Cell Phones Create Secret World of Taboo Exchange in Pakistan

March 14, 2011 Updated: March 14, 2011

A 21-year-old university student texting during a break in her schedule. (The Epoch Times)
A 21-year-old university student texting during a break in her schedule. (The Epoch Times)
ISLAMABAD—Beneath an external veneer of piety and religious fervor in Pakistan, lies a world of desire whose craving people are trying to fill via cell phone.

Cell phone packages in Pakistan are the cheapest in the world with companies making it very inexpensive for people to text message and talk. Between midnight and 7 a.m., texting, which is charged by the hour in Pakistan, costs four rupees or less than two cents per hour. A used cell phone can be purchased for as little as $10.

Cell phone usage in Pakistan has risen dramatically over the last seven years, according to the Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA). Only about 5 percent of Pakistanis used cell phones in 2003, but by 2010, that number had risen to 70 percent indicating that now almost every household in Pakistan has at least one cell phone.

Not so Divided Genders

The increasing prevalence of cell phone technology is exploding traditional barriers between young men and women in Pakistan and fueling a rapid decline of traditional, conservative values.

Before cell phones, there was little opportunity for men and women to interact with the opposite sex outside of family. Traditionally, young men and women were expected to refrain from socializing with one another and the parents of the two young people would arrange their marriage, with the family’s blessings being a must.

In the public sphere, people still appear to follow old traditions, but behind the scene cell phones have given rise to a world of secrets and l'amour cache (hidden love).

“The cell phone has made it possible for people to carry on all kinds of relationships with the opposite sex and do it all undercover,” Aneela Sultana, an anthropologist and lecturer at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad told The Epoch Times.

Sultana said that cell phone technology has created a dating scene that Pakistan has never seen before. “It used to be that dating just didn’t happen. But in the last five years dating has taken on a whole other dimension with people from all age groups messaging and calling each other,” she said.

Twenty-four-year-old anthropology student, Majjid said he also sees cell phones taking hold of Pakistan’s culture. “I think that our norms are definitely changing,” he said. “For example people might be in the same household or be at a party and instead of talking to each other, they are on their cell phones text messaging their girlfriend or boyfriend.”

Due to safety concerns, there is not much for young singles to do in Pakistan, and they often resort to cell phone relationships to deal with boredom and stress. Young adults play games, text message, and use their cell phones to carry on casual relationships with the opposite sex.

A 23-year-old computer science student, Muhammad described one no-go cell phone relationship. “I had a relationship with a girl from a rural area for four years by cell phone,” he said. “We would text each other all the time. In the end nothing came of it.”

However, not all of Pakistan’s young people have jumped on the cell phone bandwagon. Sadia, a 24-year-old history student at Quaid-i-Azam, said she would like cell phone relationships curtailed.

“If I were the prime minister of Pakistan, I would make it so expensive to own a cell phone that no young person could own a cell phone,” she said.

“Too many young people use cell phones for vulgar activity and waste time,” she said.

Next: Cell Phone Marriages