Actors Gohar Rasheed and Sarah Khan recently made headlines for a scene in their TV series Laapata, in which Sarah Khan, who essays Falak, is seen returning a slap after being physically abused by her husband. Rasheed took to social media to address the scene, speaking about how he took on the character for this particular scene in an attempt to prove how “oppression is a choice”, encouraging women to “make the choice that Falak [Khan’s character] did, without any fear.”
Taking issue with Rasheed’s assertion that being oppressed is a choice, former advisor to the Chief Minister of Sindh Sharmila Faruqi took to social media to comment on the matter. Explaining how oppression is a reality for many women and in no way a “choice”, Faruqi took to the comments section of his Instagram post. The politician wrote, “Oppression is not a ‘choice’, it is a hard reality. Thousands of women are oppressed not because they chose to be ‘oppressed’, but because they do not have the option to hit back or leave.”
Faruqi continued, addressing how not everyone has the privilege to stand up for themselves in the face of violence. She added further, “Marital rapes, domestic violence, acid victims and child marriages are rampant in our society because the victims are helpless physically and financially.”
On how the victims are forced by circumstance to remain silent, the politician concluded, “They suffer in silence. And those who do muster up the courage are either silenced, murdered or divorced with nowhere to go. The victim-blaming never ends. It’s a vicious circle.”
Following Faruqi’s response, the Legend of Maula Jatt star took to Facebook to share a screenshot of her comments along with a detailed reply. The actor started off by asking how women can be liberated from the cycles of abuse if they do not take a stand for themselves. He asked, “With all due respect ma’am Sharmila Faruqi, then how can we break this vicious circle? If thousands of women are being oppressed daily how can we change that reality?”
Rasheed continued, adding that it was necessary for women to take a stand for themselves, “The main reason why women tolerate all this injustice is because of fear, the norms and taboos that have been created by our unsophisticated society. And now this fear is becoming a mindset for these women and the only thing that can change this mindset is an idea. An Idea of not being oppressed, tolerant or fear any injustice or abuse by the spineless men of our society.”
Reiterating his stance on the matter, the actor stated once again that oppression was a choice. He wrote, “The thappad [slap] scene depicts a woman standing for herself and saying no to violence which is a step towards breaking that vicious circle. Oppression is a choice, an idea for the generation to come where no woman should accept being abused or oppressed due to the societal norms and if she does tolerate being oppressed then that is her choice, not a mindset anymore.”
While well-intentioned, Rasheed’s stance puts the onus of responsibility of ending cycles of abuse on the shoulders of women. While many women would actively like to get up and walk out of toxic and violent marriages, relationships and familial situations, there are extenuating circumstances at play that would leave the woman even more vulnerable to violence if she were to get up and leave, or worse, hit back.
For several women, the decision to fight may, as stated by the PPP leader, lead to increased violence, perhaps even death. Men do not face the same odds when faced with violence initiated by a woman. It would perhaps be better placed to educate men, asking them to shoulder the responsibility of ending generational cycles of violence.
Rasheed, in his earlier statement on the scene, stated, “It may sound strange but the thappad [slap] scene was the only reason as to why I took up the character of Daniyal, to prove that oppression is a choice. If any insecure man with his fragile ego tries his “so-called” muscles on you, make the choice that Falak did, without any fear! One tight slapback from a brave woman to such a weak man in our society would be a giant leap for womenkind.”
However, what the actor fails to understand is that while speaking up may be a matter of courage, staying silent is almost always a matter of survival, with the odds being far greater if a woman has children to care for. While the women who speak up, hit back and leave are worth every bit of praise sent their way for their bravery, it is unfair to have an expectation from women to make themselves even more vulnerable to exceedingly deadly violence, while men are asked to do nothing, not even educate themselves.