Churails: A tale of unapologetic Pakistani women in a patriarchal society

Churails reflects the voice of Pakistani women against the repressive traditional patriarchal societal norms, writes Azeemah Saleem for South Asia Monitor

Azeemah Saleem Sep 30, 2020
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The Pakistani web series Churails, directed by Asim Abbasi and broadcasted on Zee5 – that has become popular across the Subcontinent – is feminist satirical humour, hard-hitting, and battles stereotypical patriarchal norms of traditional Pakistani society.

The exploration of feminist discourse within the arenas of class, culture, race, religious orthodoxy, traditions, gender issues, and economic backwardness has scrutinized the status, justice, and rights of women in Pakistani society. It succinctly raises provocative questions against the racial discriminations, suppression of sexual orientations, domestic violence, child abuse, sex slaves, prostitution, and evils of the entertainment industry, the pre-defined conception of beauty, illegal abortion, and rigid maintenance of family honour.

Voice of freedom

Through a cinematic approach, Churails is a breakthrough in the mainstream accounts for freedom and voice, especially in the wake of recent movements such as Aurat March, Women Association Forum, and so on, reflecting the voice of Pakistani women against the repressive traditional patriarchal societal norms. Churails reflects the voice of Pakistani women against the repressive traditional patriarchal societal norms.

Churails pivots around four women protagonists: a housewife, a wedding planner, a boxer, and a murder convict from the city of Karachi, Pakistan's largest city. Their experiences of betrayal, suppression, and victimization of the system sparkled their aggressive self to seek justice for voiceless and suppressed women. They start a secret business for the suppressed gender, Mard ko dard hoga (Men will feel the pain), to expose the infidelity of the elite Pakistani men and to protest against violence. The secret business becomes functional for suppressed and unvoiced gender under the banner of their publically established boutique named Halal Designs.

The boutique becomes famous for designing purda, burqa, chadar, and variant veils for women, attracting many women from every section and class. Naqab, usually projected as a symbol of suppression, was redefined. Here, it became the symbol of strength to fight and expose the unfaithful husbands. While covering their faces through naqab, the protagonist avoid being recognized, but are able to free the women from domestic violence, injustice, and thus, able to give confidence and strength to these battered and harassed women so that they could speak against injustice. 

Teaching them young

In their quest to fight against evil norms, mostly set by men; and their adamant attitude to re-define justice, the protagonists explore various aspects of male domination. The show showed that the idea of freedom among Pakistani women have become blurred due to established religious and cultural connotations. The curbing of freedom, rights, and duties undermines the position of a woman. And the blame for this also goes to how this idea of women being inferior to men is shaped since childhood, where the son is trained to be the protector and provider, while the daughter is taught to be passive with those who protect and provide for her. The difference in their upbringing takes root since childhood and is difficult to be changed later in life, thus strengthening the patriarchal norms in a society where women live at the receiving end.

The concept of accepting a person’s sexual orientation is a bold attempt for the Pakistani cinema. In the series, even the educated professor of a renowned university fails to express his orientation due to fear of breaking his wife’s heart and facing discrimination and shunning from society. Churails explores this desperation and frustration, which leads to fatal consequences. 

For many, the definition of beauty is a fair complexion and perfect figure of a woman. Cosmetics, entertainment, and fashion industries flourish on these societal definitions of beauty. The series unravels the dichotomy of beauty, where women - to be accepted by society as a beautiful woman - use the chemical, cosmetic product which has cancerous side effects. Moreover, racial discrimination is shown vividly when the protagonist marries an African and is criticized for going for a darker ‘shade’ than the whiter ‘shade’. The superiority of white skin is a colonial mentality, embedded even today in the Subcontinent. 

Objectification of women

The business of the entertainment and fashion industry depends on the objectification of women's bodies rather than on their talents and aspirations. The dark reality of sex slaves and prostitution still exists as men continue to exploit and objectify women. Thus, the objectification of women is so deep-rooted that the women's body is considered to be for the service and pleasure of men. 

The series, most significantly, dealt with the traditional idea of women being the ‘seducer’. In Churails, the protagonist dented this preconceived notion and showed the mental, emotional, and physical violence women face in the hands of unfaithful husbands. This is how Churails justifies the way they give out justice to oppressed women.

A feminist series

Churails is a wholesome feminist series. It takes a motivating approach to counter such a repressive society. Money is the necessity and solution for tackling these problems. Further, the economic aspects are a significant route for women’s freedom, right, and justice. Women are not only suppressed emotionally and traditionally but subjugated due to their economic dependency as well. 

Churails even showed women taking advantage of their gender. It showed how a woman to get out of massive debt, gets it waived off, by blackmailing the man for murder, which is actually false. The idea of sensitive teaching and equality to create a better society is given thrust.  Though the suffering among women varies due to their class, culture, race, the emotions of victimizations remain the same.

(The writer is a Ph.D. Scholar, Centre for West Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The views are personal)

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