Khalil-ur-Rehman under fire for his comments against journalist Marvi Sirmed Image Credit: Twitter

Pakistani director Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar has been slammed by netizens, politicians and celebrities for abusing fellow panellist, journalist Marvi Sirmed during a live television discussion.

In a video of the Neo TV show that is circulating online, Qamar was expressing his views on Aurat March (women’s march) when he started hurling abuses at Sirmed.

Qamar was particularly outraged by the slogan, “my body, my choice” which is at the heart of the march that is set to take place in Pakistan on International Women’s Day, Sunday.

In the clip, Qamar calls the movement “dirty” as Sirmed is heard repeatedly saying the slogan. The exchange soon gets even more heated as Qamar starts cursing at Sirmed. Qamar also body shamed Sirmed and said: “No one would even spit on your body.”

Now Qamar is being criticised for the language he used against Sirmed and his stance against feminism in Pakistan.

The president of the channel has issued an apology to Sirmed, according to Pakistani newspaper, The Express Tribune.

In the past, Qamar has come under fire for portraying women in a bad light in his television dramas. His recent drama serial called ‘Meray Paas Tum Ho’ gained a big fan following but there were many who deemed the show as blatantly misogynistic.

Qamar, who has called himself “Pakistan’s biggest feminist” in the past, is constantly vocal on women’s issues but his comments usually gain traction for their controversial and often misogynistic nature.

Celebrities, politicians react

Following Qamar’s recent comments, several celebrities and public figures have slammed his remarks.

Pakistani politician and parliamentary leader of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Sherry Rehman, @sherryrehman, expressed her outrage over the situation: “I will not accept any show on @NeoTv_Network until this anchor apologises and this abusive man boycotted. If others (men and women) do the same when asked for shows this kind of disrespect to women may not get impunity. Women’s rights are human rights. Enough of this nonsense.”

Actress Mahira Khan, @TheMahiraKhan, also called out Qamar and tweeted: “I am shocked at what I have just heard and seen! Sick to the core. This same man who abused a woman on TV is revered and given project after project because of what? We are as much to blame if not more for perpetuating this thinking!”

The host of the show Ayesha Ehtesham, @ayeshasohaileh4, took to Twitter and apologised for what transpired between Sirmed and Qamar, describing it as an “extremely sorry state of affairs”.

She wrote: “What happened yesterday on my show was an extremely sorry state of affairs. I could not imagine things could turn out to be so rough and abusive. I was completely taken aback which might have affected my ability to condemn abusive and sexist remarks there and then. However, nothing on my part was intentional. There was quite a lot of screaming, shouting & swearing from both sides (part of program that could not go on air) that left little room for me to reverse things back to normal or come up with a prompt condemnation. I apologise to my viewers.”

Social media users react

After Qamar’s remarks aired, the incident was widely discussed on social media and netizens were furious. A number of women rallied online to get Qamar banned from television.

Tweep @hamnazubair wrote: “Every major actor and actress in Pakistan needs to issue a statement saying they will not act in a drama or movie written by #khalilurrehmanqamar. That is what needs to happen. Who among you has the courage and the ethics to do this?”

Twitter user @ShahNafisa posted: “It was nauseating to see #khalilurrehmanqamar hurl abuse at @marvisirmed on television. This is unacceptable and must not go unpunished & channels commissioning his generally misogynistic, woman-hating scripts must be put on the spot. #ARY #Geo #AuratAzadiMarch”

But there were also those who supported Qamar’s stance. User @jhangtrolls wrote: “Khalil ur Rehman did not say anything wrong. Marvi deserves this for her [...] slogan.”

Aurat March and controversies surrounding it

Over the past two years, the Aurat March has turned into a prominent movement against the patriarchal structures of the Pakistani society.

The movement refers to protests organised in various cities of Pakistan including Lahore, Hyderabad, Karachi and Islamabad, to observe International Women's Day on March 8.

The country-wide event has been attended by thousands of people the last two years and it is set to take place again on Sunday.

The protestors, mainly women, rally to get equal rights in a highly patriarchal society that is Pakistan with slogans promoting gender equality both at home and public spaces. Last year, many were also seen holding posters condemning cases of honour killings, rapes and domestic abuse against women that have happened over the years.

The protests, however, has resulted in a strong backlash against the participants and organisers of the march. Those against it, believe that the resistance movement goes against cultural, religious and social norms of Pakistan.

The Lahore High Court (LHC) was petitioned last month to place restrictions on the organisers and participants of the march, whom the complainant said had an agenda to “spread anarchy, vulgarity, blasphemy and hatred” against Islam, according to the Express Tribune.

The court dismissed the petition and allowed protestors to go ahead with their plans to carry out the event on Sunday.

Reportedly, LHC Chief Justice Mamoon Rashid Sheikh said during the hearing: “Under the law and Constitution of the country, the Aurat March cannot be stopped”.

However, the court ordered organisers to ensure participants adhere to “decency and moral values”.

In another incident of trying to stop the march, a mural which was being painted was vandalised by clerics from Lal Masjid in Islamabad.

An Instagram post by auratazadimarch claimed that artists had worked day and night to paint the mural but it all was for nothing when the clerics arrived while they were out for a lunch break.