Institutionalising intolerance towards women
Speaking in a public meeting in Lahore last year Jamaat-e-Islami chief Sirajul Haq told the audience that his party wanted to build a country where the women would enjoy rights at a scale that would make the women in Britain and the US envy them
The leaders of various religious parties are silent on women abuse but oppose every law the successive governments have tried to introduce to provide security to women. The ongoing opposition to the Women Protection Bill passed by the Punjab Assembly is the latest attempt in the direction.
While fighting each other tooth and nail, the clerics representing practically all sects — Sunni, Brelvi, Deobandi, Salafi and Shi’a — have jointly declared the new law a move aimed at turning Pakistan into a “liberal” and “secular” country at the behest of the West.
Being supporters of a patriarchal culture where the woman plays second fiddle to her father, husband or brother, they see the laws as a challenge to male domination. This they believe is bound to hasten the arrival of the doomsday.
The clerics maintain that Islam provides maximum rights to women, much beyond those the women enjoy anywhere in the world. But when it comes to real life situations JUI-F Senator Hafiz Hamdullah is seen telling Marvi Sarmad he will not allow her to support the position taken by Barrister Masroor in a talk show. And when Marvi defies him, he resorts to abusive language and advances aggressively with an intention to attack her right in front of the TV camera.
Speaking in a public meeting in Lahore last year Jamaat-e-Islami chief Sirajul Haq told the audience that his party wanted to build a country where the women would enjoy rights at a scale that would make the women in Britain and the US envy them.
The claim by JI chief was made in front of a gathering of urban middle class women who live in dolls’ houses cut off from the ugly realities of Pakistan where karo kari, vani, child marriage, acid attacks, domestic violence, office harassment, honour killings and rape are a common part of social life. For Sirjul Haq and most of his audience these painful issues did not simply exist. He therefore condemned the recent attempt to make legislation to put an end to some of these practices.
Sirajul Haq says Islam has established a paradise on earth in the form of a household ‘with the sacred relationships of husband and wife, mother and son, sister and brother, aunt and niece and so on.’ The woman according to Sirajul Haq is ‘the queen of the household’. She ‘rules’ the fortress of the home and family in Pakistan.
Most women in Pakistan however face an altogether different situation. Women have to pick cotton in fields, collect dry wood for use as fuel, carry water pitchers home over long distances and take food for men working in fields. This is beside performing domestic chores which begin early in the morning. In big cities young girls work as charwomen, cleaning houses, washing clothes and looking after babies. Female bonded labour in rural areas is required to work in fields as semi-slaves and despite orders from courts instances of their being kept in chains have been reported in media. Women make bricks in the kilns as bonded labourers. After doing these tedious jobs the ‘queen of the household’ has to cook food for her husband and children and wash their clothes.
The clerics’ venom is reserved only for the depravity of the west. They however fail to take notice of the depravity that characterises rural areas with inhuman feudal and tribal cultural remnants. Here male chauvinism acts as blinkers.
Like Sirajul Haq, Maulana Fazlur Rehman too has rejected the Bill for being opposed to the “values of Pakistani society”. According to the JUI-F chief“Islam gives respect to women in a manner that no other law in the world ensures.” “If a woman gets treated badly, she should go to her family or tribal elders and if she doesn’t get justice then she can go to the courts because this is our culture,” he said.
The JUI-F chief forgets that jirgas have sentenced women to be buried alive on unproven suspicions of infidelity, ordered them to be paraded naked in the village streets or gang-raped to avenge an act committed by their male relatives. He also ignores that poor and helpless families are afraid to get a case registered against an influential person. They know if they try to register a rape case against him, he will rape the younger daughter also. Victims who try to approach the police are often rebuffed. Some have subsequently burnt themselves alive in protest.
Rape is one of the common crimes in Pakistan. There are also numerous cases of gang-rape every month. In some cases the horrific scenes are filmed to pressurise the victim to continue to oblige her tormentors or face social opprobrium when these are publicised. Any woman subjected to rape has to produce four eyewitnesses or she is likely to be prosecuted for adultery. The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) does not accept the results of the DNA test, the sole scientific proof to nail the perpetrator down, as substantial evidence of rape.
For a poor family in areas dominated by feudal lords what Sirajul Haq calls “fortress of the home” has never been safe from the sexual incursions of the mighty people or their henchmen. Women have suffered horrific acid attacks, at times inside the ‘fortress,’ for refusing to marry someone thirty years older or to succumb to the advances of the tough.
And that brings us to Mufti Mohammad Naeem, the rector of Karachi’s top most seminary, Jamia Binoria.
Mufti Mohammad Naeem has condemned the passage of the Women Protection Bill calling it a move by the government to turn Pakistan into a ‘liberal’ country to please the US. For mullahs the terms “liberal” and “secular” stand for “atheistic” and “immoral.”
For Mufti Naeem women in Pakistan are not subjected to maltreatment, torture, or crime in any ‘significant’ way. And even in cases where they are, his advice to them is to cover up the incidents.
Criticising the screening of Oscar winning Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s documentary “A Girl in the River”, Naeem says the documentary should never have been shown as it scandalises Pakistan. In other words the Muftii would like to sweep the dirt under the rug. He has even approved of an imaginary incident where a patriotic Hindu mob supposedly burned down a cinema hall because a western documentary showing a woman subjected to rape in India was being screened.
Mufti Naeem holds that the incidence of violence against women is very low in the country – “less than once percent or half a percent”. As Zaigham Khan, a social anthropologist, has pointed out even one percent of the women’s population in Pakistan amounts to one million and half a percent amounts to half a million. He then hits the nail on the head. “Should we not do anything if five hundred thousand women are tortured and abused every year?”
The idea of an economically independent woman is a Satanic idea according to Sirajul Haq. He fears that once a woman is economically independent she is bound to challenge the patriarchal culture ensuring male supremacy.
Sirjaul Haq opposes the West for thrusting upon the woman’s shoulder the responsibility of earning livelihood. Some people, he says, are of the view that the country could progress only if its womenfolk worked shoulder to shoulder with men as in the West. According to the JI chief, these people wanted that the ‘fortress of the home’ which Islam had given us, be demolished as in the West. Satan, he contends, who was instrumental in the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise wants now to demolish this fortress of the home and family. Pakistani women, he hoped, would frustrate this conspiracy.
The problem with JI is that middle class women are foremost in seeking higher education. And once a woman has achieved higher educational she is in most cases going to do a job.
Herein lies the clerics dilemma.
Sirajul Haq demands “separate educational institutions and universities for women where they could learn all subjects and arts including science and technology in line with their aptitudes. This would enable them to play their due role in national development.”
What is the need of wasting money on separate universities and institutions for professional and technical education if the women graduating from these were to get confined to the four walls of the house instead of working side by side with men? And how can a woman who is a law graduate, a doctor or a chartered accountant play the “due role in national development” except by working shoulder to shoulder with men?
The problem with JI is that middle class women are foremost in seeking higher education. And once a woman has achieved higher educational she is in most cases going to do a job