Unfortunately, it  has become almost a permanent norm of our society that our religious clerics and leaders of religious political parties immediately brand modern or innovative scientific and technological developments as “ghair-sharaee” (Un-Islamic) in the best interest of their parties.  Worse even, these clerics and so-called religious leaders have greatly polarized our society into factions. There are some who are ‘true Muslims’ and other who have been betrayed by the west and are no longer true Muslims. Former dub the latter as “Desi-Liberals”, and the latter have coined stronger terminologies for the former as “radical, extremist, fundamentalists”. Due to this polarization, intellectuals from either category are forced to follow the set argumentation line. Herein lies the problem, which we mostly shy away from.

Recently, Punjab Assembly unanimously passed the Protection of Women Against Violence Bill 2015 and a debate over its legality and constitutionality has broken loose. Religious leaders have termed the bill as “un-Islamic” and a conspiracy of the western powers to topple our stable, functional and above all Islamic-value based family system. 

This is what I should term as “innocence” of our religious leaders that they do not understand the meaning of an Islamic-value based society. In practice, Pakistani society is not an Islamic society and to support my statement I can provide thousands of examples and arguments. Let me put one: can a woman in an Islamic society be beaten, raped, harassed, exploited and slapped oftentimes? If the answer is a big No then I need not clarify that ours is not an Islamic society, anymore. But those who exploit ordinary people in the name of God and religion term Pakistani society as “Islami Muashraa” for their vested political interest.

To be more accurate, in Pakistan religion has been mixed with politics not to establish an Islamic society or state but only for the attainment of vested political interests of our so-called religious leaders.

We need to discuss such political and legal developments in broader social-political perspective along with an intention to draw out some workable solutions from the discussion. It’s at least better than simply branding everything as un-Islamic.

Now let’s come to the point: what does this bill mean?  Is woman in Pakistan is so harassed and exploited that we needed such laws? How this legal development (social legislation) will affect our familial settings? Will it harm or completely destroy the collectivist family system? Who will get what and how? Is this law sufficient to protect woman or do we need something more?

These questions should have been raised before the bill was passed. But I think, unfortunately, it didn’t happen in the premises of Punjab Assembly.

Violence against women is an undeniable reality in our society and we seriously need to protect this less-powerful, yet more-important, segment of our society; but hurriedly passing these laws do not reflect our seriousness in ending the dilemma. We may make our foreign friends happy by showing them the document that we have passed a law to protect women, but in reality it would not work. Let me present you one example: in our society still if a girl elopes with a boy, she is in most cases killed. A few years ago a lady named Rukhsana was killed within the premises of Lahore High court by her relatives. It still regularly happens in rural areas of Pakistan.

But these types of social norms, cultural values and individuals’ behavior cannot be changed through laws. For a comprehensive social and behavioral change, which is the permanent solution to these dilemmas, we need to think beyond the law.

If I am to express my own views regarding this Bill I would simply say it’s like we are taking about saving a sheep from a wolf (the lexical texture and tonal audacity compels me to think so). But can we make someone fall in love with somebody by threatening him/her? Families and particularly spouses are emotionally attached with one another and how will an emotionless, yet legally protected, family work out smoothly for a longer period of time?

The statement of objects and reasons of the bill is very interesting, it states:

“The instances of violence against women have been on the increase primarily because the existing legal system does not effectively address the menace and violence by some is perpetrated with impunity. It is, therefore, necessary to institute an effective protection system for the rescue, protection, shelter and rehabilitation of the women victim of violence including domestic violence”.

Sadly, it’s a sheer demonstration of ignorance and lack of understanding of law. Law is only a source to achieve some social goals and it supplements the social process; but when we start setting social goals through law it becomes problematic.

Our government(s) needs to understand that for a modern stable and functional society we need to educate the people so that they may learn progressive ideals and also acknowledge each other’s (husband and wife) roles and contributions. Still, the content and quality of education will be a matter of great concern. Without modifying cultural norms and changing ordinary people behavior systematically, we must bear in our mind that we will have to see many Rukhsanas in the coming years.