What Pakistani social media talked about in 2021
So, 2021 — another year that ran its course in the aftermath of Covid-19. It was a time of deadly variants and rising death tolls battled by vaccination drives, sporadic lockdowns and confusing hybrid work schedules, but to say that 2021 was just about Covid-19 is far from the truth. This year was defined by many more events and statements that left us feeling all kinds of emotions — and we talked about all of it on social media. Or well, we tried to.
One tweet from a Pakistani Twitter account is a rant, but tweets from several Pakistani accounts in a 12-hour time span? Well that is a full on socio-political conversation on social media. We love ranting about our collective experiences online and this year we tackled a range of topics, from political statements with dire consequences (PM Imran Khan's comments on rape) to cringe-worthy celebrity behaviour (Shehroz Sabzwari jogging shirtless in the streets of Karachi, remember that?).
The question now is this — which discussions truly defined the passing year, ones that will make us go "that was so 2021" when we look back at the year someday?
If your future self just Googled "what did we talk about in 2021" and stumbled across this story just now, hello there. We're about to go down memory lane and break down some viral conversations month by month.
The Cannoli controversy
We began our year fuming over a high-end cafe in Islamabad. A video of two female owners of Cannoli in Islamabad apparently mocking the English language skills of their manager went viral on social media,
The video sparked criticism and proclamations of "class privilege" and "colonial hangover" and "elitism", while #BoycottCannoli remained the top trend in Pakistan for many days.
Two-finger test declared illegal
The two-finger test, a virginity test carried out in Pakistan on survivors of rape and sexual assault has long been called discriminatory and against human dignity. In January, the Lahore High Court (LHC) declared the test and examination "illegal and against the Constitution", saying it had "no forensic value" in cases of sexual violence.
In a 30-page judgment, Justice Ayesha A. Malik wrote that the virginity test "offends the dignity of the female victim". The judgment declared these tests "discriminatory against the female victim as they are carried out on the basis of their gender [and] therefore offend Article 25 of the Constitution".
The ruling was a cause for massive celebration across Pakistani Twitter.
Shafqat Mahmood versus students
The love-hate relationship between Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood and school-going students was an interesting one to watch throughout most of the year — and it began when Mahmood announced the reopening of schools on March 1, several months after they were shut down due to the pandemic.
Some kids were genuinely confused about the government's decision to reopen school while the pandemic was still raging on while others were plain old sad the party (or rather pawri) was over.
Prayers for Ali Sadpara
February was also when mountaineer Muhammad Ali Sadpara went missing while attempting to scale the K2. Sadpara and two other climbers were reported missing after their support team stopped receiving communications from them during their ascent of the 8,611-meter high K2 — sometimes referred to as the “killer mountain”.
The entire nation prayed for Sadpara, often described by his peers as a tough as nails climber with a good-humoured nature.
Strings is no more
March became the month of heartbreak when Bilal Maqsood and Faisal Kapadia concluded Strings after three decades of releasing one hit song after another. In a sudden announcement that no one saw coming, the band shared they have "decided that today, 25/03/2021, is the day we graciously get to conclude Strings".
Fans took to social media to vent their grief.
They also shared their favourite memories of the band in an attempt to nurse their wounds.
University expels students for hugging
Another thing that had us talking was the University of Lahore expelling two students for hugging on campus. Multiple videos of the "incident" went viral, showing 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 took the roses and then pulled her in for a hug that divided the internet.
Opinions on whether the expulsion was merited were fractured. Some thought expelling them was the right thing to do because their behaviour was inappropriate. The university said the students violated Section 9 of its General Discipline Rules and Code of Conduct. Others thought there were far more serious issues for the university to be concerned with, such as harassment.
The Shafqat Mahmood saga continues
You remember the federal education minister opening up schools, right? Well schools in some cities of Punjab, and Peshawar were closed down again for two weeks in March due to rising coronavirus cases. In Sindh and Balochistan though, schools continued to operate with 50% attendance every day.
Students in Sindh and Balochistan erupted on Twitter moments after the announcement was made. Did the federal education minister not love all school-going kids equally, students pondered online.
That two week closure soon turned into being a month-long break for schools in Punjab and KP when the rise in coronavirus cases became alarmingly steep. When it came to schools in Sindh and Balochistan again, Mahmood left it to the provincial governments to decide whether schools should be closed in their jurisdictions because "the number of cases in Sindh, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan is relatively low."
PM Imran on rape and 'vulgarity'
Prime Minister Imran Khan held a two-hour long question and answer session with the public in March, giving his thoughts on something that was of particular interest to us and the rest of Pakistan — rape. His statement on rape earned the ire of the internet when he linked the rise of rape and sexual abuse to the rise of "vulgarity" and "temptation".
