By: NADEEM F. PARACHA
On Feb 1, some TV news channels ran a harrowing video of a man (in the city of Sukkur) kicking, slapping and dragging a helpless woman from inside a van. According to reports, the brute was the woman’s husband.
After about two to three minutes into the video, a shocked me thought why wasn’t anyone jumping in to stop the man from pulverising his wife in full view of the media and the public?
Some 25 years ago when I was in my early 20s, I saw a crowd gathering around a man mercilessly beating a young child on a street in the PECHS area of Karachi.
Instinctively I jumped in and pulled the child away from the man, who then attacked me saying that the child was his son and that I had no right to interfere.
During the scuffle, I reminded him that the child was first and foremost an innocent and fragile human being.
Soon other people got involved and ultimately we handed over the man to the police. Then with a black, swollen eye, (along with two other gentlemen), I deposited the bruised, shocked and traumatised boy to his mother and grandparents who lived nearby.
According to the mother the boy’s fault was going to a park instead of a madressah, and his father had caught him playing football with other kids in the park before deciding to hand him a pitiless public beating. The child could not have been more than seven years old.
On Feb 1, 2014, as I ever-so-reluctantly saw the man beating the woman on TV, I angrily wondered why the cameraman who was filming the scene wasn’t jumping in to stop the man.
One can rationalise his position by suggesting that he was already involved by covering the event and, more so, exposing the man’s misdeed and face in front of millions of TV viewers. Because after all, it was this footage that ran on a number of TV channels that prompted the Sindh government to order an inquiry.
But what about the dozen or so men who gathered there; what were they up to, apart from simply watching?
Not a single person decided to jump in, to at least pull back the rampaging man. As one can see in the video, the men who gathered at the site of the shameful episode just stood there, staring.
What a contrast, I thought it was, compared to the common spectacle of mobs of men who, even at the slightest wink of encouragement, become the ever-willing multitudes of destruction, butchering and lynching those accused of heresy or ‘blasphemy’, or who, at the drop of a hat, set fire to the homes and places of worship of those they believe had insulted their faith.
It is a fact that many-a-time nothing insults faith like the most faithful, but in this particular case one is right to question the whole hoopla of what a grand ‘ghairatmand’ (honourable) nation we are.
The same evening one saw the usual set of ‘liberal fascists’ and ‘moderates’ outrage against the beating of the woman on Twitter. But I was more interested in reading the tweets of three young women who are always quick to lambast me every time I tweet anything whatsoever about a hijab, niqab or whatever they believe is a ‘woman’s symbol of social piety.’
Thrice I tweeted about the said event expecting these three angry young women to respond to my tweets because after all there was a helpless (Muslim) woman involved on the receiving end of a brutal act.
All of them follow me on Twitter and (thus) can see my tweets on their timeline (TL). There was silence. So I checked their Twitter accounts to see whether any of them was active at the time I was tweeting about the beating.
Two of them were. But one of them was having a conversation with another lady about TV host Aamir Liaqat’s choice of clothes, while the other was passionately tweeting about the best brands of ‘halal perfume’.
There is a no way that they could have either missed the footage of the woman’s beating (that was widely shared by many on social media), nor could they have missed my three tweets.
Their Twitter timelines are usually full of those ubiquitous images where hijabless women are explained as lollipops covered with flies; or with laments against ‘western hypocrisies and discrimination against appropriately dressed Muslim women in the West.’ But not a squeak came from them about a fellow Muslim sister beaten mercilessly in full view of the public by a man in their own country.
This reminds me of a rather eventful seminar I once attended back in 1992 on ‘Women and Islam’. The panel, apart from having some intellectuals, also included a so-called Islamic scholar (a former member of a religious party).
All was well until at one point the scholar’s lecture declared that ‘a woman who wore seductive clothes invited men to dishonour them’.
Some women in the audience after exhibiting their disgust, stormed out of the auditorium. But there were two women who snatched a microphone from an organiser and began shouting insults — not at the lecturer, but at the women who had walked out!
‘They can’t bear to listen to the truth!’ One of the women shouted, until she was asked to settle back into her seat. I was shocked. Was a woman actually justifying an act of violence (by a man) on another woman?
Nevertheless, the most stunning moment of the seminar arrived when, after the scholar ended his speech and asked if the audience had any questions, a woman journalist (belonging to an Urdu weekly) asked for the microphone.
She cleared her throat, said her salam and asked a question that was so basic that I have totally forgotten what it was. But what happened next, I can never forget.
The moment the scholar began to answer the question, the woman shouted (in Urdu): ‘Khabardar! Apni nazrien neechi kar kay mujay jawab doh!’ (Beware! Lower your eyes while answering me!).
Shaken, it was now the scholar’s turn to storm out. He felt ‘insulted’.