The politico-religious parties and religious entities who are usually daggers drawn due to the different and skewed interpretations given by them to the Quranic injunctions and Islamic teachings, invariably unite to thwart our country’s move towards enlightenment and resist any challenge to their clout of blackmailing society and government. The promulgation of Protection of Women Against Violence Bill, 2016 by Punjab government and hanging of Mumtaz Qadri provided them the opportunity to sit at the same table. Their traditional collusion was amply demonstrated at Mansoor on 15th March, when in the backdrop of promulgation of Protection of Women Against Violence Bill, 2016, the leaders of religious parties, met to deliberate on the issue. The meeting reportedly decided to resist, as they put it ‘anti-Islam’ policies of the government and ‘systematic secularization of the society’, and urged the government to withdraw or amend the Bill or face country-wide agitation. They also termed the hanging of Qadri as injustice.

No doubt the religious parties have never been able to win the trust and franchise of the people in regards to running the affairs of the country, but it is an irrefutable reality that they have their nuisance value. They have almost made the society a hostage to their violent shenanigans; a position that they have attained through patronage of the forces that be and the vulnerability of the successive governments to political expediencies. Sectarian violence and terrorism are the ranting manifestations of the shenanigans of the religious right. It has been successful in instilling an element of fear in the hearts of the silent majority, notwithstanding the fact that they abhor the possibility of the Mullah ever being able to rule the roost. It is probably the right time to resist the machinations of the religious right and to end their blackmail.

It is an undeniable reality that violence against women exists at all levels of the society and has diverse forms. It takes the from abusive language, coercion in marriage, wife-beating, torture, marital rape, custodial violence, honour killing, burning, acid throwing, incest, rape, gang rape, public stripping, trafficking, forced prostitution and sexual harassment. Many forms that exist are so entrenched in our culture that they are ignored, condoned or even found acceptable by large sections of our society. For example the social attitude that the wife is a property of the husband; that whatever happens in the family is private family matter and that behavior meted out to the wife was necessary as corrective measure. It all leads to condoning acts of violence and abuse towards women in their roles as wives. The foregoing practices are immoral, human dignity as well as illegal. Quran in Sura- Alnisa commands men to treat their wives fairly. Treating fairly means treating them as equal partners and refraining from violence against them.. Not only Islam but also all the religions of the world prohibit violence against women. The constitutions of all the countries of the world including our own give protection to the rights of women and have legal framework in place to check the detestable practice of domestic violence.

It was in the backdrop of this detestable phenomenon that this legal framework has been adopted to check violence against women. The Act aims at protecting women against violence of any kind including, bodily harm, sexual violence, psychological abuse, economic abuse, stalking or a cybercrime. Actually the legislation is designed to purge the society of the inhuman practices and attitudes that have an overall debilitating impact on the development of the society. There may be some lacunae in the implementation mechanism provided in the Act but the intent and purpose behind it are beyond reproach.

When Maulana Fazl ur Rehman, who is a moving force behind the stance taken by the religious parties, talks about protecting the rights of men, he is actually trying to endorse the continuation of the archaic and abhorrent social practices that deny women their human and religious rights. He is advocating pre-dominance of male chauvinism which he thinks as a right of the men. Little does he realize that Pakistan is member of the comity of nations and it also has international obligations to address these issues properly and effectively.

Violence against women is a cultural and societal aberration. We need to come out of the cultural and social hang-over to fashion our society on modern and liberal lines which has respect for human rights.

Islam is a very progressive religion and believes in human dignity. Moving on the path of liberalism in consonance with the spirit and teachings of Islam is the requirement of our times and in no way can be construed as systematic secularization of the society as wrongly perceived by the clergy. They actually equate secularism to atheism which is the most preposterous interpretation of the concept. In any case Pakistan is not taking the course of secularism. It has Islam as a state religion. Women are an important segment of the society and deserve to be treated at par with men. The Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was right on money when talking to the outgoing ambassador of Argentina he asserted “the Government’s vision of transforming Pakistan into a modern and developed state, as envisioned by the founding father of the nation cannot be realised if women, making half of the country’s population, were ignored. Their role in the progress of the country is as crucial as that of men”

Now coming to the hanging of Qadri, it is indeed wrong on the part of the religious parties to call it an injustice. There is no doubt about the fact that for every Muslim an act of blasphemy is punishable with death. But that punishment can only be given by the state through a legal process giving the accused a fair chance to prove his innocence or otherwise. Killing somebody by an individual as a punishment for blasphemy is against Islamic teachings and system of justice. It is most unfortunate that our religious parties are trying to mislead the people on the issue.

Nevertheless it is encouraging to note that the PML-N government has shown the spunk to defy the religious right and rightly refused to succumb to their pressure in regards to Qadri. He was convicted by the courts in accordance with the law of the land and had to be executed. The state cannot afford to be blackmailed for political expediencies. The way forward is in establishing the writ of the state.

Recognition of the role of women in the society and providing protection to them against domestic violence are progressive moves and so is the crusade against the terrorists in the form of Operation Zarb-e-Azb and National Action Plan. That is the right course to address the societal fault lines and meeting the challenges confronting the country. The silent majority needs to stand up and be counted as well.