All About the Conversation

On November 3, 2007, President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, declared “Emergency Plus” in the country and used it to curtail basic rights such as freedom of speech, movement and expression. The plethora of new, private television channels that had, for most of a decade, dazzled our minds by their sheer numbers, were shut down. The talk shows, the commentary shows, the cooking shows – all gone. And so, the Conversation was gone.

November 3 doesn’t have any direct relevance or causal relationship to the creation of Chay Magazine. I only mention it because it made me aware of something: in my entire lifetime, I had never before seen in Pakistan this level of open discourse. It wasn’t that, pre-Emergency, we spoke of everything in the world, freely, openly, happily. But we had started conversations: politics, covert military operations, health, marriage, women’s rights, law, HIV awareness. We had started conversations about these things. And then that conversation was killed.

Briefly. That level of silence could not be tolerated and, in a month, Emergency was lifted, albeit leaving behind some serious legal scars, such as stricter media regulations. But as the channels resumed transmission, the new rules were bent, modified, ignored and eventually broken. And we saw that that was good.

It was made clear, however, by this event that freedom of speech and expression in Pakistan cannot be taken for granted. The Conversation will not always survive. Intrepid reporters may now be going into FATA agencies to interview the local Taliban, but this will not be allowed forever. Things in Pakistan are volatile and ephemeral, and one mustn’t assume that the good now will continue on as a good. Or indeed the bad continue on badly.

Now is as good a time as any to talk about things we think are important. We want to start a conversation that we have heard snippets of in living rooms and grocery stores, on TV talk shows and in long form dramas, in the domestic difficulties of people we know and the shocking scandalous travails of people we don’t know, except through rumour mill.

We want to talk about sex and sexuality. Particularly, its politics. Particularly the power  it has over us, the power to keep us quiet about violences that happen in our homes, the power to kill us with diseases we are not educated about or cannot prevent; how it is used for coercion and how it is meant to be an expression of pleasure, love and respect. We want to talk about sexual rights and sexual health, sexual orientation and gender roles, sexual violence and sexual abuse, sexual empowerment and sexual happiness. We want to talk about family and relationships, love and marriage, homosexuality and heterosexuality, heteronormativity and perceived deviance, religious sanction and religious condemnation, freedom of choice and autonomy over one’s own body.

In short, we want to talk about what people living their everyday lives deal with every day, but are not allowed to talk about because we, as Pakistanis, have not allowed sex and sexuality to enter the Conversation.


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