The content of the premier's speech spread over the internet like wildfire and Twitter had a lot to say about it. "We expected that after the horrific Zainab incident in Kasur, people would stop believing the nonsensical notion that vulgarity causes rape culture. But clearly we were wrong," said a user.
"It’s high time [we] dismiss these patriarchal myths that are a hindrance to the fight against rape!" commented another user.
O and A Level students left dumbfounded
O and A Level students across Pakistan were left in disbelief when four high courts in the country upheld NCOC's decision to carry out physical examinations for Cambridge O and A Levels by turning down students' petitions against it. Students had campaigned hard to explain why in-person examinations were a bad idea and how Pakistan too could switch to the tried and tested method of awarding school assessed grades.
Many netizens, public figures and concerned parents expressed anger at the court's decision to give the green light to in-person examinations at a time when Covid-19 cases were rising.
Could the government really guarantee that student's wouldn't contract the deadly virus while giving their exams was a question floated on social media as well.
Marriage compulsory for 18 year olds?
A draft bill submitted by MMA MPA Syed Abdul Rasheed to the Sindh secretariat sought to address "societal ills, child rapes, immoral activities and crime" by making it mandatory for children over 18 to marry.
Under the proposed bill, parents would be required "submit an undertaking with justified reason of delay before the deputy commissioner of the district" if their children were not married, and upon failing to do so, they would have to pay a fine of Rs500 each. The bill also wanted to put a ban on dowry and establish standard operating procedures for weddings.
As soon as the news of the proposed bill broke on to the social media, users called it "disgusting" and "pathetic".
No 'pappian and jhappiyan' on Eid
Special Assistant to the Punjab Chief Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan became everyone's favourite Eid meme when she 'barred' people from giving or receiving pappian and jhappiyan to prevent Covid from spreading further through increased interactions during the Eid holidays.
"In the whole of Punjab, no politician will be allowed to host Eid parties, and no mass gatherings will be allowed to happen," she told the media at the time. "Eid will not be celebrated in the traditional manner, with hugs and 'pappian and jhappiyan'."
The internet couldn't get enough of Awan's phrasing.
A mid-summer chaos
Midsummer Chaos was a web series that instantaneously became the butt of jokes on the internet after its release. It had the makings of a successful US teen TV show — an attractive male lead with a mysterious backstory, dramatic parties, and troubled romantic relationships — but its formula did not work for Pakistani audiences and many criticised the plot and characters for lacking substance.
The premier gets it wrong (again)
In June, PM Imran spoke about rape and "temptation" in an interview with Jonathan Swan for Axios and no one was happy with what he said.
Journalists, public figures and netizens spoke out against the premier's statement, calling it "a public, dangerous threat to the women of our country where they are informed that rape and assault is their own fault, and that their own PM stands with rapists".
The murder of Noor Mukadam
July witnessed the tragic murder of 27-year-old Noor Mukadam, the daughter of a former diplomat, in Islamabad. The killing sent shockwaves throughout the country and many took to social media to call for #JusticeforNoor while wondering if there will ever be respite for women from a never-ending cycle of violence in Pakistan.
Our husbands are our culture?
Model Sadaf Kanwal's ruminations on feminism and a woman's role in a marriage left the internet scratching its collective head. She said some strange things, the strangest being "our husbands are our culture" and people were super puzzled.
Many users saw Kanwal's comments as evidence of deep-rooted misogyny in the country. Others felt such perceptions were degrading towards men as well as women. Can men really not do something as simple as picking up their shoes?
Junaid Safdar's stellar vocals
A video of Junaid Safdar — son of PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz and Captain Muhammad Safdar Awan— singing at his nikah ceremony in London in August went viral and his vocals won the hearts of netizens and celebrities across the board, regardless of political affiliations.
Junaid sang 'Kia Hua Tera Wada' by the late Mohammad Rafi to his friends and family at the ceremony.
The Minar-e-Pakistan attack
August 14 was marred by a deeply troubling incident in 2021. Over 400 men assaulted a woman in Lahore's Greater Iqbal Park on the day of Independence and the nation was rightfully enraged. An FIR was registered against hundreds of unidentified assailants for assaulting and stealing from a female TikToker and her companions. Videos of the incident were circulated online, showing the woman being swarmed by men who literally pick her up and assault her.
