March issue 2011

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 13 years ago

Every March 8, politicians across the spectrum express their firm resolve to ameliorate the status of women. But if newspaper headlines are anything to go by, life for most Pakistani women remains unchanged. ‘Honour’ killings, gang-rapes, domestic violence and acid attacks continue to feature in their daily landscape. And most perpetrators of these heinous acts have yet to be brought to justice, despite foolproof evidence and the glare of publicity surrounding some of the cases. Ten, twelve years down the line, justice still eludes some high-profile victims such as Mukhtaran Mai, a gang-rape victim whose case made international headlines, Samia Sarwar, daughter of the president of the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce who was gunned down in the internationally reputed human rights activist Asma Jehangir’s office, and Fakhra, who was badly disfigured in an acid attack by her husband, former Punjab governor Khar’s son. Ostensibly, all open-and-shut cases, but still unresolved.

The plight of women will continue to get much worse as people with a conservative bent of mind enter the fray and queer the pitch further. The few concessions that women had managed to gain in some of the anti-women legislation as a result of the protracted struggle of activists are in danger of being overturned by closet extremists who’ve made inroads in the bureaucracy, the courts and the Council of Islamic Ideology and are putting obstacles in the way of any forward-thinking policies.

It is this mindset that is fostering the growth of extremists and making Pakistan an unliveable place for most, but most of all for women and people of other faiths.

The mafia-style execution of the Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, and before him, the Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, both of whom spoke in favour of a poor Christian woman accused of blasphemy, is an indicator of the vile lengths this mindset can stoop to.

This mindset is growing and assuming dangerous proportions as there is no strategy at the government level to confront the propagators of this dangerous myopia.

The PPP, the ANP and the MQM continue to pay lip-service to the vulnerable and dispossessed sections of society, but that’s not enough when extremist vigilante groups are on the prowl and hitting out at liberal forces with a vengeance.

Two PPP stalwarts have been felled by assassins’ bullets; one PPP parliamentarian cannot step out of her Karachi home because she is under death threat. Aasiya Bibi, the accused in the blasphemy case, has no hope of coming out of her prison cell alive. And now author Tehmina Durrani, who wrote a book titled Blasphemy 13 years ago on the abuse of religion by the pirs, is being accused of blasphemy and threatened with execution in banners that have appeared overnight in Karachi, Lahore and elsewhere.

Where will it all end? Will it be left to the activists to pull down these inflammatory banners and confront the violent forces who are destroying the fabric of the nation while political forces sit pretty in their fortified ivory mansions and pay lip service to the weak and the vulnerable.

In that case, what do we need a government for?

The March 2011 issue of Newsline is available on newsstands across Pakistan.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.