Ali, a 34-year-old entrepreneur, joined Grindr in 2013 after a scare on another dating app, Manjam, where an alleged serial killer was targeting gay men that he met on the app.
According to Ali, his current circle of friends are people he met through the app and some of them have become his lifelines, “my rocks in terrible times”.
“I don’t know how straight people treated Tinder but we thought of it as a dating app while Grindr was always our booty call/hook-up app. It’s definitely important to have access to dating apps but we, gay people, have turned everything into a dating app. If you have a couple of gay friends you follow, you’ll end up getting gay boys on Instagram or Facebook or, if anonymity is your thing, then there is Twitter,” he said.
However, the ban is definitely a blow as it makes things harder for a community that was already suffering. “It’s silly, it’s 1984. None of this makes sense. I’ll just use my VPN if I want to use the app now. So essentially, the ban hasn’t really stopped me from using the app, just made the route a bit circuitous.”
Unfortunately, the VPN route may also not be available to many people soon. PTA has asked users to register all corporate VPN connections or face an IP blacklist soon.
“We’re seeing a fundamental closing of Pakistan’s digital spaces and if the PTA is allowed to continue unchecked as it has been, the consequences will be dire,” said digital rights activist and lawyer Nighat Dad, who set up the Digital Rights Foundation in 2012.
Dad said PTA’s tendency to ban apps has been on the rise this year. Several apps such as the online game Fornite and live-streaming platform Bigo Live were removed after a PTA order, while warnings have been issued to YouTube and TikTok.
“While it is true that these (the banned apps) were ‘dating’ apps, its use may not have always been so ‘scandalous’ as people may have thought. This was an online platform where people got to meet each other virtually and exist in a way outside of society and its ways and expectations. It gave people some degree of autonomy over themselves and their bodies too,” said Dad, who said the impact was particularly hard on women and sexual minorities.
PECA, she pointed out, was a particularly problematic law.
“Essentially it is a draconian law because, under Section 37, the regulator has powers to block or censor content that it sees as immoral, anti-state or religion—not just on the internet but through any device…this allows the PTA to interpret how the exclusions are to be applied,” she said.
A recent example of how PECA is misused was the case of Karachi-based journalist Bilal Farooqui, who was arrested for alleged “anti-state” tweets.
The only way to reverse the ban, said Dad, is for young Pakistanis to raise their voices and speak in public spaces: online and offline.
“They must not let the discourse die. The youth needs to form a unified and united front and opposition to certain government bans and laws.”
*Names changed to protect privacy
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