Khoon key dhabbey dhulein gey
kitni barsatoon key baad…’
-Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Another dark mark on our Muslim legacy; another welt on a woman’s fragile innocence; another sin on our collective conscience. As the country reels with the shameful impact of the flogging incident in Swat, the international media shrieks yet again of barbaric Islamic customs and Pakistan as a safe haven for Talibans and their occupation programme.
Already our dossier on women’s abuse is thick and nauseating. It was in 1984 that the educated classes first got wind of the prevalence of such abuse when the infamous Nawabpur incident hit the media focus. A group of seven women had been paraded naked by influential men and a union council member as an act of revenge.
The incident was discussed in hushed tones and never in the presence of children. But growing up in a politically aware environment, listening to aggressive Zia-Bhutto conflict arguments amongst elders had created in most children of that age an awareness of the nasty wind of change. And that wind only became nastier when pictures of public flogging and news of demonising Islam made it to the conscience stirring magazines and papers headed by a breed of journalists for whom justice and spreading the truth was the only professional Gospel.
Since that was the cruel era of the newly formulated Hudood Ordinance, it was easy to pin it all on the evils of Zia’s dictatorship. Little did the literati know that such crimes would become the hallmark of identity for our nation and religion.
In recent times these incidents have assumed a proportion that can’t even be justifiably chronicled.
To name a few; in 2006 there was the widow in Khanewal whom a group of men stripped naked as a punishment for her son’s alleged misbehaviour with their female cousin; in 2004 half a dozen men kidnapped two sisters from a field somewhere close to Multan, disrobed and paraded them in the village at gunpoint, threatening other women with death if they came to their aid. In 2002, a woman was paraded half-naked, after having her head and eyebrows shaved and her face blackened, in southern Punjab after a jirga refused to listen to her reasons for leaving her husband. And on and on it goes.
Since the Hudood Ordinance became the ignoble thorn in our justice system to use as a lever to gain political control, women, like religion have become a tool for every nefarious design. The insult of a woman is the biggest shame for every society (all are innately patriarchal) hence, using her as the tool will always have the most impact.
And such was the case in the Swat incident. So many targets were hit by just defaming a lone, 17-year-old, helpless girl – the Taliban’s reiteration of their agenda; the hidden conspirators’ motive of keeping the Taliban monster alive; the defamation of Islam; Pakistan’s role in harbouring militancy and of course certain parties’ claims that theirs is the only power to keep Taliban insurgency from entering our big cities. While all, one or may be none of these motives might be right, it was one poor woman who ended up serving multiple political agendas.
On a visit some time ago to the women’s jail in Karachi, the stories of the inmates had one stark resemblance – they were all ‘allegedly’ framed by men for a personal purpose. Out of 241 inmates 69 were under trial prisoners booked for zina.
When Musharraf’s regime was harping on enlightened moderation and women’s right at international forums, in most North Western areas of Pakistan women were being prevented from filing their election papers and were barred from casting their vote in the local bodies’ election of 2001. In one constituency in Lower Dir, out of 204 seats reserved for women in the 34 union councils, 196 remained vacant, as only eight women managed to file their nomination papers.
It was declared by the rulers of the land that all religious rites of women candidates and voters including marriage ceremonies and funeral rites would be boycotted. Going a step further to ensure submission, these leaders declared that this ban would also extend to the families of all such women who violated the agreement against the participation of women in the elections.
It isn’t too hard to understand why women as political tools are a good ‘marketing strategy’. Look how much viewing time TV channels got out of this hideous incident? The amazing phenomenon of being hijacked by electronic media is assuming gargantuan proportions and it is baffling how an audience of nearly 170 million becomes enslaved by the news and views pouring in live 24/7.
And while theatrics are now the main occupation in the country, TV anchors continue to outdo each other to get a piece of the glory (or shame). In the case of the Swat incident, obscure experts appeared magically once again to add to the nausea created by the repeated telecast of the flogging video. With each channel customarily outdoing the other in coming up with a new angle to the story, all kinds of balderdash bordering on blasphemy went on streaming for countless hours. One Mullah actually came on to demonstrate the correct ‘Islamic way’ of flogging! And we wonder why the West thinks us heathens worth crushing out with military force!
We are at history’s most shameful crossroads. The politics of shaming women and using religion is the new world order and getting out of this abyss appears impossible. The pit created by Taliban will go on becoming deeper if we simply defend Islam every time they come up with a new way of abusing it. The Taliban have nothing to do with Islam just like every conflict around the globe where religion is merely a tool and women, collateral damage.