Real vigilantes of Karachi

You know how it’s impossible to keep up and you’re always missing stuff? I missed Maya Khan. I saw a mention somewhere, but didn’t have time to follow it up.

One morning last week, television viewers in Pakistan were treated to a darkly comic sight: a posse of middle-class women roaming through a public park in Karachi, on the hunt for dating couples engaged in “immoral” behavior.

It shouldn’t be called comic, not even “darkly.” It doesn’t sound the least bit comic to me. I’ve heard too much about posses of that kind in Gaza, in Saudi Arabia, in Malaysia. There’s nothing funny about them. Mohammed and Tooba and Hemat Shafia were a kind of posse of that sort, restricting their vigilantism to their immediate family.

…trailed by a cameraman, the group of about 15 women chased after — sometimes at jogging pace — girls and boys sitting quietly on benches overlooking the Arabian Sea or strolling under the trees. The women peppered them with questions: What were they doing? Did their parents know? Were they engaged?

Some couples reacted with alarm, and tried to scuttle away. A few gave awkward answers. One couple claimed to be married. The show’s host, Maya Khan, 31, demanded to see proof. “So where is your marriage certificate?” she asked sternly.

What business is it of hers? None, obviously. Furthermore, putting the whole thing on tv could get her victims killed.

Images of moral vigilantes prowling the streets have an ominous resonance in Pakistan, where many still recall the dark days of the Islamist dictator Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s, when the police could demand to see a couple’s nikkahnama — wedding papers — under threat of imprisonment.

See? Not comic.


  1. jamessweet says

    Sorry, I do find it “darkly comic”. Very, very dark, of course; don’t misunderstand me. But the mental image is just so ludicrous, I can’t help but let slip a brief cynical chuckle.

  2. hypatiasdaughter says

    Aren’t fascist ideologies great? They give such free reign – not, it gives cookies and gold medals – for individuals to indulge in their worst behavior.
    I wonder what would have happened if some of these couples had asked where Maya’s marriage certificate was, why she was out roaming the park without a responsible male family member and did her husband know where she was and what she was doing?

  3. grumpyoldfart says

    Reminds me of something that used to happen in France years ago. Tourists would pay for a boat cruise on the river at night, and the captain would use a spotlight to catch young lovers on the river bank.

    One of the cruises was featured in a 1961 movie, The World By Night (Il mondo di notte).

  4. Brian M says

    #2…that’s exactly one correct approach. Just like the sheer hypocrisy of the professional scolds in the United States, none of which live the proper retiring life they demand for everyone else.

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