Out of sight, out of their minds | Pakistan Today

Out of sight, out of their minds

  • Culture of violence

On December 14 2012, in Connecticut in the USA, a twenty year old man shot and killed his mother, then twenty children between six and seven years of age and six members of staff at their elementary school at Sandy Hook before shooting himself dead. It was the deadliest shooting at an American school. It was found that the shooter had Asperger’s Syndrome and had suffered from depression, anxiety, compulsive obsessive disorder and a preoccupation with violence. Under the State’s laws he was old enough to possess a rifle or shotgun but too young to possess a handgun. A large quantity of all of these and semi-automatic weapons were found on him, in the school and in his car.

The old school was demolished after the massacre, and now, a new Sandy Hook Elementary School building costing 20 million dollars is ready to welcome back its students. It does have heavy duty windows and a high-tech security system but there are also courtyards, study spaces made to look like treehouses, a raingarden, and also: ultra-safe ‘soothing’ classrooms all set to give students a ‘great big hug’ when they walk through the doors.

In the meantime, many cases of gun violence later the US has been unable to set any restrictions on the possession of arms. The National Rifle Association, the NRA, has too strong a lobby and is well able to protect its interests. So, God forbid should any such thing happen again, at least the victims will have been hugged when they walked into school. It hurts to be flippant about such a matter but the intention is better than these words.

In short what has happened in Sandy Hook is that the issue of gun violence and the ready availability of guns has been hidden behind an expensive new cover and words that mask the seriousness of the problem.

It needs no stretch of imagination to extend this analogy to many places and issues, including to what is happening in Pakistan, where the very serious matter of harassment of women by men is put aside, instead of which whether or not women shroud themselves in chaddors and burkas is focused upon. The claim is that this is demanded by Islam, that women who don’t shroud themselves deserve harassment. Meantime nothing is done to change the male mindset which if it were as it should be, would not hurt a woman – or any other human being – regardless of dress. Nothing is done to prevent men from hurting and harassing women. Men in this society possess the clout and attitude that the NRA does, and nothing appears to dent it.

At a recent incident at the Punjab Secretariat a guard denied women entry unless they were wearing a dupatta. He said women would be allowed to go in so long as they had a dupatta on their person, even if it were slung over one shoulder like a sash

There are a thousand examples to bear out this observation about the attitude. Such as the official calendar published by the Punjab Bar Council which contains the Bar Council’s logo at the top of each page. The page for the 6th October of this calendar bears the following words of wisdom: The society that gives its women too much freedom will definitely regret its mistake one day.

Not only does the statement sound ominously like a threat, but it has nothing to do with the law, or with justice, or with anything to do with the Bar Council. It is grossly misogynistic and brutish which makes it both illegal and unjust. It casts a slur upon women as something that must be kept contained like a disease, and nowhere mentions the fact that those who impede the freedom of women are the ones who must be curtailed instead. Such as those who provide the guns should be the ones to be stopped.

At a recent incident at the Punjab Secretariat a guard denied women entry unless they were wearing a dupatta. He said women would be allowed to go in so long as they had a dupatta on their person, even if it were slung over one shoulder like a sash. He also claimed that the directive was a new one and had been issued by the provincial minister for primary and secondary healthcare Dr Yasmeen Rashid.

Dr Rashid refuted the guard’s claim, and said she had issued no such order. It is to be seen whether those orders were some kind of a practical ‘joke’ by someone whose idea of funny is to drive around the city passing lewd remarks at women. The guard, when passing on the false orders appeared to be courteous enough. Wherever they came from, they are as sharp an illustration of the way people think in this country where making women invisible and keeping them out of sight is supposed to cure the problem, like making a school pretty, colourful and welcoming is supposed to cure gun violence in the US.

Rabia Ahmed

The writer is a freelance columnist. Read more by her at http://rabia-ahmed.blogspot.com/