Mother Of Misogyny In Pakistani Political Discourse

Mother Of Misogyny In Pakistani Political Discourse
History is the greatest evidence and witness. Therefore, the victors and powerful are always scared of it. They love it when it glorifies their feats.  To ensure this, they buy historians. Those who can’t be bought are silenced through one or another tactic. If somebody is still successful in writing the truth, he/she is labelled as ‘traitor’ or an agent of the enemy. To ensure the truth does not reach the public, the powerful promote history via curriculum.

I have a part of Pakistan’s history in my memory as a witness. On this basis, I can argue that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) never introduced or promoted ‘offensive language’ into politics as it is widely believed. Arguably, the PTI followed in the footsteps of the Muslim League, the mother of misogyny and abusive language since the 1965 presidential election.

General Ayub Khan was the candidate of the Convention Muslim League (CML). Fatima Jinnah was his opponent. At Ayub’s behest, CML supporters tied a white scarf around a bitch’s neck along with a lantern (Miss Jinnah’s election symbol), and paraded it in the streets, chanting, “Fatima Jinnah running her campaign.” My grandfather witnessed it in Karachi and my father-in-law in Gujranwala.

In the 1988 election, the backers of Nawaz Sharif- the agencies - dropped doctored photos of Benazir Bhutto and Nusrat Bhutto from helicopters across the country. PML suppoters would chant slogans like “Coca Cola Pepsi, Benazir Taxi” (prostitute). Sheikh Rashid would call her “Peeli Taxi” (yellow cab).

When Benazir Bhutto returned from a successful Washington DC visit in 1989, the late Abbas Athar wrote a column, “Suthan (Shalwaar) Diplomacy!” that many religious journals reproduced. Her delegation was named as “naswani dasta” (female squad).

Our defence minister Khawaja Asif named Shireen Mazari as “tractor trolley” and Firdous Ashiq Awan as “dumper.

When Firdous was in PML-Q, she was addressing Kashmala Tariq on a TV channel, and said about herself that she was in parliament through people’s votes not by “sleeping in somebody’s bedroom.” She went on to add that she “did not start politics at heera mandi (the red-light district).”

PPP’s Sharmila Faruqi maligned Maryam Nawaz by stating on a TV channel that she brought a bad name for her family by eloping with her father’s ADC (Safdar, her husband).

The founder and chief patron of PML-Q, General Pervez Musharraf, instead of giving justice to Dr. Shazia Khalid (victim of a horrific gang rape), ridiculed her by stating in an interview with The Washington Post that many Pakistanis feel that crying rape was an easy way to make money and moving to Canada. The accused was a serving army office, Captain Hammad. Musharraf declared him innocent. This led to a violent uprising by the Bugti tribe in Balochistan. Since then, the province has not witnessed a respite of peace.

In 2019, one of the trends PTI launched was “randi in mandi” (hooker in the red-light area) when Maryam Nawaz addressed a rally in Mandi Bahauddin. In 2020, she was addressing a PDM crowd. The trend on Twitter was “Raiwand ki Randi” (slut of Raiwand). PTI’s Shahbaz Gill and Fawad Chaudhry have outperformed Sheikh Rashid.

Times have changed. Politicians have reconciled themselves to vulgar language. There was a time when calling someone ‘corrupt’ was an offence.

Sheikh Rashid, the dirty-language wizard of Muslim League, claimed in 1989 that Benazir Bhutto was a traitor.

Things did not improve in the past 33 years. However, the language has been greatly ‘enriched’ in terms of vulgarity. ‘Corrupt’ or ‘traitor’ is a civilised term in today’s political parlance. Now nobody bothers when Sheikh Rashid refers to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari by the most nasty slurs and innuendo. We did not learn, but India is learning from us.

In 2016, BJP’s Dayashankar Singh compared Mayawati to a prostitute. In 2014, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav opposed capital punishment for rape, saying that boys are boys so they can make mistakes. In the same year, a video of Trinamool Congress MP Tapas Pal went viral. He was openly threatening to rape women members of the opposition. “I will shoot you guys if a Trinamool Congress worker is ever attacked [...] I will let lose my boys in your homes and they will rape you.”

Such has been our political legacy in Pakistan and the broader region, which PTI inherited and improvised via social media.

Mohammad Shehzad is based in Islamabad. He has been writing for national and foreign publications since 1992. He is the author of The State of Islamic Radicalism in Pakistan (Routledge Taylor & Francis) and Love and Fear: Poems Beyond Time ( He learns tabla and classical vocal music. He is a passionate cook and shares his recipes at Email: