Four or five recent events of violence and abuse, and the public reaction to them, merit comment. First, it is amazing how distinctions are being drawn by many between language used inside the parliament and outside. Let me begin with unreservedly condemning Defence minister, Khwaja Asif’s, comment on opposition leader Shireen Mazari’s voice; his rhetorical request to make her voice feminine and the use of the term ‘truck trolley’. Mohammed Hanif’s insightful piece on the subject correctly identifies these remarks as harking to patriarchal expectations of how everything ‘woman’ should conform to a standard set by a male; how men in this society feel —— to dictate terms, behaviour, dress and even tenor of voice to a woman. From anyone else it would have been bad enough, but from a member of parliament and a cabinet minister, everyone expects a higher standard of restraint and control over his anger.
However, the seriousness with which this is being debated and protested in the parliament makes me a little perplexed. When the same parliamentarians indulge in, and see, much worse language and behaviour outside the parliament in public spaces, on national television and social media, how do they expect to have it not creep into the house? Aren’t they the same people, talking about each other outside and inside the house? Indeed, aren’t their supporters and we all a part of the same society? I was dismayed, but not too surprised by the altercation in the house between Ms Mazari and Khwaja Asif. I am more surprised at the indignation, given that the indignant people know very well how low the standards of any kind of discourse have plunged all around us.
The same PTI, that is up in arms right now (rightly), has never bothered to condemn or be indignant about the utterly obscene abuse hurled at their sisters and fellow citizens who oppose them politically. One is witness to such language, abuse and misogyny on social media and television day in and day out. PTI leaders’ language and abuse for their male opponents from atop containers and on television shows is no secret either, hence I do not feel the need to repeat it here. Other parties, too, have been guilty of similar behaviour, though not to the same cesspit extent. But they certainly are guilty of acting surprised when something like this happens on the floor of the house. They should have been condemning and boycotting those who have played an active part in dragging standards of discourse so low that one is afraid to even speak for fear of abuse.
One of the guilty parties is certainly the media. Everyone knows which channels or show hosts love to create situations that might give dividends in the shape of some abuse, salacious slurs, a few slaps, punches or glasses of water and coffee thrown about. Why then do those who claim to be above it all not boycott these channels and shows? Why does every MNA, MPA, advisor, activist, economist etc. still behave like a media whore and grace shows of hosts they know encourage abuse, fights and bad language to obtain ‘ratings’? Why do they act all sanctimonious now?
It is appalling that leading lights of several opposition parties continued to spend all their energies and time, and use up all of the media’s energy and time on the so called TORs for the Panama Leaks commission day in and day out. It seemed as if nothing else was happening in the country; as if everyday there was not a report of a woman being burnt alive for honour, or some other equally horrifying or serious issue that could merit their attention. But the self serving focus on going after the Prime Minister to the exclusion of all other duties was disgusting to say the least. One’s ears oozed with pus at the non-stop months long hyena shrieking press conferences and appearances on TV shows on the Panama TORs. It was only when the fourth girl in four days was murdered that leader of the Senate, Raza Rabbani, took notice and tasked the senate to do something about it – after which everyone made it their ‘cause’. This is the level of apathy towards the plight of the people generally, and to the growing violence towards women.
Is our rulers’ apathy, and the resultant impunity from violence against women, exactly not the reason that Senator Hamdullah (I can’t believe he is a senator) of the JUI thought he could, in the presence of several people in the studio, and on national television, level not only the most explicit, pornographic and filthy abuse at well known rights defender and columnist Marvi Sirmed, but also thought he could beat her up? What he did, and tried to do, in public should demonstrate to everyone the level of apathy towards violence against women in this country; it should demonstrate to everyone what is going on behind closed doors. If this man thought he could, and would, get away with what he was doing, it should tell all something about the state of this society. So fearless is the JUI, and sure of support from the ruling party and the government of the day, that after the day before’s assault on Marvi Sirmed, Hafiz Uzaifa Shakir of JUI-F yesterday released a video saying, “hum Pashtun gali ka jawab goli se dete hein” (we Pashtun respond to abuse with bullets).
It is tragic and heartbreaking that not a single PML-N leader has publicly condemned the JUI senator for reasons of political expediency. It is brave women like Marvi Sirmed who stand to support elected governments; it is people like her who stand to protect the democratic project; but the ‘democrats’ we support and protect forsake us at these crunch times that are true tests of democratic norms and values.