By Shahzaib Khan
If you were a member of an oppressed minority what would you want? Rights? Representation? A voice? An end to persecution? That new lawn print?
The biggest oppressed minority in Pakistan dreams of week-long extravagant weddings, overpriced designer couture and blissful ignorance. this earliest of junctures, I hereby qualify that this piece is in no way meant to be an attempt to belittle the commendable, growing feminist discourse in Pakistan and I admit that the piece is in fact an exercise in arbitrary opinionating. However, that should not stop me or anyone else, from voicing their, at least personally, valued opinion. The piece is also aggressively stereotypical in its approach and possibly inadvertently misogynistic at places. There are obviously laudable and significant exceptions to the following view, both women (some found these days commendably reclaiming public spaces such as dhabas) and men. The identification of a macro trend without caring for the micro intricacies however does not render an opinion instantly invalid.
The biggest minority in Pakistan are Pakistani women; and yes, they are an oppressed minority.
Unlike, in 1983 Lahore, where throngs of women charged into burly armed guards of the state to raise their voices, Pakistani women today are not fighting. Content with finding out the predeterminedly unfortunate fate of that burden of a woman on her favourite television soap, the Pakistani woman is taking it easy. This is of course not true for all Pakistani women.
Pakistani women, much as the same as Pakistani society in large have disintegrated into very specific groups of social classes. When a species is about to go extinct it is categorised into different groups depending on its likelihood of extinction. A near-threatened species is one that is likely to be threatened with extinction in the near future but does not face that immediate threat at this time. A critically endangered species, on the other hand, is one which has been categorised as facing a very high risk of extinction. The near-threatened Pakistani woman is excruciatingly upper-middle class and so as to put it objectively is complacent, because she is safe. This woman is less likely to be shot dead on account of not making the chappati round enough, as compared to the critically endangered woman. The critically endangered woman, by the way, is the woman who cooks, cleans and cares for the near-threatened woman. The critically endangered woman is pre-disposed, on account of her lack of finances and her resulting incapacitations, to have a higher than normal likelihood for being shot in the back of the skull on account of a slight misdemeanor and is so preoccupied with striving to exist, that she rather understandably does not have the time to pen an article, share an inspiring tweet, or lead a protest on the road, to claim her rights.
Pakistani society has transcended an already deplorable debate on women’s rights to stir up another debate. The question we find ourselves asking today, much to the dismay of all conceptions of humanity, is not whether a Pakistani woman should, have equal employment opportunities, equal representation in Parliament or be duly recognised for her contribution in domestic capacities but whether Pakistani women have the right to live or not?
It is beneath me, as it should be beneath any human being, to even consider such a question. The problem is that apparently it’s not. It’s not beneath Pakistani men and most ironically Pakistani women to entertain a debate where the right of women to live is construed through the paradigm of ill-defined social acceptability. Pakistani women are found formulating ever new arguments to give credence to their right to live. And that is where the near-threatened women and their striking failure comes into play. The movement for the rights of Pakistani women has been confined to albeit commendably brave tweets and Facebook posts that act as voices of protest every time a woman is shot dead, stabbed or burnt. The foremost blame for this decadency and degradation in the feminist discourse in Pakistan rests with the women of Pakistan, especially the near-threatened. The critically endangered woman is already, as aforementioned, teetering on the edge of existence, she cannot reasonably be expected to come onto the roads when the same costs her next meal. The contribution of the Pakistani man to the current state of women rights in Pakistan is second to none but at the same time they can’t realistically be expected to pioneer its rectification, the majority of the same at least, however justified such an expectation may be. Pakistani society draws a clear distinction between men and women and as such one is not pre-disposed to care for the other. This is by no means a reason to disavow the Pakistani man of the responsibility of fighting to change a situation that he has helped create. But, expecting the average Pakistani man or for that matter the critically endangered woman to lead the movement for the rights of the average Pakistani woman is unrealistic, idealistic and frankly, lazy, however unfortunate this may be.
Often, when a case for legal action is lodged against a party, the petitioner has to establish his or her bona fide as an aggrieved party for the action to be maintainable. Such is the recognition afforded to the idea, that only when you are aggrieved, will you seek change. Pakistani men are not aggrieved.
Pakistani women, the near-threatened, the privileged and the educated, therefore, have a pro-active and pre-disposed responsibility to ask questions, the right questions. They are the ones primarily aggrieved, able and thus mandated with forming the discourse on women’s rights in Pakistan. But if this discourse today is centered around the question of the right of Pakistani women to be allowed to live, the women of Pakistan have been failed, completely and utterly, admittedly by the men first, but ultimately and more importantly by the women of Pakistan themselves.