Just weeks after the hashtag ArrestTheCouple appeared all over social media, Zulfiqar Mannan, a gender activist, was reportedly arrested by Islamabad police on August 24. The police registered a case under Section 294, which holds that any person guilty of unethical deeds, vulgar words or songs in public is eligible for being fined, incarcerated or both. Paradoxically, Twitter was also showing the hashtag FreeZulfi among the top most-tweeted in Pakistan.
To recap, the controversial photoshoot that triggered mass censure illustrated two band members from Mystical Shayari, who stood in what was described as ‘unethical attire’ in front of Jinnah’s portrait along Islamabad Expressway, with the slogans Unity, Faith, Discipline in the background. What inflamed the public was that the photoshoot was titled ‘Unity, Faith, Disco’ on Instagram. Initially on August 3, the plaintiff, Rashid Malik, filed a FIR accusing the duo of disrespecting the Father of the Nation.
The ‘bold’ photoshoot was exposed to the public after the Islamabad-based journalist, Ansar Abbasi, took to Twitter and requested Deputy Commissioner (DC), Hamza Shafqaat to arrest the delinquents for promoting “obscenity.” The DC took swift action and tweeted in hopes of accruing information regarding the incident.
Soon after the whole fiasco, the official page and the accounts of the models were deactivated. Before shutting down, Mystical Shayari addressed the outrage via online posts. They alleged that they were receiving “hate messages, death threats and transphobic ridicule.” In their defense, they were the representatives of the ‘white’ in the national flag of Pakistan; as such they had a right of freedom to pay “homage to values” of Pakistan. They alleged that male patriarchal mindset was the root of all evil that had caused injustices to Noor, Qandeel and caused various rapes and murder. Hence, the promo shoot was a way to promote pop culture, fashion, music, poetry, truth and joy and hence, it was an attempt to play their part in the fight against masculinity and spiritual decay.
Close friends and associates have disclosed that Zulfiqar was released on bail and has been advised to go into hiding to avoid public scrutiny. Zulfiqar is reportedly a brilliant graduate student of Yale with an English major and interest in gender and arts. The female model, Casey, however has not been not arrested.
The incident manifested in two opposing camps – some see unorthodox expression as a national embarrassment, while others see it as freedom of expression. In my opinion, the matter is too trivial to be at loggerheads with each other. The nation must ponder whether it is rational to arrest minors over such ludicrous issues? Although the actions are culturally inappropriate, is it the right solution to arrest eccentric youngsters, instead of guiding them? The need of the hour is for the government to arrest the actual criminals – sex offenders, murderers and thieves who happen to bypass the law while the victims bear the brunt and public humiliation.
Youth is the main asset of our country. According to UNDP, they make up to 65 percent of Pakistan’s population. The dilemma is that they are taken for granted and the state has not benefitted from their full potential. The government must prioritize youth empowerment to curtail unemployment, illiteracy, crime, drug abuse and mental illness. Undoubtedly, strengthening and educating our youth is the key to a prosperous and developed Pakistan.
The writer has completed her BSc in Politics and International Relations from University of London.