September 23, 2020
Tinder for Amel Ghani used to be a family activity. The 30-year-old had used the app as a student in New York City, but was hesitant to reinstall it when she returned to Lahore, Pakistan, apprehensive that it would only lead to awkward or bad dates in Pakistan's conservative milieu. But Ghani’s brother urged her to download the app again, aware that she had few avenues to meet people outside of her social circle. Ghani ended up telling her family herself. “I showed the app to my mother and told her, ‘Look, this is how it functions.’”
Ghani would go through profiles with her family, asking her mom and bhabhi to swipe left for no and right for yes. As they scrolled through Lahore’s market of eligible men, her mother and sister-in-law were often the first to prod her to reach out to a match. “He’s good-looking, why don’t you try talking?” Ghani’s bhabhi would say. Unlike most Pakistani families, the Ghanis did not view Tinder as a hook-up app, instead seeing it as a legitimate place to meet men for marriage.
But earlier this month, the Pakistani government banned Tinder and four other dating apps — Grindr, Skout, SayHi, and Tagged — for “immoral and indecent content.” Before the ban, Pakistani users had downloaded the app only 440,000 times within the last year in a country with over 169 million cell phone users and 85 million 3G/4G subscribers. The move seemed largely symbolic, a way to appeal to religious conservatives in a time of political dissatisfaction — but even for the limited users of dating apps, the ban was yet another example of the government trying to morally police young, mostly urban Pakistanis.
“It’s flooding in cities and they decided to ban Tinder. They have their priorities straight,” said Farooq,* a 27-year old Lahori using dating apps. “They are in a deep mess, and it appeals to [conservatives] that they are at least curbing the apparent immorality of society.”
“I feel like young people in this country are not allowed to breathe,” Ghani told The Juggernaut. “They keep taking away any space we have to freely express ourselves or to explore our options when it comes to men,” Ghani said.