IT has all the appearance of a well-intentioned attempt to square the circle between the youth’s need to find an occasion to express affection and joy (hardly an unseemly impulse) and the religious right’s calls to ban anything it deems in opposition to our culture and values (an ever-widening basket of ‘offences’).

And it may well be were it not for the fact that, beneath its benign surface, the alternative it offers betrays the selfsame posture of moral policing as its more strident diktats.

The announcement by a varsity in Faisalabad that it would observe Feb 14 as ‘Sisters’ Day’ might seem like a frivolous attempt at rebranding Valentine’s Day to give it a patina of ‘respectability’ (the vice chancellor’s stated rationale was to turn a ‘threat’ into an opportunity).

Read more: Valentine's Day now Sisters' Day: Faisalabad varsity to 'promote Islamic traditions' on Feb 14

Yet the VC also said that the university was mulling plans to distribute scarves, shawls and gowns to its female students. Implicit in this is the suggestion that what Pakistan’s sisters truly need is not gender parity (or even so much as a token gesture of genuine esteem) — but to cover themselves up.

The Pakistani sisterhood might look at such a backhanded proposal with bemusement, and wonder at the neglect of the nation’s brothers for the lack of public interest in their behaviour and attire.

Objectifying women’s bodies to counter purportedly Western perversions is surely an irony lost on our self-appointed gatekeepers of public decency.

Read more: The heart's filthy lesson

But it also speaks to a broader phenomenon in which, every year, state and private institutions alike descend into paroxysms of panic at the advent of Valentine’s Day. Legal, official or societal interventions to browbeat the public into abstaining from cheer demonstrate lack of restraint and respect for people’s right to choose.

And it is particularly sanctimonious juxtaposed with genuine, year-round social ills such as misogyny and gender-based violence (the antidote to which is not further maladjustment) conveniently ignored by those who would seek to proscribe all inter-gender interactions. Hopefully, this February, better sense will prevail.

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2019



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