Maya Khan’s Marriage Police

When your everyday news consists of the purported collapse of your government and a small but unfortunate obsession with treating the ill with fake drugs at a major regional cardiology institute, it seems that very few things will actually cause you to upchuck any remaining disgust floating around in your metaphorically ulcer-ridden stomach.

Maya Khan on Samaa TV. Photo via Huffington Post.

Fortunately for Pakistani TV station Samaa, Maya Khan was able to do just that.

Okay, so maybe I’ve got too much of a flair for the occasional hyperbole, but a recent stunt by the talk show host left many Pakistanis completely bewildered and disgusted. In late January, the morning show host led a team of over a dozen “aunties” into the clutches of moral decay and social destruction commonly referred to as “parks.”

The footage is nothing short of disturbing: a brigade of ‘aunties’ armed with moral superiority and out-of-fashion sunglasses ambush young couples, many of whom try to escape the onslaught of cameras and judgment, and implicate them as bearers of social impurity.  The women, led by Khan and her producer, demand to see the marriage contracts of unsuspecting couples on “dates,” followed by awkward lectures on disobedience to their parents. They miss no opportunity to “shame” the couples, particularly the women, the majority of whom are niqab-clad – a common refuge for Pakistani women wishing to conceal their identity for various reasons.

Parks, in cities like Karachi and Lahore in particular, are renowned date spots specifically for lower-middle class Pakistanis. Public displays of premarital hormonal philandering are far from alien in Pakistan; many young unmarried couples openly eat in restaurants, walk in malls and other such equally sinful areas. But more often than not, these couples come from backgrounds that may not entirely encourage premarital relationships but don’t create a fatalistic fuss over dinner either. Lower-middle-class couples, unable to afford consumerist dating, cover (sometimes literally) their romanticism by spending time together in parks. This so-called “phenomenon” has elicited negative reactions from families who believe such publicization creates for an inappropriate atmosphere for a family outing.

The uproar of disbelief to Khan’s segment of moral cleansing was quick. Pakistanis across social media platforms rose in protest against the unprovoked harassment of innocent couples in public spaces. Perhaps the most notable of responses was from Pakistani blogger Mehreen Kasana, who wrote an open letter to Maya Khan: [Read more...]