LAHORE - At a time when religious parties are mounting pressure and bracing for a protest movement, the Punjab government has assured ulema of addressing their concerns and reservations on the Women Protection Bill.

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan, on behalf of Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, has invited suggestions and proposals from ulema to purge the law of the alleged un-Islamic provisions. The ulema opposing and supporting the bill have been asked to present their suggestions relating to the parts which they believe are repugnant to the holy Quran and Sunnah.

The proposals presented by the ulema will be furnished to a committee for determining whether the law actually needs amendment. If so, the matter will be placed before the Punjab Assembly, Rana Sanaullah Khan told media persons here yesterday. The law minister said the bill would not be withdrawn and he was sure that it did not contain anything against the Islamic injunctions. However, he said, it is a man-made law which always has room for improvement. He said they could not even think of going against the dictates of the Quran and Sunnah and pass such a law. He said the chief minister, without making it a matter of ego or prestige, wants it to be sorted with the suggestions of all.

The law minister made it clear that the Women Protection Bill passed by the Punjab Assembly in last week of February, has not yet become operational. As such the reports being published are false and baseless. “The law would start taking effect from Multan district in June next, following which its area of implementation will be enhanced to another six districts and the act will be operational across the Punjab within a year,” he revealed. He said the law would take effect under a fully-fledged system under which women protection centres and shelter houses would be set up, beginning from Multan, adding women protection officers would also be appointed.

Rana Sanaullah said the chief minister wanted a peaceful and negotiated resolution of any irritant if it is in the law for which he would himself contact ulema to listen to their concerns.

When asked about the government response if ulema reject the invitation and go ahead with protest, Rana Sana said even then they will keep their door open and avoid using force against protest as long as it is peaceful otherwise the law will take its course.

The law minister said it is true that women in the province are maltreated and the law aims at protecting them without any mala fide intent on the part of the government. “We have to end this social ill,” he added.

To a question on punishment of keeping a man beyond the reach of a victim woman, the minister said a decision in this respect would be taken purely by courts and not arbitrarily by the executive side.

The law minister ruled out the possibility that religious parties opposing the bill would be able to launch as massive movement as it was seen in 1977.