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A Maya and a Mohammad in you and me

Mumbai (2012-01-30):In Canada, the alleged 'honour killing' of three teenaged daughters by Afghan-born parents shocked the western world. Polygamist Mohammad Shafia is accused of murdering his three daughters and his first wife.

Mohammad, his son and second wife have pleaded not guilty to the charges of murder supposedly committed to 'purify' the family name of disgrace, brought about because the girls flirted and dated boys.

In our neighbourhood Pakistan, TV anchor Maya Khan led a gaggle of 'desperate housewives' into a public park, hounding and harassing young couples on Live TV. She and her flock proceeded to vulgarly question their relationships and sermonised at length on 'family values'. The garish women were immediately dubbed as 'vigil-aunties' by Pakistani social media, who were outraged over the moral policing by a so-called journalist.

In Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, police officials launched 'Operation Majnu', accosting couples in public places like gardens and malls discouraging them from sitting together or cuddling. The police claim that this was done to curb sexual harassment. TV cameras caught the police harassing and even 'punishing' young couples while asking them questions like "Do your parents know if you meet boys here?" "Are you not ashamed of dating boys?" "Are these the values your parents taught you?"

Moral policing taken to absurd, even horrific limits is something we see so often in our society that it ceases to shock us now. Whether the Afghan father who killed his daughter, the Pakistani 'vigil-aunty' TV anchor or the 'Operation Majnu' cops of Ghaziabad, they are all the outcome of rigid parenting styles and social mores which are outdated and outmoded.

In the 21st century we battle with female foeticide, dowry deaths, sexual harassment, ignorance about women's rights and also turn a blind eye to hyper parenting that most of us indulge in. And this happens without us even realising that we are guilty of it ¦pot calling the kettle black anyone?

How many times have you said or demanded to know "Why is that boy calling/texting you?" "Did you take THAT girl to the movies?", "You can't go to a dance party, it is against our culture," "No sleeveless," "How can you say you love him, he isn't of our caste/religion," "He is a Muslim/Hindu, you can't go to the movies with him."
When sons and daughters in their teens are going through psychological and physiological changes, parents spend most of their quality time disciplining them and setting strict boundaries instead of explaining to them the changes taking place in their bodies and minds.

We focus on morality lessons with our children instead of instilling in them confidence for a world where the opposite sex should be viewed as an equal. But we have double standards of our own. See how we judge our politicians. Every article on Mayawati, Jayalalitha and Mamata talks about their moodiness and temper tantrums, as if it is only women politicians who are guilty of losing it, at times.

In the Maya Khan show in Pakistan, it is women who say, that it is wrong for girls to go on a date even if they are engaged to the boy in question. This, in a country where about 900,000 abortions are carried out annually and 13 per cent of the women die due to botched up surgeries; where 'stove deaths' are common. 

In India too, on an average, one bride is burned every 3-4 hours.  Skewed sex ratios stare at us from newspapers everyday. But we continue to think, it happens only in poor households; not in homes like our own. In the guise of pretending it is for the safety and security of our children, we lay down extremely strict guidelines that either stifle young minds or lead them to rebellion.

Those of us, who grew up in conservative homes, think that if we turned out reasonably fine, why can't the same rules be applied to our children. Noted poet Sahir Ludhianvi wrote "ye paap hai kya, ye punya hai kya, reeton par dharm ki mohrein hain, har yug mey badalte dharmon ko, kaise adarsh banaoge?" Translated it means, What is sin? What is virtue? It is mere convention sanctioned by religion. When those rules of convention change with each generation, how can you make them your ideals?

© copyright midday

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I am the Editor News, at Asian News International (ANI), Indias leading Multimedia News Agency and the India Correspondent for Channel News Asia, a Singapore based broadcaster.
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