I found myself questioning if this was an instance of a man centring himself in a conversation that wasn’t about him.
On Tuesday morning last week, Ali Gul Pir dropped a diss track. I woke up to a celebratory mood on Twitter — and since this is exceptionally rare, I found myself excited at the prospect of a ‘win.’
This ‘win’, for context, was in relation to the man being dissed: an alleged sexual harasser with immense social capital and a terrifying PR team which has notoriously used defamation suits to silence and erase the voices of the #MeToo movement in Pakistan.
As I’m sure you might relate, I found myself expecting an immensely cathartic experience, especially in the face of the violent attempts at erasure and intimidation orchestrated by predators.
By the end of a second listen, however, I found that state of catharsis transforming into a creeping sense of unease.
The more attention I paid to the lyrics, the more I found myself questioning if the diss track, set against the backdrop of an immensely brave but fragile feminist struggle, was just an instance of a man centring himself in a conversation that wasn’t about him.
Bear with me, for I have been very conflicted about the politics of critiquing an ally within a movement that has, since its inception, struggled with allyship. And yet, it is perhaps that very conflict which has left me with so many questions about the nature of male allyship and the space it is beginning to occupy within the feminist movement in Pakistan.
This sense of unease is not solely tied to Ali Gul Pir’s track titled ‘Karle Jo Karna Hai’. Less than a week before the track was released, the Arts Council in Karachi organised a talk titled ‘Feminism: The Other Perspective’, which only consisted of male panelists.
The eventual backlash compelled the organisers to make what felt like token changes to the lineup, but the damage was done.
Surprisingly, the five men who had agreed to take up space from marginalised individuals, in a conversation about a marginalisation that they — as extremely privileged men — perhaps could never fully understand were, much like Ali Gul Pir, seen as feminist allies.
While these two cultural occurrences are not perfectly comparable, they are perhaps indicative of a worrying trend of ‘politicised’ and ‘progressive’ men faltering in how they navigate the spaces and politics of marginalisation, with what feels like a lack of awareness of their privilege.
A good place to begin a deconstruction of that politics is the diss track itself. The two minute 55-second video set in Lyari has what seems like an entirely male crew, but features three female dancers. The framing, editing and general crafting of aesthetics seems to draw heavily from the visual language of Zoya Akhtar’s version of ‘Meri Gully Mein’ from Gully Boy.
For the purposes of the film, Ranveer Singh was placed in a neighbourhood and context he had no stake in — we see this aspect of the track reproduced in ‘Karle Jo Karna Hai’, albeit not at quite the same scale.
The opening sequence features a combination of drone shots of Lyari, close-ups of the rapper smoking in a narrow alley and wide frames of him on a rooftop with Lyari in the background.
And so, Ali Gul Pir is introduced spitting verses about his struggles against the backdrop of Lyari. That is where my sense of unease begins to build.
Lyari has a very important rap scene that politicises marginalisation — but Ali Gul Pir is not marginalised in that context, nor is he from Lyari. His struggle and the obstacles he has overcome, while valid, cannot compare with those experienced by rappers from that neighbourhood. I mention this because it’s another instance of him appearing to centre himself in a context, tradition and conversation that is not about him.
After setting up the persona of a man who has overcome struggles and hurdles through hard work, he gets to the crux of the matter with the next verse. He questions: does said celebrity really think he can scare him off with ‘notices’ and ‘drama’?
The question refers to the fact that Ali Gul Pir was also slapped down with a bizarre defamation notice by Ali Zafar’s PR machine, as part of their campaign to suppress discourse related to the #MeToo movement. One such contribution of his to that discourse was a ‘joke’ he made about Zafar, with reference to the allegations against him.
The defamation notice, however, does not appear to be in response to a personal battle between the two men, it is in retaliation to something much larger.
This is important, but it is a point that Pir’s song entirely misses. He fails to mention the context of the defamation suit — instead, the track devolves into a series of personal insults interlaced with descriptions of Gul Pir’s bravery and fearlessness.
One could argue that this is the nature of diss tracks, but that would not make for the most convincing argument. The #MeToo movement is not about taking down ‘some’ man, it is about taking down predators.
It is also about dismantling the patriarchy and ending cultures of violence against marginalised gender identities. One man making clever quips at another man adds nothing to that conversation.
This is especially dangerous considering how Zafar’s supporters already argue that the allegations against him target his celebrity.
As an ally, Pir does not engage with this strategically — he only gives them fodder to feed off of by reducing an extremely important conversation rooted in immense female pain and trauma to what feels like an ego battle between two men. The fact that the lyrics of his song are hypermasculine doesn't help.
An example: “Yeh jang toh bus mein hi jeeta / ab tu ne seekha?/ ab tu ne seekha? / Ya aur dun? / Abey rotu!,” which roughly translates to: “I’ve won this battle, have you learned your lesson yet? Or should I continue teaching you a lesson? Cry baby!”
I’m left questioning — who is this battle between, really? While naming and shaming alleged sexual predators is an intrinsic feature of the movement, it does not include shaming people for crying.
There may be countless reasons to shame someone with sexual harassment allegations against them, but shaming them for crying reinforces stereotypes about masculinity that the #MeToo movement is geared towards dismantling.
