Sunday, September 2, 2007

National Paranoia


Maryam Sakeenah

The Women Protection Act has been hailed with great fanfare, as perhaps this government's greatest triumph to date. Quite possibly, they are right. But to think that this government's greatest achievement is in fact something so flimsy speaks volumes.

Certainly, the Women Protection Act has not been represented flimsily. We had quite enough dramatics, and the government used all means available, especially the media, for its propaganda_ showing the WPA to be a Godsend, an eternal panacea and salvation for women, heroically won over by a team of chivalrous knights against evil-minded misogynistic demons. Watch PTV_ this certainly is the great moral of the story we are all left with at the end.

One needs to assess, however, the true scale of achievement here, if any. What does the WPA promise? What is the deliverance it offers? We are told that the sole greatest factor which makes the WPA a panacea is that it has tamed down and rendered as ineffectual the obscurantist, bigoted, barbaric and inhuman Hudood Ordinance_ that Draconian Law that sent to jail a physically abused woman who appealed for justice, simply because she could not produce four witnesses. It burdened the victimised woman with proof, and in the absence of it, punished her instead. The 'cruelties' of the Hudood Laws, once exposed to the public, left us all shocked. How could this law ever even exist in a civilized society for so long when it was so grossly unfair? What religion allows such blatant injustice to exist? It was only the foreign funded NGOs who sympathised with the women and raised the voice against the evil document.

Reality Check. Charles Kennedy, an American research scholar surveyed and studied the implementation of the Hudood Ordinance and published a report in which he explodes the myth of victims of rape being punished due to lack of evidence. He writes, "Women fearing conviction under section 10 (2) [for adultery] frequently bring charges of rape under 10 (3) (charge of rape) against their alleged partners. The Federal Shariah Court, finding no circumstantial evidence to support the latter charge, convict the male accused under section 10 (2) and the woman is exonerated of any wrong doing." (Charles Kennedy, The Status of Women in Pakistan under Islamization of Laws).

Justice M. Taqi Usmani who has served as Judicial Head for such cases for over a decade writes, "The fact of the matter is that the text of the Hudood Ordinance does not contain in it anything that even comes close to punishing a raped woman for her failure to produce 4 witnesses. However, it is possible that before a case reached the courts, during the investigative procedure, the police committed such an atrocity against a rape victim, going against the laws. That is, arresting a woman for 'adultery by consent' if she brought a complaint of having been raped. However, this has nothing to do with the clauses of the Hudood Ordinance. The police in our society often indulge in such illegal activities. That does not necessitate a change in the law itself. For instance, possessing or smuggling heroin is a crime, but the police often troubles guiltless people, charging them falsely for drug trafficking. This abuse of the law does not mean that the law against heroin smuggling should be abolished. In some very rare cases if the police has been guilty of such manhandling, the Federal Shariah Court has, by issuing its rulings, exposed the matter and brought the woman to justice. If it is apprehended that the Hudood Laws do not clearly distinguish between rape and adultery and punish the raped woman instead, it is perfectly advisable to make a law according to which a complainant of rape cannot be arrested under any clause of the Hudood Laws until the verdict is announced. Any investigation officer who arrests such a victim must be punished by the law."

Orya Maqbool Jan in his article on the issue imagines a situation which may well arise after the WPA is allowed to take its toll. It makes him shudder to think of a town of middle class respectables, where a loose charactered woman settles. She receives lewd callers night and day, audaciously holds dance and drink parties and hordes of lascivious men routinely walk the streets, sending the daughters of the neighbours behind locked doors, making everyone around disgusted and insecure... In such a situation, the residents would have absolutely no way out but to bear it all, or move out, giving the prostitute a free hand to spread the filth unabashedly. Why? Because such cases can no more be reported to the police. One has to directly appeal to the sessions judge, who may or may not call a hearing (according to section 203)_ especially, if he is a believer in 'enlightened moderation'. In fact, it puts the reporter of the crime at risk and in an extremely insecure position, burdened with providing complete, detailed proof_ failing to present which, he must be punished and live in disgrace forever. On the other hand, if such a woman, on the flimsiest pretext, for some ulterior motive or for vengeance on a man who stops her from spreading corruption, reports the man's 'misconduct' with her to the police according to clause 496 A, the police can arrest the man without warrant. He is guilty of an unbailable offence, and will remain in jail for as long as the case is in process. The irony is that no laws are made or ever will be made for those numberless women who die in pain before they can even reach medical aid, who suffer ill health working at factories or kilns from sun up to sun down, who quietly live and die serving their families without getting anything in return, who struggle to get on in extreme, crippling poverty and do not even have the comfort of hope, wishes, dreams or desires. Our laws have no salvation fro them, but only protection for the woman who sells off her sexuality and puts to disgrace her entire sex.

