Two consenting adults hugged at the University of Lahore and Pakistan went mad. Half the country wanted the couple and everything they purportedly stood for gone — premarital love? In the Islamic Republic of Pakistan? Not on their watch! — while the other half idolised them as warriors for love.
But why do they have to be either? The couple in question hasn't spoken up after the 'incident' — some very obviously fake Twitter accounts in their names notwithstanding — and have been lying low since their expulsion. We've made them into crusaders for a cause but has anyone asked if they want to be the poster-children for love in Pakistan?
But whether they like it or not, Pakistan is talking about the "incident". Videos uploaded on social media showed a young woman handing roses and cards to a young man and then bending down on one knee and holding out a bouquet of roses to him. He takes the roses and then pulls her in for a hug. A crowd of students surrounds the couple and cheers them on. Everyone from politicians to celebrities is talking about it.
And apparently, when a video on social media goes this viral, even the government will take notice. The Ministry of Human Rights Parliamentary Secretary Lal Chand Malhi recently called the University of Lahore’s decision an “overreaction” and asked the varsity to re-admit them. That the government officially intervened is shocking in itself — most ministers' preferred form of action is taking notice via Twitter — but that it stood up for an unmarried young couple is even more noteworthy.
The university says the couple violated Section 9 of its General Discipline Rules and Code of Conduct. Unlike other varsities, the University of Lahore doesn't publish these rules online, but Pakistani universities have a poor track record with allowing students the liberty to express themselves.
Malhi called the university's action "moral policing" and said deviant behaviour should instead be regulated through counselling, noting, however, that such services were mostly not provided by university administrations.
The letter noted that the personal freedoms of the right to marry and propose at will are guaranteed by Pakistani laws and the Constitution, as well as international covenants. The university's "extreme action" has sent a critical message that it could not tolerate and accept two students proposing to each other, wrote Malhi.
One of the biggest arguments online against the couple's expulsion was that the university hasn't taken action against teachers accused of harassment but pounced on this opportunity to flex its authority. Why was a couple hugging more abhorrent to the University of Lahore than harassment? Online, people began bashing the couple and argued that they should get married before hugging. They're ignoring the fact that they were punished for a public proposal. In our experience, most proposals are for marriage.
Amid all these conversations, we seem to have missed something pretty major — a young woman broke barriers for proposing to a young man. In a society where men are expected to make the first (and only) move, we should be applauding her for being brave and going after what she wants. Instead, we turned her into a villain and ruined her future.
Pakistan, we have so much more to worry about. Our Covid cases are rising and violence against women continues unabated. National outrage over an expression of joy is both unneeded and unwarranted. Would we have preferred that he wasn't happy about being proposed to?
The Ministry of Human Rights said, "Both the girl and the boy did not commit such a heinous crime for which they were punished severely and expelled from the university." Their crime, it seems, was being too happy for Pakistanis.