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Anti-women coalition


THAT our women face an uphill, against all odds battle for equality can be gauged from one simple fact: clergymen who are at daggers drawn with each other over even the basic tenets of the faith are united in their declared desire to oppress women and deny them what’s theirs by right.

After the Council of Islamic Ideology’s latest recommendation to legalise marriages involving child brides and to allow unbridled polygamy, many commentators attacked the CII chairman Maulana Sheerani who belongs to the JUI-F and was named to the office by the last government.

But if the maulana, who belongs to the reputedly less tolerant Deobandi denomination, came under fire one would assume the recommendation was his, and his alone. However, there was no recorded dissent note on it by ‘ulema’ such as Barelvis, Shias etc who represent the religious rainbow that is the CII. The decision appeared unanimous, if I have not been misinformed.

Would we be correct then in drawing the conclusion that the development of religious thought in the country and in places that influence our thinking is stuck several centuries in the past and has not kept pace with the evolving world and society? This question is asked in an earnest manner as I am not a religious scholar or a theologian.

Advocates of an even greater role of religion in our society talk of the ‘liberation, freedom and justice’ it has the potential to bring in society. However, a cursory look at the practitioners and particularly the preachers paints such a horrid picture that the less said about it the better.

Leading lights of the Baloch tribal hierarchy such as the Zehris have gone on record to justify the murder of women, either by burying them alive or shooting them or just hacking them, for the crime of exercising choice, for marrying for love rather than acquiescing to be bartered away in a deal to strengthen tribal supremacy or consolidate land ownership.

Panchayats in rural Sindh and Balochistan are often not only encouraging and endorsing shameful ‘honour killings’ but also protecting the hatchet-wielding men of a medieval mindset. The cases even in this day and age of the electronic media when nothing finds safety in obscurity for long are far too many to list.

Whether it’s the interpretation of religion by the ‘ulema’ or the tradition adhered to by the tribal or feudal ‘sardar’, there is one common denominator: control over and use of the woman as a commodity. This informal coalition seeks outright oppression of women.

From what I have seen of him since his appointment, I have admired the dignity with which Chief Justice Tasadduq Hussain Jillani conducts himself in and out of court. This is in marked contrast to the often crass manner of playing to the gallery of his predecessor.

Earlier this week, one of the TV channels was flashing breaking news where the chief justice was quoted as saying to the mother of the young woman, Amina, that he’d haul into court anyone who so much as raised an eyebrow at her. He’d taken suo motu notice of the case and the threats to the family.

Remember Amina? She said she’d been raped in a small town in Punjab. And when the police freed the men without charge after an investigation which seemed solely aimed at exonerating them, Amina set herself alight in protest and didn’t survive her burns and died a few days later.

Rana Sanaullah, the keeper of Punjab’s conscience and its peace (reportedly through various contacts with all kinds of militants including the sectarian ones) had immediately appeared on the mike and all but called the woman victim a liar saying she’d not been raped but assaulted or something equally ludicrous.

The key Punjab minister’s view was the manifestation of the macho male attitude in society where a woman has to be distrusted, doubted if she’s been attacked or even raped because her complaint is seen as a threat: that she has the guts to stand up to injustice, discrimination.

As I sat down to write this, the bloodied face of a young woman is before me and dominating my thoughts. The TV report is suggesting she went to a police station in Punjab to file a complaint and those who she felt aggrieved by let loose an attack dog on her. And this inside the compound of the police station!

Of course nobody helped her even though she somehow managed to save herself from being completely savaged by the attack dog. Not a day passes when one doesn’t read of an acid attack on a woman for merely saying no to the amorous advances/marriage proposal of a man. How dare she, seems to be the common reaction.

In a society where the life and reality of untold numbers of women is so bleak and stark is there a point in talking of equal pay for equal work; or the need to advocate a fairer deal and respect to hard-pressed multitasking women burdened with responsibilities of earning an income in addition to being solely responsible for all domestic challenges?

One’s left wishing all the political parties were as unanimous in enforcing the laws on equality and safety of women as they were in offering a bailout to terrorists who have tormented almost all Pakistanis. Police who don’t stamp out crimes against women shouldn’t remain in uniform. This, perhaps, would be the first step towards attaining greater goals.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.