Suck on the Sugarcane of Love
10 December 2013

In June 2013, two sisters in the Chilas Vally in northern Pakistan were murdered by their step-brother, after a video of them dancing in the rain was shot on a mobile phone and circulated in their community.

The killing may have been sparked by an offended sense of honor, or possibly part of a plot to take the family’s property. While investigating the case and the trajectory of the video from creation to dissemination, my Global Voices colleague Sahar Habib Ghazi and I noticed that many of the hundreds of thousands of online videos tagged “Pakistani Dancing” are intentionally misappropriated and mislabeled images of woman dancing in private settings. These are personal videos that someone tags with terms such as “sexy” and “hot”, taking innocent images and adding a metadata layer of overt sexualization. Some of these videos have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

Habib Ghazi, who is from Pakistan, notes that “Pakistani women dance and sing even in the most conservative towns, but usually only with trusted family. Many never dance in front of ghair (outsiders), to avoid casting a shadow on their family’s honor. This private culture has been repeatedly exposed through indiscreet sharing of images captured for private use.”

Together with Paul Bothwell we decided to reappropriate some of those images, adding Baldessari dots to cover the faces of the women, remixing the videos to create a short film titled “Suck on the Sugarcane of Love.” The videos are easily found with a quick search on YouTube, so we have little expectation that the misappropriation practices will change; the purpose is to point out the dilemma. The title comes from a lyric playing in the background of Ahmer Naqvi’s short film “Pakistani Sex Scene,” which is an ironic comment on Pakistani sexual norms. The film shows no sexual gestures, but the title and associated metadata has led to over a million visits on YouTube and Vimeo.

Since publication in October 2013, Habib Ghazi’s accompanying story on Global Voices and has also been read nearly half a million times and the video viewed more than 50,000 times. Analytics data shows that readers stay on the post for several minutes, suggesting that they read the content and are not simply looking for a prurient video.