn’t lose hope, but she did lose her marriage. Yet, instead of letting her experiences bring her down, she adopted a child and was soon off on her wheelchair to rule the world. Dare I say that she actually did?

After the video’s popularity, however, her former husband, Khurram Shahzad, sued her for defamation. He claimed that he did all he could to comfort his former wife after the accident, but that her venture into singing and modelling was one that was not in line with the values of his family. He also accused her of “seeking attention and sympathy”, calling her cruel and selfish, and claimed that his family was depressed as a result of her insulting video.

Soon, Mazari was trolled across the country, since this seems to have become our national sport since the inception of social media. People immediately jumped on the bandwagon and defended the husband and her former in-laws, and started vouching for their integrity, family values and kindness. I wonder where this whole brigade was resting for all the years Mazari was speaking about her ordeal?

To add another twist to this tale, there emerged an old video of Mazari – one of her initial interviews for state television, where she can be seen praising her then-husband. The situation complicated further after that, until she clarified her position on social media.

Divorce is no longer a rarity – gone are the days when people had heard of divorces only in distant families and that too, once in a lifetime. Today, almost every family has experienced this, yet amicable divorces are still unusual in our part of the world. Breakups usually call for the blame-game to issue from both sides, with the man being accused of being insensitive, and the woman being blamed for not compromising or being “opportunistic”. It isn’t uncommon to see their dirty linen being washed in public either.

No one aspires to get divorced – it is always difficult, always painful. However, only a couple knows what happens behind doors, only they know what was truly going on. From where I stand, I do have my qualms about a man suing his former wife, who is wheelchair bound, for Rs10 million, which is a lot of money. Had it been merely a case lodged against her, without the money, perhaps my view would be different.

Nonetheless, it is amazing that an allegation made against a woman is always believed. When men are accused, we give them the benefit of the doubt, we ask for their side of the story. Then why do we not afford women the same right? And why is it that every woman in Pakistan who is in the public eye, eventually becomes a victim of some conspiracy theory or another? Remember the Mahira Khan and her dress controversy?

Fatima Jinnah was accused of being a ‘foreign agent’. Benazir Bhutto kept fighting allegations her entire life – be it her personal or public life, her opponents left no stone unturned to malign her reputation, only stopping after her tragic demiseMalala, a winner of the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize, is believed to have somehow shot herself in the head. It is almost as if questioning the character of our women is part of our culture now.

Looking at this incident with Mazari and her former husband, and seeing the response of the public, has left me extremely disillusioned and disappointed. One hopes that one day, Pakistan will reach a stage where it can finally acknowledge and appreciate the strength and bravery of its women, instead of undermining them at every possible stage.

Saadia Ahmed

Saadia Ahmed

An architect by qualification and a jack of all trades by practice. Saadia is based in Dubai and holds no obvious interest in space travel. She tweets as @khwamkhwah (twitter.com/khwamkhwah)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Umar Zakaria

    could it be counted as a neutral write, when woman writing for another woman?Recommend

  • Kumar

    More power to her. Any married person would agree with her statement. One make every effort to make marriage works, sometimes even when things are not looking good.
    Don’t know when we in South Asia learn to understand that women are almost always at receiving end in when relations go wrong in this part of world. So if not sympathy atleast show her some empathy.Recommend

  • Shahnawaz Khan

    blaming your ex husband, tarnishing his life earned respect is very justified…but him suing you for the damage and harassment caused isnt justified because you are a disabled woman…Well why did u believe her allegations against her husband in the first place…is a woman leveling an allegation against a man allowed and a man doing the same falsification…. there are some people who miuse feminism and play the woman card to their full advantage…the writer and Muniba Mazari are doing exactly that…what a pathetically written piece with no logic…Recommend

  • MUHAMMAD SHARIQ AQEEL

    Have anyone noticed that she still nor responded against any allegations from her ex-husband.
    As per her ex-husband she was driving the car & in her speech @ TED she said my driver was driving the car.
    How we can at once talking about pressure on women in the society where we all do not have anything to proof her claim(s) in her story/speeches she made in public on different occasions.Recommend

