Surveillance and Feminist Resistance in Pakistan

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Much like any other form of knowledge production or documentation, the focus is always on elite history in Pakistan’s feminist movement, as it is usually urban upper class scholars documenting resistance practices. What is theorized and who is cited matters in the case of Pakistan’s feminist movement as well, which has been described as elitist and top down in its approach. Even when it comes to digital media, the limits of online approaches cannot be ignored. Ultimately, the prominent feminist movement is constantly criticized for mirroring the westerner through the very real inequalities that they fail to surmount.

Moreover, because of this, the prominent movement has the tendency to laud secular, progressive elements of the movement over conservative, ‘Islamic’ ones, such as with the debate on the purdah. This creates a binary that pretty much begins to define the popular movement, and this essentialism leads to further exclusions and gives a wrong portrayal of frictions within the movement (Kirmani and Khan, ). The lack of visible intersectionality in the struggle indicates that certain freedom practices are privileged over others. The work of the larger movement can be twisted to serve the same purposes that are currently being fought against, which would then lead to the disempowerment of other individuals and communities on the margins of Pakistani history.

The direction in which surveillance in Pakistan is headed will ultimately require its dissidents to explore how they can resist such practices in intersectional ways, in order to continue uncovering histories and realities that are deliberately overlooked in the postcolonial context. There is also a need to queer the movement and move past the “woman’s question”, and for that, there needs to be more knowledge production regarding the ways in which queer and transgender bodies subvert the violence and imposition of power that surveillance entails on a daily basis. The queer movement should not be separate and disenfranchised from the larger feminist movement, and figure its own struggles out in isolation. A feminist movement is incomplete if it only focuses on the ‘woman’ question and rarely engages with a ‘queer resistance politic’.

Perhaps the most trenchant critique of these feminist practices would be their failure to prioritize discourses that outline how surveillance differentiates among individuals on a racial and ethnic basis. Race in cases of surveillance and sexual violence is severely under-theorized, and is, again, existing research on such issues is conducted disparately. Racialized subjects constitute a threat to postcolonial Pakistan and are hence never properly heteronormative, which is why the state tries to domesticate religious and ethnic minorities through repressive government policy, and any form of dissent that emanates from them is perceived as a continuing political threat requiring ongoing military intervention. In Pakistan, especially since after Zia’s time, now that conservative religious groups have a larger presence in the country, the hegemonic ideal of the individual is that of a Sunni Muslim committed to protecting its geographical territory from the threatening “others”. This has included surveillance of Ahmedis through disowenership, misuse of the blasphemy law, targetted killing of Shias, enforced disappearances in Balochistan, etc.

In addition, racial minorities such as the Pashtun community are fundamentally “queered” nationwide to denote their barbiarianism and sexual perversity. Deemed “sodomites,” their sexual perversity justifies their oppression. The Pakistani state has replicated colonial methods through sexual regulation, such as sexual acts of terror (e.g. the mass rapes of Bengali women before West Pakistan became Bangladesh), as well as policies of normalization in which heteropatriarchy is instilled in communities through criminalization, among other contemporary forms of the surveillance and regulation of native peoples. Thus, surveillance strategies mirror colonialism in that they require the continual disappearance of the indigenous peoples on whose land the settler state is situated ( ). Consequently, these colonial heteropatriarchal logics continue, and so it is no surprise that decolonized states like Pakistan perpetuate the same surveillance strategies as their colonial masters, because “surveillance is structured into the logic of the state itself” ( ).

Some of the key resistance practices nowadays are emerging from movements that shun ethnic and racial profiling by the Pakistani establishment. The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement marks a denouncement of repressive state practices against an ethnic community that has suffered tremendously due to colonial laws such as the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) and state sponsorship of terrorism. A Pashtun Member of Parliament and female activist have recently been put on the ECL by the Pakistani state, and their movement and protests have been heavily curtailed around Pakistan due to their growing popularity, to the point that despite their peaceful demands, they are not receiving any mainstream media coverage whatsoever. It must be kept in mind that the security policies that exist in the current day, such as the NAP and national security framework, might seem contemporary, but it is one of many trends that is inherited from the South Asian region’s colonial history. The regulatory and surveillance mechanisms in place to control subjects in the form of documentation, classification and criminalization of certain races and tribes was constitutive of the surveillance state at the time. The impact of surveillance was also differentiated, as the colonial apparatus targeted and controlled certain communities, while privileging others (as is the case of Punjab and its centralized status now).

A consideration of the fact that surveillance cannot be extricated from “interlocking oppressions” (Razack, 1998) that are key in shaping the structural inequalities that our culture stands on. Hence, feminist resistance needs to stop placing Islamic identities and its own specifically situated resistance against the Islamization of Pakistan at the centre of its engagement with history.

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Surveillance and Feminist Resistance in Pakistan. (2019, Aug 14). Retrieved June 20, 2024 , from

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