This is especially important because true allyship requires a constant engagement with the tenets of the movement but Pir, in his track, is consistently producing masculinities that don’t simply disregard but also possibly undo the work of the struggle.
Some more examples: “Doonga mein joota” or “Jab mein ghussa to teri barbadi” or “Chup nahi bethoun ga / sab kuch mein kehdoun ga / sab ki mein leylounga / karle jo karna hai.” They roughly translate to the following: “I’ll show you my shoe,” “When I’m angry, you’ll be destroyed,” and “I won’t stay quiet, I’ll say everything, I’ll do whatever I want, try and stop me.” There’s also an entire sequence that begins with, “Ab tujhe mein batata houn mein kaun houn” — “Now I’ll tell you who I am.”
The rapper may have personal stakes in the matter, but he isn’t the only person who has been handed a defamation suit. Threats of defamation are, in fact, overwhelmingly weaponised to silence women and it is no stretch to argue that few, if any, of them have the privilege or the capital to produce a track about their struggle.
The women who out sexual harassers have not only had to deal with legal ramifications, they’ve also been subjected to an onslaught of vitriol in digital spaces. Pir’s song, does not even once, mention their struggle and this is made worse by the fact that he has access to a platform most of them will probably never have.
One could argue that it is unfair to have that expectation of him within the particular context of this song. He has, after all, not made any claims positioning himself as an ally in the track, but it is impossible to divorce the song from its political context, the #MeToo movement.
And, within the context of the movement, he is taking up space that does not belong to him, and using it to centre himself in a conversation that is just not about him.
The allegations against Zafar come from Meesha Shafi, an actor and singer, who alleges that he groped her during a performance. She brought these allegations forward when she said she was being forced to work with him a second time, despite informing her employers of the alleged harassment.
That is the conversation we need to be having: why are women in Pakistan not protected in the workplace? Why are women in Pakistan forced to work with men who harass them? Reducing that trauma to what feels like a hypermasculine ego battle is in bad taste.
Having said that, it would be wrong to ignore that the general sentiment behind the track is well-intentioned. There is a considerable amount of personal risk involved in making such content — my only contention is against any claim that suggests that Pir has taken this risk on for a movement — which he himself never mentions in the track.
However, the man he appears to be challenging is an alleged harasser, and so it is important to question here if that act alone benefits the struggle on the ground.
It would be challenging to measure the exact contribution — but one would have to do so while being cognisant of the perception that Pir’s song never challenges that predatory behaviour.
Instead, it challenges another man’s audacity to try and silence him.
You may find yourself questioning why any of this matters, the song attempts to take down an alleged harasser, can we not leave it at that?
That brings me to my main conundrum — what is the politics of critiquing an ally within a movement that struggles with allyship? Why is it necessary? A deconstruction of ‘Karle Jo Karna Hai’ brought up the notions of space and intention within a political movement, and perhaps the answer lies in a closer look at those ideas.
The violence of the patriarchy is not limited to the physical, tangible iterations that we wake up to in the news every day. The violent iterations that we archive on a daily basis are merely symptomatic of the deep-seated biases, behaviours and attitudes that have forever dehumanised the pain of those born into marginalised gender identities in our country.
In order to be a male ally to any feminist movement, it is important to engage with the violent iterations of the patriarchy that are brushed under the carpet because they cannot be seen and archived in quite the same way.
It is not enough to condemn an alleged sexual harasser or to stand with a woman who has been brave enough to out him — that is the bare minimum. True allyship can only come when one engages with the mechanisms that systemically enable the violence of sexual harassment and allow it to go unchecked.
That engagement goes deeper than a tweet, a joke, a call for an investigation or a panel on feminism — that engagement begins with a closer examination of your own privilege.
If you’re a male ally, your privilege is part of the system that nurtures and encourages sexual harassment. Your privilege is violent, and not engaging with it makes you complicit.
The five men who agreed to be part of a panel on feminism with no female representation agreed to reproduce the patriarchy that day. I would even go as far as to argue that Ali Gul Pir, in his song, reproduces another iteration of the patriarchy.
He centres himself in a conversation that is about challenging the violence his privilege has encouraged. He has managed to reach the conclusion that his fight with another man, which was a consequence of events surrounding the #MeToo movement, somehow takes precedence over the movement itself.
These men, under the guise of allyship, are not only taking space from women in a struggle that is geared towards challenging the very privilege that allows them to take that space — they are also actively benefiting from it. #MeToo has become a part of our collective consciousness due to important female labour and it is a part of mainstream discourse because of the women who were brave enough to fight for it. Its relevance also means that as an issue, it sells.
‘Karle Jo Karna Hai’ will get a lot of views because it is positioned within a movement that is increasingly becoming commodified — and while it will benefit from that commodification of female labour and female pain, does it make any meaningful contribution to the movement itself?
A man’s lack of engagement with the violence of his privilege is no small matter. It is indicative of complicity, and it needs to be seen as such. Ignoring that complicity because it comes from a man who usually finds it in himself to do the bare minimum is, perhaps, setting the standard too low.
Male allyship is incredibly important. Men can use their privilege to centre marginalised voices instead of speaking over them. And if they are truly our allies, one would hope that they are not offended by this reminder.