Pakistan's Telecommunication Authority (PTA) is contemplating a ban on the use of over 1,700 derogatory words in text messages.
Such a move would come much to the chagrin of mothers who want their husbands to purchase baby lotion for their toddlers (Yes, the use of “Johnson’s baby lotion” would be banned). The ban would also prohibit mentions of Jesus Christ and the Devil, the word "creamy," and the phrase "deposit the check in my account."
When citizens have to be afraid of using a phrase as common as “deposit the check in my account” in a text message, then something is seriously wrong.
The move has received widespread criticism and has become the butt of many jokes. While the banned words in English will only affect a small percentage of the urban educated class, the majority will feel the heat when it comes to local languages. Most, if not all, translations of the above-mentioned words will also be banned.
To put things in perspective, Pakistan is one of the largest cellular markets in the world. Pakistan has a subscriber base of over 108 million in a population of 180 million. We love SMSing, as the local jargon goes. In a bid to outdo each other, cellular companies have introduced bundle SMS packages for as low as one cent for 10 texts. This has created a culture of exchanging texts in copious amounts.
Satire rules the roost with a significant number of texts lamenting the issues of terrorism, corruption, and political nepotism in clever ways. One of the popular mass texts that is going around about current Pakistani president Asif Zardari is: "Who is the chief adviser of Satan? President Zardari." It is still unclear, though, whether his name will be included on the list of forbidden words.
PTA has cited the growing incidences of spamming and widespread use of profanities as a reason to filter texts. But, then why include words as benign as "tongue"? According to one college student in Islamabad, "The person who has drafted the proscription seriously needs some education." He expressed concern about growing government interference in people’s lives.
"Now women have to improvise asking their husbands to buy condoms or birth control pills," said a female social worker. She was, however, not as pessimistic as others. Using secret local words will make do, she opined.
Despite the apprehension, the ban is here to stay. It is also expected that the authority will keep on adding new words to the banned SMS vocabulary. As has happened in other parts of the world experiencing curbs on freedom of speech, Pakistanis will find the room to wiggle around. After all, many porn sites are blocked in Pakistan but the country ranked higher in Google searches for different types of sex.
Photo Credit: magical nightfire