Recently, an advertisement has been doing the rounds on social media regarding Centaurus, the in-vogue mall of Islamabad. The advertisement says that visitors to the mall have to pay Rs.100 to enter the mall – with some exceptions. The list of people exempted does not make sense to many; the rationale behind the introduction of this entrance fee, is believed to be the administration’s desire to decrease the “rash” crowd inside the mall.

We all hear the ad nauseam that Pakistan is an Islamic state and should be unified (many people have a differing opinion on this) but if this is true, then why do we forget the Quranic saying: “no white is superior over black and superiority is by righteousness and God-fearing alone (Surat Al-Hujurat, 49:13)”. Is this too difficult to understand? How can we forget it?

This country has been suffering the wrath of religious radicalization almost since its creation. Everything has been manipulated and people have shed blood for a long time in God’s name. Was that not enough that now we are sidelining a whole segment of society for our own convenience? The middle or lower segments of society do not visit the mall every day nor can they afford or wear the so called branded and often hideous looking clothes of the elite class. Those who do, drop in for a short visit with their families to window shop and beat the heat in a centrally working “thandi machine” and then leave. How difficult is it for the elite class to bear that? Are they not the ones who have actually built this monstrosity of a building but cannot visit it for free now?

Social media elitists complain that there are young boys with “hormonal problems” who visit the mall, to look at ladies, make cell phone videos, and ogle at them, which makes them uncomfortable in that environment and so the only solution is to keep these hormonal youth out of the place. But what I fail to understand is how they are able to stand the men from the elite class doing the same things? Or does the class similarity make this harassment by looks less of an issue? As we know many young men of the elite class are equally bad as the ones who they don’t want to see at the mall.

If this is the solution, then why not have timings fixed for ladies only, gents only and mixed hours, so that anyone can go and spend as much time as they want there? And if the discomfort of ladies is the reason, then what about salespersons who are not going anywhere and stare at the customers with equally ill-intentioned eyes? This happens everywhere in Pakistan even if you are in a niqab and burka. And yes, if this idea is actually going to work then why not implement it in the shopping areas of Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta, Karachi and other cities of Pakistan? Places like Liberty, Metro, Hyperstar, Auriga Center, Hafeez Center, Dolmen Mall – to name a few – since ladies are ogled at over there, too. Or should women make a list of things they need and come to Islamabad from across Pakistan every month and shop at Centaurus Mall, only to stay away from the “evil eyes” of men? Why should the ladies of the rest of Pakistan suffer and what makes the people of Islamabad superior?

I fully understand this dilemma and as a woman am a victim of street and market harassment myself, however, that does not mean I can ask people to go back home or stop going out for shopping.

Rather than coming out with such justifications we should find solutions to strengthen the security system of the mall. These very people who are supposedly bothering women in Pakistan, follow the rules when they go abroad, where no one is allowed to point a cell phone at anyone without their permission or harass them in any other way. Why can Centaurus not have similar strict rules and have the security people implement it?

Do the people who want the Rs.100 entry fee implemented in the mall, think twice about standing on the road side and haggling with the fruit or vegetable sellers, or in the shops to haggle with the sales person? Do they not have an equally ‘buri nazar’?

Should these people be visiting any of the markazs in Islamabad at all, as all public places have people belonging to lower strata of society there? To take it a step further, then, should such people go for pilgrimage – since that, too, is a mixed gender gathering – where men may behave in an ill-mannered way during congregations and circumambulation? Having spent time in Jeddah and being a frequent visitor to the Haram, and having visited the Vatican, I can assure you that sick men can be found even in the of house of Allah and the papal address. So, should we have separate timings for women everywhere?

While I do not want to defend young men who behave in an inappropriate manner, nor to take the side of the poor women who are ogled at, I would say that with all the talk of equality and emancipation, is it not time for women to be stronger, feel bolder and look at the people around them with confidence, and not apologetically for being a woman?

And is it not time for the land of the pure to tell its hormonally active youth – which incidentally is a stage in all genders – that eyes have to be kept under control?

Imposing an entrance fee on malls will serve only to keep people away from the simple joys of life.