  • Adam Sam

    Why should a woman albeit handicapped get the privilege of labelling an ex partner as a potential criminal and get famous as a result. Miss Muniba Mazari is a classic case of an opportunistic feminist who would unnecessarily stampede over the reputation of a good working man for their selfish needs. A court case is justified and she will have to apologise for blaming her husband for acts he did not commit. PeriodRecommend

  • Nasir Jadran

    Although I haven’t lived in a Pakistani society for a quite a long time and I believe it may have changed since my childhood, however, I see that our American “Jerry Springer” influence has been adopted in this country and perhaps in India as well. Every now and then we hear someone praising their spouse some yester years ago and then bragging against about it, with this new culture developing, either for fame or for the ignorance of women emancipation or empowerment, we see dirty laundry being done in public. This only gets cheap publicity for a short time. In a decent world and in a decent cultural society if anyone is being persecuted they don’t wash their laundry in public. It seems like so called emerging democracies or emerging developing countries are unable to understand the fine line. In this article, the writer briefly pens about divorce culture of Pakistan and it seems ratio is higher just like in the US. If this is true, then it is no progress in women liberation or towards healthy progressive society rather concern is that a very own fabric of a healthy family has been destroyed. This is a grievous concern even in the West, yet Subcontinent countries have no clue at all that where they are heading.Recommend

  • sarfraz

    The whole blog is on the assumption that Muniba mazari is right, which she is not by any sense of the word. Please verify the facts, before wasting any of time on writing such an emotional article.Recommend

  • sani

    can’t agree more bro!!!!Recommend

  • sarfraz

    A feminist choosing all the right words and quoting everlasting ideas of woman emancipation to do exactly what, Muniba Mazari is doing at the moment. Hypocrites ——Recommend

  • Patwari

    Agree with just about everything the blogger Ms. Ahmad has written.
    Except Mohtarma. Mohtarma pilfered $1.7 billion dollars [USD] from
    the Pakland exchequer. Maybe there are persons [still in the dark] who
    consider Mohtarma a ‘savior’ or some kind of ‘heroine’ or a ‘farishta’.
    She was none of the above.
    Recommend

  • Patwari

    So, a woman writing for a another woman cannot be fair?
    Only a man writing about a woman can be fair? Since when?
    Hope you have a mother and sister[s].
    You just proved the blogger’s point in triplicate. Thank you.
    As the blogger wrote Pakland is a “patriarchal society” hope
    you understand what that means.
    It is people like you who keep the ‘jirgas’ alive and well.Recommend

  • Patwari

    This Blog by Ms. Ahmad is about Pakland. Not Jerry Springer or US.
    Or the divorce rate in US. Or culture/society comparison. That comparison
    would be like night and day.
    Unfortunately nobody can make head or tail of what you are trying to say
    or put across. Apparently, all your long years away, from Pakland, did not
    help improve your command of a foreign language. Mainly English.Recommend

  • Patwari

    No, it’s not on an “assumption”. The blogger did careful research and it shows.Recommend

  • Patwari

    …”acts he did not commit”….were you a party or a ‘witness’ to this whole
    Muniba/husband affair? Or only what you read as salacious gossip? Or
    as media perceptions?
    Let us know, here, once you find out….er…discover the truth.Recommend

  • Anam Batool Shabbar

    Stop playing woman card…we should believe on facts. She said in her interview that after divorce she adopted a kid. While his lawyer said that her husband sent other legal notices as well before to get custody of the child they both adopted. I dont know why so much contradictory statements. She is hero today because of her emotional speeches but if these speeches are fake and full of lies then obviously people will raise their voice.Recommend

  • ABKhan

    She just found of stealing the art work of another “woman”. The other artist (another woman) must have been accusing her because Muniba is a woman, isnt it?Recommend