Certainly, the pressing need in order to truly and effectively improve the lot of women and rectify the many social problems we find our society steeped in is to reform the institutions that implement and carry out the letter of the law. Any dispassionate, objective mind can see that the problem is rooted in the police system, the investigative agencies, the inaccessibility of justice and the procedure of the dispensation of justice. The woman suffers at the hand of a corrupt, inept, inefficient and insensitive system. Reforming state institutions, especially the police system is a crying need and would have been an enduring, meaningful achievement. However, the overhaul and rectification of institutions is a formidable, challenging task worthy only of a committed government clear in its welfare-oriented vision. Instead, creating a sensational melodrama between the 'forces of obscurantism' and the 'enlightened' clique and then heroically winning over the servile sycophants in the parliament to produce the euphemistically titled 'Women Protection Act' is easier. It becomes easier and heroic still with a jazzy advertisement campaign all over the media. The nation celebrates the President's loud sympathy for the women of this country. Who cares what really happens on the micro-level in those squatters and jailrooms?

The WPA, at best, is a flimsy achievement. It is misdirected, sidestepping the core issues and making a big deal out of what really is no big deal. I repeat. Our efforts are misdirected, sidestepping the core issues and making a big deal out of what really is no big deal. WPA aside, this is now perhaps the state psyche. What to say of a government which busies itself with launching air strikes on its own territory under foreign dictates, is at war against its own people, and has as its much touted crowning achievements the holding of mixed marathons for 3 successive years, the licences of tehterlessness issued out to zillions of new T.V channels every month and the passing of laws which have their origins in false propaganda and the compulsions of presenting a secular, 'soft' image abroad? What to speak of a nation struggling in the throes of poverty, deprivation, illiteracy, unemployment, abuse of human rights whose rulers celebrate triumphs in the freedom given to the entertainment media and in the introduction of music classes at universities in the teeth of opposition and protest from staff and students? What to speak of a nation in need of developing on its ideological premise laid out by its forefathers whose leaders spend their resources holding high profile International Sufism Conferences, and debate whether schoolchildren should be taught to associate themselves with Muhammad bin Qasim and Mahmud Ghaznavi or with Ashoka and Chandragupta Maurya? What to speak of a nation whose intellectual elite expend their energies thinking of ways to hedge in the teaching of Islamiyat in its narrowest possible scope?

Interestingly, apart from the introduction of Music classes all over universities, recently the authorities were at pains to make happen a mixed dance party at the UET campus, and on the particular night, congratulated themselves loudly at their triumph, speaking against the Muslim veil and expressing delight at having ripped it apart at the successful holding of a ‘historic’ mixed event on the soils of the institution. At the recently done up mausoleum of the Quaid, the government has hired a Sikh and a woman security guard as an apt metaphor of the Quaid’s ‘enlightenedly moderate’ vision, so that anyone coming to pay homage to the leader would be educated on the Quaid’s secular vision. On this backdrop, the ignored, trivialized statements of the Quaid that speak otherwise, become a haunting, tragic encore played to a deaf audience: “How can there be unity of government between areas so widely separated? I can answer that in one word. It is ‘faith’: Faith in Almighty God, in ourselves… the great majority of us are Muslims. We follow the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). We are members of the brotherhood of Islam in which all are equal in right, dignity and self-respect…It is my belief that our salvation lies in following the golden rules of conduct set for us by our great law-giver, Prophet Mohammad (SAW) of Islam… Pakistan not only means freedom and Independence, but also the Islamic Ideology which has to be preserved, which has come to us as a precious gift and a treasure.”

