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Malik’s naked controversy highlights Pakistani ‘double standards

While some Pakistanis are enraged by model and actress Veena Malik’s semi-nude photo shoot for an Indian magazine, others feel the criticism is proof of double-standards in Pakistani society. Veena Malik poses semi-nude on the Indian FHM magazine cover wearing an ISI tattoo on her left shoulder. That is more than enough to enrage a large part of the Pakistani population.

The Pakistani Army’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is considered a holy cow in Pakistan but maligned in neighboring India for allegedly supporting militant Islamists, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, which New Delhi accuses of orchestrating several terrorist attacks. Western nations also claim the ISI backs the Taliban.

Malik told a private Pakistani news channel, Geo TV, that she wore the ISI tattoo in the shoot for fun. In her defense, Malik claims some of her photos in the popular Indian lifestyle magazine were morphed, however she does not deny doing “bold” shoots for the magazine. She recently told Pakistani news channels that she was not “embarrassed” about her shoot.

Conservative and patriarchal voices in Pakistani society have spoken out angrily against Malik’s antics. Certain religious scholars have called her an infidel. Even her father has reportedly disowned her for “disgracing Islam, Pakistan and the ISI.” A petition against Malik has been filed in a Pakistani court.

The model is currently living in Mumbai, India, where she claims to have received death threats from religious fanatics.
Veena Malik on the cover of the FHM magazine.

Double standards

Many people who see no harm in her risque photographs believe the criticism of Malik raises questions over the country’s moral values. Pakistani fashion journalist Mohsin Sayeed is of the view that the Veena Malik controversy proves yet again that “Pakistanis are particularly hypocritical when it comes to sexuality and religion.”

“Isn’t it proof of our double-standards that women like Mukhtaran Mai are paraded naked publicly on the orders of the panchayat (tribal courts) and raped by groups of men, and nobody in Pakistan says it is against Islam? The mullahs do not make any hue and cry about such acts. But when Veena uses her right to do a photo shoot, she is loathed and ridiculed by the Pakistani society,” Sayeed told Deutsche Welle.

Poet and journalist Nasir Tufail blames former dictator General Zia-ul-Haq for Pakistan’s “backwardness.” He told Deutsche Welle that it was the late dictator who imposed his version of obscurantist Islam on the people.

“During General Zia’s era in the 1980s, the state television, PTV, was directed to show women in accordance to Islam,” says Tufail. “But things might change in future as Pakistan is rapidly adapting to challenges of the modern era.”

Pakistan’s ‘bold’ women

Local NGOs claim women are not only sexually harassed at the workplace but are also discriminated by their male colleagues. This is especially true of the show business and the media. Although the Pakistani media has grown during the past decade, and the depiction of women in Pakistani soap operas, talk shows and movies has become more liberal, civil society experts believe stereotyping of women goes unchecked.

Pakistani anchor Mathira, who is also known for defying “norms,” told Deutsche Welle that religion should be kept away from the media. “In Pakistan, media and religion are intertwined. That makes things difficult for liberal people working in the field,” she laments.

Mathira thinks it is Veena Malik’s right to use her body in whatever way she deems appropriate for her. “Islam is a beautiful religion. Allah does not force women to wear a burqa. Some people are giving a bad name to this wonderful religion,” she said. “For my part, I will never change myself. Even if the Taliban come into power in Pakistan, I won’t change. They will have to change themselves,” Mathira says laughingly.

Publicity stunt

Many in Pakistan also believe Malik is hungry for popularity and the semi-nude photos in the Indian magazine was just a further publicity stunt for her.   Malik has been involved in a number of controversies over the years, including her appearance in the Indian version of the Big Brother in which she was shown hugging Indian actor Ashmit Patel and sleeping with him in the same bed.

“Let’s accept that most Pakistanis are sexually frustrated,” says Tufail. “They secretly watch Veena Malik’s pictures and videos and denounce her publicly. Despite the controversies, Malik has managed to rope in several roles in mainstream Bollywood movies. In India, film critics say her career as an actress is thriving, but in Pakistan, the courts await her return.

Author: Shamil Shams
Editor: Sarah Berning


28.12.2011 | 23:23