[Junior AJA] Challenging social norms is easier said than done in Pakistan

 

Challenging Social Norms is easier said than done in Pakistan

Society is a regulatory authority for individuals connected through diverse relationships either based on blood, love or friendship. Criticism by society is deterrence for individuals, which makes them move in a specific direction shunning certain unwelcome behaviors no matter if these societal precincts are based on rationality or not, but as these norms have been practiced by generations, and thus have become mandatory for social subjects to follow if they want to be respected. The application of social regulations, though the punishment is sometimes symbolic, comes first, leaving behind laws related to religion and state.

Every society devises a specific way of living learned from generations for its individuals and if a subject diverts from that conduct, he is criticized, humiliated, and discarded. In old times in villages and even today in tribal rural areas of Pakistan, the most extreme form of punishment by the society is to make the violators go into exile. The people, who believe in God, think more about what ‘others’ think when doing something rather than what God thinks. So, these ‘others’ of society basically control our comings and goings. But of course, this phenomenon of social pressure depends upon various things such as education, gender role, awareness, family, individuals, traditions, etc., which measure the degree of social pressure in social groups.

Like many other close societies, Pakistan is also a good example of a society comprised by the mammoth value of social pressure. Once I was talking to my father in Pakistan about some daily routine affairs when our discussion took a diversion from personal to political matters in the country. I talked about a successful businessman and a politician and how he was doing great in both business and the politics. My father replied, “So what? He isn’t married yet even though he is almost fifty five. What will he do with so much money with no heir to inherit it?” This is basic way of thinking about the world that has been learned and adopted through culture. The person I was talking about was a very good businessman and a politician, but in our society he was not greatly esteemed as he had no heir to inherit his property meaning he had not followed the set pattern engineered by society.

The phenomenon of ‘others’ or ‘society’ is taken very seriously in Pakistan. ‘Others’ obviously don’t provide any monetary support, but they do provide social support and this is regarded most. And in some cases, even social support is also not afforded by the ‘others,’ but only the individual’s positive image in the mind of ‘others’ is regarded. Pakistani people show this kind of behavior even if they are abroad and living in a small community. They may do something not appreciated by the community such as drinking or having open sexual relationships, but they always want their deeds to be hidden from their countrymen out of fear of heavy criticism.

Especially in some villages in Pakistan, social control is exerted to its fullest. The wrong doers are punished by being disconnected from the ‘others,’ sometimes sent into exile or sometimes having their social relations cut off with the whole family meaning they cannot visit their house, are not invited to any ceremony and are not talked to in community places. In case of women, the social boundaries are stringent, which makes women to be even more careful of society regarding themselves.

The challengers are remembered for a long time and sometimes, one person who deviates from social norms becomes a reason of shame for the whole village or community. This can be seen in the following incident. A man was building a wall around his house when another man passed by him and said that his wall was tilted. The former replied, “So what if my wall is tilted? A girl from your village eloped.”

By Muhammad Shahzad

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