Pakistan may be an impoverished, conservative Muslim nation 7,000 miles away, but in some unexpected ways the country has some similarities to the United States. For one thing, Pakistanis love television game shows -- and broadcasters wage a bitter battle for ratings, even during the holy month of Ramadan. And, like some U.S. TV shows (and particularly the much-maligned “reality” genre), some Pakistani television fare skirts the bounds of good taste.
According to reports in British media, a Pakistani prime-time television show called “Amaan Ramazan” on the Geo channel is giving away abandoned babies (mostly female) to childless couple contestants. The Daily Mail reported that game show host Aamir Liaquat Hussain has already handed out two infants to couples so far during this Ramadan. “This is the beautiful girl who was thrown on pile of garbage by somebody,” he told the studio audience in a recent episode. “See how beautiful and innocent she is.”
The baby was given to a man named Riaz-ud-din and his wife, who were childless. “These 14 years were full of hardships, people asked [me] to go for [a] second marriage but I remained patient and also asked my wife to be patient,” he said. His wife described the baby as “gift of Ramadan” The babies were first found by Muhammad Ramzan Chhipa, who runs the Chhipa Welfare Association, a children’s charity, and then given to the TV station. “We have lots of babies that are just abandoned, left in the garbage or other dirty places,” he said.
Hundreds of babies are abandoned every month in Pakistan for a variety of reasons – the child was born out of wedlock, the mother already has too many other children to feed, or the baby is a girl who is unwanted because she is viewed as a financial burden. However, under Pakistani laws, someone convicted of abandoning a baby can be sent to prison for seven years.
The other issue is of course the nature of Pakistani television. Pakistani television shows are surprisingly raunchy and raucous affairs. The Daily Telegraph noted that game shows and talk shows are hugely popular due to the controversies they generate. One TV presenter was fired after she and her cameras strolled through the parks of Karachi looking for young couples engaged in illicit rendezvous; another TV host sparked headlines by crashing into brothels to catch johns and prostitutes in the act. During Ramadan, when most people are cooped up inside their homes, the TV ratings wars intensify. Pakistanis have been “treated” to such programming as a live exorcism or the conversion of a Hindu to Islam.
Hussain of "Amaan Ramazan" is particularly controversial, albeit extremely popular. He has been accused of using the show to promote Islamic extremism while still maintaining an entertaining diet of music, dance, games and even cooking demonstrations.
Bina Shah, a writer based in Karachi, condemned the program. “It just speaks to the commercialization of everything in Pakistani society, including religion,” she said. “And giving away the baby stunt on television was the worst violation of media ethics I can think of.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.