By Girls at Dhabas
We want to note a few things.
1. Arshad Khan’s photograph, recently gone viral on social media as the ‘chaiwala’ is problematic, not because of gender, but because of class. Who we are allowed to take photos of depends very much on who we are and where we come from. Poor people are often made the subject of rich DSLR-brandishing photographers’ city ‘explorations’ — which are no more than voyeuristic ventures that fetishise and romanticise poor classes and their spaces.
It would be different if there was actual engagement (or even an effin selfie), or if this entire episode had gone beyond how stunning the man’s physical features are. Most first articles, however, did not even allow Arshad Khan the dignity of mentioning his name. Even when his photograph went viral, he was relegated to the ‘chaiwala’ — level of class objectification, yaar. Please note that details about his life surfaced much later – probably when media organisations realised, oh hey he’s gone viral, let’s do a follow-up to sell our hits more.
2. Pay attention to the fact that Arshad is Pashtun – blue eyes, white skin, the perfect template of the fetishised white desi man — collectively desired locally, and abroad. Of course, none of this matters when the Pashtun population is treated as second-class citizens in our country, when Afghan refugees are evacuated, or when Pashtun are used as an excuse, and a site for violence, for the state’s proxy war. Also, who suffers the brunt of all this treatment? Yep, that’s right my feminist friends. Pashtun women. But as long as we can swoon over ’em (from the comfort of our meme screens), sure, they can hang around for eye candy.
3. This is not an incident of sexism. Men’s rights activists, please sit back down. While we’re at it, there is no such thing as reverse sexism. Sexism is a system of oppression that disadvantages the feminine over the masculine, whether through discrimination or otherwise. This is however, an incident of sexualisation.
But men and women are *not* subject to the same consequences of sexualisation. While a man who is objectified may be subject to harassment, he is not put at a threat of *safety* because of his gender. He is not disadvantaged because of his gender. His marriage prospects do not get fucked, his body is not suddenly policed, he does not have his physical safety at risk. A woman, especially a poor woman, if she were subject to the same harassment, if her identity was suddenly revealed to the internet overnight, would dealing with a whole other series of threats.
4. If you saw Arshad on TV, you can pick up on his discomfort. Interviewers asked questions revolving around his overnight fame, nothing of value or engagement. Arshad told Dunya News – LIVE ON TV – that he was sick of people irritating him during work hours, hampering his business. Matlab keh? Is it so difficult to cut out our bullshit fascination, and treat someone like a person?
We call on media to start giving a crap when the object of your “news” is uncomfortable and seems practically harassed. He’s supposed to be “taking it like a man” – i.e not voicing the fact that he’s not comfortable with all this sexual attention. This is due to gender expectations. Where did this gender expectation for men to always want sexual attention and never feel vulnerable come from? From the patriarchy. Not from feminism.
We’re not going to speak for him and say whether he does or doesn’t feel violated, we’re just saying there’s no space in the narrative for him to say so if he DOES feel violated.
Also, a little kick to Mangobaaz and all those ‘data driven’ companies: You you made him a trending topic hence the brouhaha. To say you follow the trends is just BS. You have a hand in making them too.
5. Once again: The harassment Arshad has been subjected to, whether by the media or fans, and the disgusting manner in which he is being treated, is because of his class.
Quick question – out of the number of people who showed up at his stall the next day, whether to take a selfie or check him out (cause they certainly didn’t buy his chai or help his business), how many would have done the same if he was an upper class man? Show up at his workplace, the next morning?
The fact is: rich people consider poor people to be easy access. Whether it is to take a photograph of them to share with the whole world, whether to use them as a reference point to discuss sexual objectification and harassment.
6. “It’s just a picture yaar. Why are you going on about the war and fetishisation?”
Come on, yaar. The personal is political yaar.
This article first appeared as a Facebook post by Girls at Dhabas, an online collective of feminists who write about the presence and participation of women in public spaces.