Forced Marriages: Pakistani Dramas and Gender Stereotypes

The use of forced marriages as a recurring plot device in Pakistani dramas, often referred to as "Humiliation Nikkahs," not only contributes to the perpetuation of harmful gender stereotypes but also normalizes coercive behavior, thereby having a detrimental impact on societal attitudes and perceptions of relationships.

In the ever-evolving world of television dramas, the Pakistani entertainment industry continues to hold a prominent place. With gripping storylines and powerful performances, these dramas have a wide-reaching impact on society. However, amidst the glitz and glamour, a concerning trend has emerged that demands our attention: forced marriages as a plot device and the perpetuation of harmful gender stereotypes.

The year is 2023, and one would hope for progress and modernization in storytelling. Unfortunately, the Pakistani entertainment industry still relies on regressive narratives to keep viewers engaged. One such plot device that has gained prominence in recent dramas is the "humiliation nikkah."

What exactly is a "humiliation nikkah," and why is it a cause for concern? This trope is introduced to add spice to the storyline, typically involving two characters who transition from enemies to lovers. It hinges on pressuring a woman into marrying a man for the sake of preserving her honor. Often, the drama presents a scenario where the woman's intended groom backs out, leaving her reputation at stake. In such a situation, the honor and respect of the woman are seemingly restored by marrying her off instantly to a stranger, as if she were a commodity with an exchange value.

One recent drama that has stirred controversy due to its portrayal of this trope is "Mujhe Pyar Hua Tha." While actor Wahaj Ali's performance has garnered attention, the storyline itself is troubling. The narrative centers around the love story between two cousins, Saad and Meerab, which is problematic in itself. Saad is portrayed as the quintessential "Nice Boy™️" who has always been there for Meerab, providing support and kindness. However, Meerab's character consistently dismisses his kindness, berating him for not meeting her materialistic desires.

Meerab falls in love with a wealthy man named Areeb, and her family condemns her for wanting to marry outside her social status. The drama paints Meerab and her mother as villains for aspiring to a better life. Meanwhile, Saad is depicted as the victimized "Nice Boy™️" who gets played because Meerab chooses a different path. This narrative reinforces the idea that a woman must give up her independence and desires to conform to societal expectations.

The most concerning aspect of these dramas is the use of forced marriages to bring two conflicting characters together. The concept of a "humiliation nikkah" attempts to convince viewers that a toxic male lead, who often exhibits stalking, harassment, and boundary-crossing behavior, is genuinely in love with the female lead. This not only romanticizes unhealthy relationships but also perpetuates harmful stereotypes about women's honor and respect.

For instance, in the drama "Ishq Hai," the male lead resorts to kidnapping the female lead and threatens to take his own life if she does not agree to marry him. Instead of condemning such behavior, the drama portrays it as an act of true love. This sends a dangerous message that unhealthy and coercive relationships are acceptable.

In a society where gender-based violence and misogyny persist, these dramas play a significant role in shaping public perceptions. The constant emphasis on a woman's honor is tied to marriage and the normalization of toxic behavior as acts of love contribute to the perpetuation of harmful gender stereotypes.

The phrase "Log Kya Kahengee" (What will people say?) has long been a mantra that women in Pakistan have sacrificed their dreams and independence to uphold. It is disheartening that, in 2023, drama creators failed to recognize the damaging impact of their depictions on women striving to survive in Pakistan.

The "humiliation nikkah" trope may not be new, but it remains a beloved plot device. Popular dramas like "Chupke Chupke" have employed it to bring opposing lovers together without developing a genuine connection between them. Marriage, in these narratives, serves as a magic wand that erases any differences or prejudices between two individuals, portraying them as a perfect couple.

It is high time that the Pakistani entertainment industry reevaluates the narratives it promotes. Instead of perpetuating harmful stereotypes and romanticizing toxic relationships, it should use its influence to empower women, challenge regressive norms, and contribute positively to societal progress. While drama is a form of entertainment, it also carries the responsibility of shaping perceptions and values. It's time to tell stories that inspire change and promote healthy relationships, not ones that reinforce damaging gender stereotypes.

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