  • Fahim

    Desi liberals believe any allegation as long as it’s against a manRecommend

  • Parvez

    After reading that I would side with the author that in general women land up on the loosing end even if they don’t deserve to be there. Its our patriarchal society structure that is to blame.
    On the specific case of Muniba Mazari I feel until and unless all the facts from both sides are not clear, giving a judgment in favor of either side would be wrong…….and this blog is written from the view point of only one side.Recommend

  • sarfraz

    Hello Patwari,
    Yes I am personal witness to almost 60 – 70 % of what ever she is saying on media. It is all lie, She just wanted fame. She dis a very cheap deal by rejecting his loving husband and going after fame and moneyRecommend

  • sarfraz

    The writer does not know the bit of it. Where is that ‘careful research’ in her article, except superfluous quotes of speeches made by her at different times.Recommend

  • Muhib

    I wonder even in 2017 people cant understand propaganda. If some one can believe that Fatimah Jinnah can was an external proxy or agent or working on foreign agenda than no one can be loyal to Pakistan. Same people can believe that even Jinnah himself was a yahoodi agent.Recommend

  • Muhib

    Golden agenda of getting famous in west
    Defame Pakistan, our country, our norms and culture in west.Recommend

  • Muhib

    It would have been great only if she could have explained her entirely different stances.Recommend

  • Karachiwala

    emotions and feminism apart. Her husband is an equal human being and did spend a lifetime building some reputation for himself. He must have a mother/father/sister/brother who are part of culture. No one is defending any men, nor anyone is accusing any women here. It has to be taken as simple as defamation case.
    In this case, a husband has been labeled as ditching his spouse after she became disable. Husband on the other hand contest this, and as things stand as facts, he did stand by for 2 to 3 years. He was the one who asked her and help her to be someone after she became disabled and wheelchair bound.
    he is fighting for custody of a child which he claims was adopted by the couple, after she could not bear a child (because of disability). she has said on record that she adopted the child after she get divorce.Recommend

  • Salman Khan

    She has responded against the allegations to state that she will handle the matter in court (as she should. no need to turn this into a public drama like her husband has). She did not say it was HER driver. She said THE driver. She was initially trying to protect her husband’s identity until he decided to bring forward a case and expose himself. In all her speeches she kept on saying that her prayers are for her husband, even after the divorce. The burden of proof lies on the husband, because he has made the allegations. Or do you not believe in innocence until proven guilty? Maybe I should bring a case against you too?Recommend

  • Patwari

    You changed your name name? Comment was addressed
    to Odam Samu.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Huh? You again? Writer does not know anything?
    But YOU know everything. Muniba speeches are ‘superflous’.
    Well, at this point, point Muniba and author of the blog gets
    the vote.Recommend

  • Farooq

    what reaction?
    the 2 had a divorce, settle issues privately in court
    why is there a media trial going on for them?
    the author of this article is also a culprit in making it into a media trial
    who knows what happened between the 2 in their private livesRecommend

  • Nasir Jadran

    Usually people react personally because it hits them where it needs it. Such reactions by a reactionary proves that Indian culture from the subcontinent will take a long time to reform. Education alone cannot make people come out of ignorance. Kudos for you. You get 💯 points. Enjoy!Recommend

  • Patwari

    No sir, wrong again. “Indian Culture” is more than 5,000 years old.
    Does not need reforming. Sorry to dash your hopes.
    Apparently Jerry Springer, Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Dre, Tupac Shakur
    Snoop Dogg and TV shows played a great part in defining what culture is,…to YOU. Please stick with your ‘idol of the week.’
    Real culture, might be very challenging for you…..karma.Recommend

  • Paki boi

    This is such a bias blog. Pure feminism. Firstly, her husband did not create a drama or propaganda. Much like her, he approached the courts, which is his right. Most of the people of social media are on her side so what’s the complaining about? I think the feminists of Pakistan need to take a break.Recommend

  • Samia

    and desi bigots like you will hunt for every opportunity to disrespect a womanRecommend

  • Patwari

    Seriously, you just realized women, are on the loosing end, majority
    of the time?
    Patriarchal or Matriarchal or Misogynist or Penguinist Society.
    Does not matter which country they live in.Recommend