trigger warning: discussion of domestic violence, abuse and rape
Pakistani dramas are not the best place to approach if you’re looking for good female representation, but this week’s episode of “Lapaata” compels us to talk about the need for triggering topics like domestic violence and abuse to be approached in a sensitive manner. Lapaata’s latest episode created a stir on social media when a clip trended online where the female protagonist Falak (played by Sarah Khan) was slapped by her husband, and then she slaps him back and threatens him not to lift a hand on her again.
— s⁷ (@shizaahahaa) September 9, 2021
While many people on Twitter did applaud this scene to be empowering for women, but however the problem remains that do we need to glamorize abuse to depict strong women? Domestic violence and abuse are sensitive topics that have been casually depicted on television screens in several popular dramas. Women in dramas like “Meray Pass Tum Ho” were labelled “do takay ki aurat” for wanting a career and an independent life outside of marriage and turned into the villains of the drama. The latest drama “Fitoor” has also received a lot of criticism on social media for normalizing marital abuse, as in the latest promo we watch the husband throw his wife Dil-Nasheen across the room when she comes to his house and begs for forgivness.
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The actor Mirza Gohar who portrayed the abusive husband in “Lapaata” had defended the scene by saying that it is important to depict strong women like Falak who slap their husbands back. Domestic violence is not a tool to demonstrate female empowerment and saying such a thing doesn’t take into account why women want better laws to be introduced that promise safety for survivors of violence. Lapaata’s message from the viral clip was that a strong woman is someone who stands up to domestic violence, which is a poor representation of real life scenarios where women face harsher consequences. Many women fear hitting back or abusing their husbands because it comes with losing their homes, financial protection and security from the police which is why they are compelled to stay in silence. We have often heard men say that “the best way to tackle the growing rape and domestic violence crisis is to start teaching women martial arts” which is a tone deaf response that completely overlooks the larger financial and housing problem abused women face if they wish to escape the violence in their homes.
So saying that Falak is a strong woman because she slaps her husband back is quite insensitive to the growing number of women made to sit silently and bear abusive husbands and in-laws, because they’re well aware that they will lose everything if they stood up to them.
Pakistan has already seen a rise in the number of femicide cases in the last few months with the horrific murder of Noor Mukadam and then the Minar-e-Pakistan harassment case. According to the Global Gender Gap 2021, Pakistan ranks 153rd out of 156 by the World Economic Forum and in the South Asian Region, the country ranks seventh among eight countries in regards to gender equality. Just in July, Imran Khan received criticism from feminist activists online when the advisor to the PM on parliamentary affairs Babar Awan requested for the Domestic Violence Bill to be reviewed and sent to the Council of Islamic Ideology. Many women had pointed out that this council had previously stated that men are allowed to lightly beat their wives, and did not have any women on their board of members when taking account of a bill that was about the well being of women.
In light of these recent events, why are Pakistani dramas still not owning up to their responsibility by using their platform to condemn the growing violence against women? We need our entertainers and producers to simply understand that while to them the drama’s they put up are simple for “entertainment” and getting top ratings but to their audience these shows are teaching them to morals and values. It’s time we changed the narrative and helped empower women by showing them that abuse should not be tolerated under any circumstances and they must seek for help to escape such situations!