Ranjha Ranjha…..another unveiling of the ableist in us!

So this atrocious show ended. But left a lot to unpack with the ableism that the human race not only suffers from but also celebrates in all its disgusting glory.

Special needs and mental health are feared. They aren’t feared in the traditional sense. They’re feared sometimes as badly as contagious diseases like tuberculosis and leprosy are. Any social contact with individuals suffering from these medical conditions, many of which are actually mere diagnostic codes as there isn’t any treatment for them, is considered full of physical danger. We have a biased, archaic and orthodox approach to this subsection of medical diagnoses. I get why my grandparents practiced ableism but I’m sad that millennials, who are currently the oldest generation amongst new age thinkers, are also interspersed with this type of intellectually biased people.

Ableism is the phenomenon by which discrimination is practiced against individuals suspected of having a disability. Ableism favors able-bodied people. For the purposes of this discussion I will use the term “able-bodied” to discuss people who are considered of sound mind and sound body.

For those who don’t know! This show is about a woman from a lower socioeconomic stratum who has been lured into a love affair by an able-bodied man who ultimately deceives her. This girl is poor and needs a strong support system to survive patriarchy and her own defenselessness against society. She therefore decides to marry a cognitively challenged man called Bhola.

There are many postulated reasons during the length of the show explaining how and why Bhola may not have retained the cognition that he was born with. But the strongest is that he developed meningitis as a child and then was a victim to the brutality of his uncle who gave him psychotropic medications to induce psychosis. This is possible and the writer probably discussed this possibility with a medical professional. Unfortunately this seems to be the only medical aspect of this show that she might’ve conferred over with a physician.

Bhola and the girl, whose name is Noori, get married. There is purported marital rape (which is quite possible even though hasn’t been directly relayed but has been picked up by a large section of the more astute audience). There is ultimately a happy union between a cognitively challenged person and a girl with normal cognition.

A fairytale, right? Hardly!

This show, in its weak attempts to create sensational story lines and newness of content, has crossed a huge moral line. Actually many moral lines. Here are a few of them.

1. Noori marries Bhola without explicit knowledge of his mental illness or intellectual challenges. Consent is considered an overrated word in today’s world, I know. It doesn’t remove its significance though. Consent is required before entering any contractual agreement. Nikah or marriage isn’t above that.

2. Bhola rapes Noori. Now this is the part where the audience is screaming rape and not considering a few fine points. Some people have even coined the term “marital rape” just to get more impact with words even though rape is rape is rape and calling rape of the wife by the husband “marital rape” is like providing a protective layer to the phenomenon of rape and its implications. If I could I would ask you to stop using the terminology “marital rape” as some people will call it within a husband’s jurisdiction to legally rape his wife but I’m not your Mama. I will however warn you that before quoting Hadith after Hadith of how the angels curse a woman when she denies sex to her husband, please consider the non black and non white approach that Islam has on societal issues. Islam is a very compassionate religion and I can’t imagine any ordinance in Islam that allows a human being to hurt another human being legitimately in a loving relationship.

Now I know what people are thinking! That being an autism advocate and someone who works to empower special needs individuals and families, I’m gonna side with Bhola and completely ignore my allegiance to feminism and basically, humanity. Nope! That’s not what’s coming forth. Let me explain why I wouldn’t scream and yell with deficient knowledge in sexual crimes. I think people who stand in the way of common sense are people who think they’re above employing common sense. I think this issue isn’t as straightforward as it looks.

Bhola, a cognitively challenged person who is born with all physical faculties, is thrown in a room with a girl. Forget the dramatic element that has been created. People are rightly befuddled when they see how Bhola who has subpar cognition suddenly charges at his new bride and not only successfully rapes her but also actually impregnates her. I mean, let’s be adults here, people! Sex is natural but it’s not that natural. In fact, most people have vague sexual encounters before a definite one, even in a marital and sexual relationship. Research proves it.

My argument here isn’t with the ethicality of rape. My concern is the light in which the writer has shown a cognitively challenged person. She has actually reduced this person to a sexual predator. She has made people even more fearful of a SN man just by virtue of this single-dimensional approach to this man. His sexuality has been highlighted in the context of rape. People, who should’ve been angered at the rape, are now angered at the SN population and are further passing ostentatious decrees about how these individuals can’t be allowed to mix with the general public. The argument is that they’re not in control of their emotions. Some people are going so far as to say that if a man can’t take care of himself then he should be denied a partner. They’re saying that this is the end of the story and there are no two ways about it. Let me again refer you to the above discussion and try to establish the fact that this isn’t as straightforward.

I would actually have found some exoneration of us if the writer had shown a cognitively challenged girl getting raped by an able-bodied man. That would’ve been more in line with statistics. That would’ve asked people to see whether SN individuals are protected and safeguarded as they should be. If their predisposition to sexual abuse is identified!

But the writer actually opened an ethical question for the girl! Someone like me might ask why the girl felt so lonely and alone and homeless and pathetic and without means and resourceless that she chose to settle for a man who couldn’t be a husband, at least not around the time that the rape happened. Someone like me might ask why the Pakistan penal code for sexual crimes wasn’t quoted . Someone like me might ask why Noori was presumed to be even more at a disadvantage than a cognitively challenged man. Someone like me might ask why a woman is so helpless that despite being somewhat educated, despite knowing right from wrong, despite knowing her place in her own eyes, she chose to not only marry him but actually continue to live with him. A cognitively challenged man, in all likelihood, will continue to rape her throughout their marriage. Fortunately Bhola is shown to be improving. But do you see how there are two victims here?

Bhola was put at a disadvantage just as much as Noori. Does anyone think that he consented for it? People’s anger is directed towards Bhola but not towards the people who orchestrated the marriage or Noori who didn’t choose to not be a part of him until he could give her more. We have opened our judgement on Bhola but Noori is justified for taking advantage of his challenges by entering a marriage where truly the weaker consenting party is Bhola. Even in a patriarchal society like Pakistan, Noori enjoyed an advantage in this relationship.

3. Noori is raped and her mother-in-law is happy that Bhola at least understands a sexual relationship. Hardly anything to write home about. Sex is instinctive so anyone can do it. Freud describes sexual activity starting at nine months, taking a break until two years old when it returns for a brief period, then returns at around 7-8, then takes a break and then returns at 12-13 years of age when puberty formally sets in. Noori’s rape is justified because she’s married to her offender. Her offender is a mentally challenged man. See how this plot is completely bereft of any morality?

I’m sure we are good people with good intentions. At least that’s what I’m gonna believe in for the better part of my life. This is a great coping mechanism for me and helps me be an advocate of special needs and humanity and feminism with the same momentum that I had yesterday. But I’ll call you out each time you try to make a show about a theme that you didn’t touch upon seriously before you made a joke of it. I’ll call you out each time you dehumanize a population that’s already marginalized.

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