The whole Centaurus mall entry fee saga and the ensuing debate on the internet was a pleasant surprise for me. If memory serves me right, the mall in question made a similar move over a year ago, except that no corollary was issued last time.
Although I don't live in Pindi or Islamabad and am not likely to be visiting soon either, I was happy to find that as a 'journalist', I was on the list of the chosen ones who had the privilege of entering the mall without paying a hundred rupees. Nevertheless, in spite of that, I have my doubts on whether I will be allowed to go in if I am accompanied by a couple of male friends.
Which brings me to my point, about another mall in my own city. Despite being a 26-year-old journalist living in Pakistan’s largest city, I cannot enter Dolmen Mall/Hyperstar in Karachi, alone on the weekend – I have to have a 'female' accompanying me, which would put me in the kosher 'family category' – because on weekends, entry is permitted to 'families' only.
So if I want to go shopping on a Sunday with a male friend or even alone, I will be denied entry because I would fall under the 'rowdy boys' category. I often wonder if there’s a cut-off age in our society, after which boys are not seen as 'rowdy'.
Also see: Islamabad's phobia of Pindi boys
This is not where it ends. When I first came to Karachi early last year, I remember trying to go to an antique cars show at The Forum with my male friend. We were denied entry. I can recount dozens of other instances, where I have been denied entry to a public venue just for being a young male adult and therefore being categorised as 'rowdy'.
And even that is not where it ends. I have been living and working in Karachi for a year-and-a-half now. When I moved here, finding suitable accommodation was naturally at the top of my to-do list. During my hunt for shelter, I discovered it was almost impossible for a 'rowdy boy' like myself to rent a place in several areas of the city.
Because I was young, single, male and by default, all of these attributes combined, make for some sort of an unspeakable horror.
“Sir maalik makaan keh rahe hain bachelor ko nahi dena.”
I’ve heard this reply from countless estate agents in areas such as PECHS, Sindhi Muslim, Quaidabad, Delhi Colony, Clifton, Boat Basin and the list goes on.
This discrimination is so prevalent now that most think it’s natural. Whenever you discuss it socially, there is bound to be laughter, even among the 'rowdy boys' who are its victims; everyone has their own wild idea of what the banned 'rowdy boys' could have done to justify the preemptive safety measure of being denied residence/entry.
For me, it is not about preemption. I see it as outright classification based on demography, which is principally as wrong and disgusting as discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity.
There can be a million explanations that can be ostensible justifications for these preemptive actions – The Centaurus administration, for instance, cites the mall as the only big mall in the twin cities, and claims the measure was necessary to ensure capacity was not exceeded, especially with Eid around the corner.
But whichever way you look at it, it is always the 'rowdy boys' demographic that bears the brunt. That is plain discrimination.
Selective entry to public places such as restaurants, shops and bars in the past, is today seen with judgment and as part of systemic racial/ethnic discrimination, whether it be the case of 19th century United States or pre-partition India.
We all know about the signs outside entrances, which read, “Coloured folk and dogs not allowed”. In 2015 and in a so-called 'male-dominated' society, an invisible placard still stands tall outside several public venues in Pakistan, even those located in somewhat progressive urban centers; I don’t know if they mention dogs, but I’m confident they do have 'rowdy boys' written on them, somewhere.