IBA expels student for reporting harassment
Twitter was in an uproar after the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Karachi expelled student Mohammad Gibrail for publicly highlighting an incident of alleged harassment on campus. Gibrail said he witnessed a female employee of the varsity's finance department being harassed by a male employee in a supervisory position. He shared the incident in a Facebook post and was expelled for not using the "right channels that are expected to be followed" by the institute.
Gibrail's expulsion drew strong criticism from netizens as well as celebrities like Mahira Khan.
Nida Yasir and Formula One
You can run but you can't hide from the internet when it comes to digging up embarrassing things. Ask TV show host Nida Yasir if you don't believe us. A clip of Yasir interviewing university students went viral on social media for her rather absurd questions. She had interviewed Abdul Aleem and Mohammad Shariq War on her show Good Morning Pakistan on ARY Digital. The young men were part of a team from NUST that had built an electric racing car and were going to the Formula Student in the US.
It seemed as if she had done zero research before calling her guests on the show and asked them inane questions, like why don't you have a three-person race car. She also didn't seem to understand what Formula 1 was.
Pakistan defeats India in the T20 World Cup
Pakistan's victory against India was a monumental moment for the country in October and netizens celebrated it the best way they know — with memes. Pakistanis brought their humour A-game to the Twitter pitch during the match and our timelines were blessed with hilarious commentary and jokes.
Test Kitchen Karen
Karachi-based eatery Test Kitchen by Okra’s encounter with a desi Karen (or should we say Kiran?) was the talk of the town after a video of her tirade went viral on social media. A chef at Test Kitchen, Asad Monga, had told Images that desi Karen's verbal onslaught had been triggered by the staff's request to see her Covid vaccine card as per government directives at the time, a request she'd refused to oblige.
According to Monga, this isn't the first time they have had to deal with a rude customer. “Of course things like this have happened in the past, he said. “Lots of people have misbehaved or been obnoxious with me and my team members. But they never get documented or caught on camera. This was the first time one of our crew members started making a video when the customer started making a ruckus.
"It became a great opportunity to shed light on what people in hospitality have to go through. Some people just want to make trouble.”
Humour to cope with a petrol strike
When the all Pakistan Petrol Pumps Dealers Association announced a nationwide petrol strike on November 25, the nation coped by 1) panicking, 2) crowding at petrol stations to get fuel a day before and 3) making memes on Twitter. There may not have been fuel for our cars but there was plenty of humour to go around that day.
Virat Kohli in exchange for Fawad Khan?
Indian cricketer Virat earned the respect and sympathy of many Pakistanis in November. He displayed great sportsmanship in the match against Pakistan and defended Indian bowler Muhammad Shami against abusers after India lost to Pakistan in the ICC Men's T20 World Cup. He was criticised for backing Shami as well as India's below average performance in the T20 World Cup, and a rape threat against the cricketer's nine-month-old daughter had also surfaced online.
Many on Pakistani Twitter were not happy with the treatment Kohli received and one Twitter user asked that he be handed over to Pakistan if Indians didn't want him any more. When Indian Twitter stumbled upon this request, they were more than ready to give up Kohli for a few of our celebrities in return, which included our beloved actor Fawad Khan. It wasn't long before a celebrity swap began between Indians and Pakistanis on Twitter.
Junaid Safdar's over the top wedding
In December, netizens kept super busy with keeping tabs on Junaid Safdar's wedding events in Lahore and Islamabad. Whether it was his bustling mehndi weekend, his qawwali night with maestro Rahat Fateh Ali Khan in attendance or his flashy valima, people couldn't get enough of the setup, the bride and groom — and Maryam Nawaz's clothes.
Nawaz's very glamorous wedding looks sparked an online debate on whether any attending guest has the right to outshine the bride on her big day, even if that guest in question is the groom's mother.
Delizia's Merry Christmas debacle
Delizia, a prominent Karachi-based bakery chain, triggered outrage when one of its workers refused to write 'Merry Christmas' on a cake at a branch in DHA. The incident was reported on Facebook group Voice of Customer PK by a woman and screenshots of the complaint went viral on social media.
Senior management at Delizia spoke to Images about the incident and said it was the act of an individual. "At the moment we are taking action against him. It was done in an individual capacity and is not company policy. It may have been done due to lack of education and awareness that 'Merry Christmas' means wishing someone a happy Christmas, nothing else."
The senior management official said there is nothing wrong with wishing someone a merry Christmas and expressed their sorrow at the incident. The company plans on releasing a statement on social media "soon" to address the incident and clarify its stance.
2021 was definitely a rollercoaster of events and emotions, and it's time we bid it adieu. The new year is bound to bring its own set of controversies and flare ups that netizens will be busy talking about in the months to come, giving us fodder for more stories.