By Sonya Rehman
Udaari, a popular new Pakistani television drama serial that highlights a pressing social issue, child abuse, was recently served a notice by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) this month for its “unethical” and “offensive” scenes.
A collaboration between a well-known private channel, HUM TV, and a local microfinance institution, Kashf Foundation, the TV serial was initiated with the main aim of educating audiences about the prevalence of rampant child abuse in a country that has continued to turn a blind eye towards the deep-rooted social evil.
Just last year a child pornography ring in Kasur, Punjab, was nabbed where it was discovered that over 200 children had been made victims of unremitting rape and abuse at the hands of a group of pedophiles. This year, another case involving the abduction and rape of children in Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, was exposed. According to a report by the not-for-profit, Sahil, 2015 saw over 3,000 cases of child abuse across Pakistan – a staggering seven percent increase since 2014.
Stating that the Kasur scandal had left her thoroughly “disturbed,” the Founder of Kashf Foundation, Roshaneh Zafar, said that the incident led her to the birth of Udaari. “The purpose of Udaari is to educate parents and children about ways to protect themselves from this social evil and to help create trust-based relations between children and parents,” she said. “Furthermore, it is to debunk many of the myths around child abuse, for example, the majority of abusers are known to the victim and thirty-two percent of the cases happen at the child’s own home. In other words, children are not safe in their own homes!”
The move against Udaari by PEMRA is perplexing. While for years local television has continued to recklessly depict objectionable content such as rape scenes in TV series, politicians in political talk shows hurling insults at one another, and popular talk show hosts getting away scot-free with hate speech, the question remains: why has PEMRA been so lax and forgiving regarding other television productions?
“We have not portrayed anything on-screen that can be considered objectionable, stated Zafar, “The topic of child sexual abuse is a difficult one, however, we have highlighted it in a highly appropriate and responsible way so as to educate people regarding this issue and to ultimately help them protect their children from such an evil. PEMRA is a responsible organization and we feel they have been misinformed. PEMRA rules advocate the need for public interest content to be aired through private channels. Udaari is, in fact, a fulfillment of that very expectation.”
“Dramas [like Udaari] stand as the best method to educate our masses,” stated Ahsan Khan, the Pakistani actor who plays the cunning role of Imtiaz, the pedophile in the TV serial. “I’ve never done a dark character like this before – but when I read the script, I knew I had to do the role. I’ve always been known to do good, clean, romantic roles, but I knew this character would be noticed. You can’t imagine how badly I wanted to kill Imtiaz while reading the script.”
Mentioning that the serial has received terrific feedback from local audiences, Khan thinks the Pakistani entertainment industry is in dire need of more shows that highlight social issues.
“The industry needs to continue making productions that educate our masses – our people need awareness, they need to be developed morally so that they’re able to distinguish right from wrong.”
For Zafar and her foundation, the mission of presenting social issues on television is far from over. “We owe it to our children, and most importantly to the girls in our society.”