It never, ever fails to astound me how men in this country are so profoundly affected by women. They evidently spend all their time ruminating on women, from the way they dress—how a covered woman is like a toffee being preserved for the right man etc.—to what time it is decent to come home at, whether working women should be ‘allowed’ to work, the imperatives of child-birth and so forth. The government recently passed a bill that is meant to provide women in this country with a modicum of legal, constitutionally-guaranteed protection against abuse, and there are plenty of men with big, big problems with it. What kind of problems, you ask, hoping they are about things like whether the bill actually has teeth, or about what kind of protection it really provides, because those issues would reflect a genuine desire to make lives safer for women, a concrete step towards building a society that is inclusive, fair and supportive of women and men alike. Wrong! If this were a game show or the lair of an evil scientist, a buzzer would go off and you’d be catapulted into a tank of slime, or piranhas. Sometimes life is stranger than fiction, never more so than in Pakistan. And so the criticism of the bill largely consists of what is, in straight-talk, called whining.

In Punjabi when one is being impatient with someone being exceedingly foolish or dull, one says “banday da puttar bano”: please behave like the son of a man, i.e a human being, implying someone blessed with logical faculties, ergo not a Yahoo. Sadly, the only puttars here are not of the banda-variety, because they consider it perfectly reasonable to talk to the press or appear on television actually saying out loud the thoughts otherwise rational people either never think, or would die before articulating. A bill that protects women from harassment and abuse will result in anarchy, because it will allow women to get out of relationships that are dangerous and violent. The Women’s Protection Bill will result in a cascade of divorce, with deranged women flinging off the shackles of laundry and correct alu-gosht and cutting their husband’s toenails and running into the sunset, probably wearing jeans and chopping off their bum-length hair with a kitchen knife en route. The Bill is going to make Jezebels of us all. I can’t wait! I’ve been wanting to be some kind of Dangerous Woman all my life, and obviously one measly little bill is going to throw open the doors of Western Loose Character wide open for me. Hurrah!

It’s so shockingly demented that it’s almost funny. One’s contempt has deranged itself into a kind of pitying amusement at the utter self-confidence a man must have, to have the cheek to say the things they do. From our blessed Council of Islamic Ideology to Imran Khan to the idiots in a white Corolla who recently “eve-teased” a young friend of mine by telling her she looked like a churail (they screamed it at her as they drove by. Charming). Has nobody ever told them to become a banday da puttar, ever? Did the wives or mothers or daughters of the gentlemen who have offered their esteemed intellectual analyses of the Women’s Protection Bill not point out to them that they might actually be talking through their hats? Evidently not. The forces of reason, empathy or logic have never punctured their bubble of supreme self-confidence, so off they go, projecting their Freudian fears of being abandoned by their mothers onto half the population.

It’s a shame really, that a bunch of ignoramuses tarnish the name of the many. It’s how all women drivers are viewed with a generalised dismissiveness. Of course not all men really believe that one bill is going to give women the license to run amok. It’s a shame bordering the criminal that in the twenty-first century women still have to fight tooth and nail for something that should be part of their most fundamental rights as humans and citizens of a democratic state. That one still has to justify and defend a woman’s right to safeguard her body and her mind to men who still think that child marriage is perfectly fine, or that girls’ schooling is a luxury afforded to a favoured few.

And let’s say that this bill, limited as it is in reality, really did give women the permission to run amok. What would happen? Men would have to make their own breakfasts, do their laundry, remember to buy a gift for their mothers, actually interact with their children? Be good and decent and loving so their wives won’t leave them? After all, why else would men be so terrified of women with agency, with rights, with choices? If women like that became the norm, then guess who would have to become banday de puttar, whether they liked it or not.