Who is wrong, Udaari or the society that tolerates sexual abuse?

In the now infamous fifth episode of Udaari, Imtiaz lures his young stepdaughter into a room by suggesting they play a game together. He tells her that the game will remain their secret and not to tell her mother (his wife) because she will become jealous. He promises her toys and candy if she agrees to these rules and plays a game with him. In the following episode, he asks her to massage his back and caresses her, calling her his shehzadi and reminding her once again not to tell her mother about their secret.

This is a script uncomfortably familiar to many who have suffered from abuse; the excuse to spend time alone (playing a game), the use of endearing language as well as the vow of secrecy. Stories of child abuse often involve at least one of these tropes. Many also claim that their abusers were adults they trusted who were generally respected within their families and communities. Yet instead of applauding Udaari for its realistic portrayal of child abuse, people took to Twitter and Facebook in rage. Many claimed that Udaari was not being mindful of Pakistani culture and that the content and language were not appropriate. PEMRA, easily swayed as always, responded by asking Udaari to justify its use of vulgar language as well as reprimanding the show for general obscenity.

Other television dramas have shown abusive relationships as well. Gul-e-Rana, another Hum TV production, tells the story of a good, studious girl forced to marry a privileged relative who is violent and dominating. It is never entirely clear that Adeel sexually abused Rana; however he was certainly abusive towards her, humiliating her constantly throughout the show. Why did nobody object to the vulgar and abusive language in Gul-e-Rana? Perhaps because Adeel is a villain from the beginning of the show and does not have a single redeeming quality. Adeel is not like anyone we know or love and so we are not offended by his terrible behavior. We do not see him as a reflection of our culture in any way.

However, the opposite is true for Udaari. The former hero of the show is well respected and dutiful. Imtiaz is kind to his elders, sympathetic towards his new wife and respects everyone. He is the quintessentially good Pakistani man and this is why audiences are so uncomfortable when he becomes a villain. We are outraged because we assume a good Pakistani man would never speak to a young, vulnerable girl in this way or take advantage of her. A good Pakistani man would never abuse a child!

The show has started a conversation about child abuse in the hope that society begins to engage with this problem as opposed to sweeping it under the rug. The truth is that abusive people are often also fully functional members of society that many respect, admire and trust. Children often suffer at the hands of adults who nobody would think to blame. Udaari is intelligent and honest enough to recognize this but unfortunately, given the disappointing reactions of so many who watch the show, it seems that its audience is still not.

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Amna Chaudhry

Amna Chaudhry

Amna Chaudhry graduated from LUMS with a degree in the Humanities. She is a pop culture enthusiast, writing teacher and is also part of the feminist collective, Girls at Dhabas.