Certainly, those at the helm are pitiably in the grip of a paranoia. It is an anomalous obsession with taking on another identity more 'acceptable' to the powers that be in the world, who can dole out to us our crumbs. It emerges out of a colonized mindset whose identity is smothered by borrowed ideas and a servile awe of the colonizer and his cult. We are a confused nation, utterly clueless about who we are, why we are and what really is so great about being ourselves. Perhaps that is why the Head of State of this country declares to the nation that the vilest and most wicked of our enemies and the scourge of our nation is not poverty, illiteracy, disease, corruption or unemployment, but those obscurantists who foolishly dream of a State where these will no longer come to haunt us. In his address to the alumni of Islamic International University the president ridiculed those who dream of 'creating an Islamic State and talk about going back to the system of the Khilafah of 1400 years ago.' Such is the extent of their backwardness, according to the President. It is relevant to quote here the ideology-setting statement of the Quaid, whom Musharraf proudly claims to have donned the mantle of: “… I am sure that our constitution is going to be of a democratic type, embodying the essential principles of Islam. Today, these are as applicable in modern times as they were 1300 years ago.” The wide rift in ideas between the President and his predecessor gapes uglily, threatening to swallow us up in its directionlessness and blackness.

If only this ruling elite had been taught at school of the edifying glory of the Khilafah State; of how medieval Muslims pulled the world out of its Dark Ages and ushered in an era of positive development in virtually every sphere of life; that it was Al Andalus that left to Europe a rich intellectual legacy that created their Newtons and Keplers who built on the works of Khwarizmi, Ibn Rushd, Ibn Sina and Al Haytham; if only they had known that Khalifa Umar (R.A) who added 44 new territories to the Islamic State, established the economic system so efficiently that there remained not a single person in need of financial aid; that the administrative system he pioneered is an inspiration for statesmen in the 21st century, leading a British historian to say, 'If Islam could produce only one other person of Umar's stature, the whole world would come under Islam;' if only they had known that the Christian patriarch of Jerusalem, on witnessing the advent of the simple yet awe-inspiring Khalifa of the Muslims had remarked, 'Verily, Islam has excelled all religions'; that when Christain rule replaced Muslim rule in a Christian town, the priests came out of their Churches weeping and mourning, swearing on the cross that if they had the power, they would prefer living under Muslims than their own people; if only they had known how oppressed peoples from all over the globe wrote letters to the Khilafah State, appealing to them to liberate them and bring them under their rule... and that our glorious history is so replete with reasons for justified self-pride. If only we who call ourselves ‘modernists’ and take pride in being Harvard returnees or in speaking English with a flair could to the slightest degree, measure up to the great standard of egalitarianism set for us by those medieval Bedouins who lived in Arabia 1400 years ago!

If only we knew that when you stop seeing the worth of the amazing treasury of your past_ the history of the great Rightly Guided Khilafah_ you get plunged into such pitiable ignorance as our great leaders demonstrate. You get plunged into an ignoble subservience that becomes national character, crippling us, enslaving us perpetually and eroding the very roots of our existence.

In this crippled, stunted condition, there can be no positive development unless a direction close to our identity and roots is ascertained. Yet we only fight battles to wrench ourselves away from this direction, towards an alien idea, a goal not our own_ borrowed, imposed, extraneous. We are directionless, identityless, ignorant of our own selves. On this road, there is no enduring progress ever in sight as it runs counter to the essence of our being. On this road, there is only one end in sight_ a perpetual war against our own identity which has no winners and ends up only in the end of our existence. On this road_ this direction mapped out by an alien hand_ failure is destined. It is only a matter of time.