An Urdu proverb, ‘baarish ke baad keeray nikal aye’ - meaning creepy crawlies came out from under their hiding places after a pleasant spell of rain - seems an utterly apt one to describe recent developments with regard to women’s rights legislation in Pakistan.
However, before commenting on that, as an aside, it appears as if the Prime Minister (PM) of Pakistan and his leaguers have lately taken to the sport of baiting the Unreasonables, much to the reasonables’ mirth and delight. And it appears now to be a strategy to steadily and symbolically address issues of extremism.
Every few weeks the PM Sharif makes a statement or takes an action (the rain part) that sends the mullahs into a frenzy (the creepy crawlies part), and the normal people into breathing sighs of relief and hope.
A few months ago he spoke of a ‘liberal and educated’ Pakistan to a conference of foreign investors. Amidst the din of the mullahs, who thought the PM was offering obscenity and immorality to the investors as an incentive, he decided to attend a Diwali function (a Hindu celebration) and asked the congregated Hindu community to invite him to Holi next and include him in the colour squirting fun.
Barely had the Unreasonables recovered their breath from the volley of abuses aimed at the PM (or the showers of praise from the Normals), did he invite Oscar winning filmmaker Shirmeen Chinnoy to the PM house on the occasion of her second film being nominated for an Oscar, this one a documentary on honour killings in Pakistan – a phenomenon that has steadily increased in the country due the Qisas and Diyat laws. Indeed, later he hosted the premier of the film at the Prime Minister House and committed to amending legislation – the same Qisas and Diyat laws - to help eliminate the impunity with which this crime is carried out, and ‘forgiven’ in this country.
Just a couple of days before inviting Shirmeen Obaid to the PM House, Sharif owned and felicitated Dr. Nergis Mavalvala for her role in the discovery of gravitational waves, calling her an inspiration for all Pakistanis. Given she is all the wrong things as far as the Unreasonables can ‘think’ - a woman, a non Muslim, an educated and Pakistani woman, a Pakistani woman living and working independently in the US, a gay, a Pakistani gay woman who is open about her sexual orientation – and the PM spoke of his pride in her and held her up as a role model and an inspiration.
Every time he did any such thing, the mullahs would hold forth offering us a view of the gutter their minds are. However, it is the passage of the Punjab Women’s Protection from Violence Bill that has offered front row seats into said gutter.
Sufficing it to mention that the law which has been passed is a landmark one, has been praised as very comprehensive, and unique for its provisioning of the mechanisms of implementation, making it an unusually strong law by Pakistani standards, we will move straight ahead to peer into the aforementioned gutter.
Leaders of both the Islamic political parties that are in parliament criticized the law, Maulana Fazl of the JUI making mocking it by suggesting that instead of so many clauses and a lengthy law, the woman should be called a husband, and the man wife. So telling is this contemptuous quip: it harks to the heart of the desired imbalance in power between genders and between husband and wife in the mullah mind; the fact that the law is empowering women, rather disempowering men from abuse and violence against women with impunity, makes the man a wife in the maulana’s mind; the fact that the woman will now have agency in the shape of VAW centers that will bring shelter, protection, safety, legal and medical help under one roof in every district of Punjab, makes her the ‘husband’ in the maulana’s eyes. By definition then, the wife should be weak and powerless against harassment, cruelty and violence, and the husband all powerful; the fact that the state is coming to the aid of the downtrodden, makes it a wuss in the maulana’s eyes.
If the stench is not strong enough yet, let’s examine Mufti Naeem’s pearls. He is the chief cleric of one of the largest seminaries of the country based in Karachi, and a popular guest on TV shows vying for cheap ratings. His reaction to the passage of the bill was such pure sewage, it breaks my heart not to be able to quote him entirely and verbatim. The things he said, though, are the stuff of dreams: so perfectly endoscopic for looking into the excrement that is the mullah mindset.
This scholar of Islam began his tirade against the protection of women from violence with an attack on the two Sharif brothers who are Prime Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab. One of the advisors of the chief minister was the main architect behind this well throught through bill. Terming the bill’s passage a tragedy (no, I am not kidding), the gent went on to accuse the Sharif brothers of putting the country on a path of backwardness (here I tried to figure out whether the Sharifs were taking us back to the 10th century or the 11th). Then he accused the president of the country as well as the Sharif brothers of wanting to make alcohol and other forbidden things legal (where that came from is anyone’s guess) – though what he accused the PM of is actually a Hadith, an attribution to the prophet of Islam, where the prophet is said to have allowed partaking of haram things in life threatening situations.
As the rant progressed from ad hominem attacks on the PM and CM and the ruling party and the parliamentarians who enacted the law, his homily became took misogyny, lying, misrepresentation and leaps of logic to a whole new level: pronouncing the law a dangerous conspiracy against Islam and Pakistani culture (to his mind the central tenets of Islam and Pakistani culture seem to revolve around unfettered beating, raping, torturing, economically or psychologically harming women); misquoting the law and warning it will cause divorce rates to skyrocket – citing much higher divorce rates in the US which are due to ‘all the power being in women’s hands’. When the gent did research into the causality of divorce rates in the U.S. or how he arrived at conclusion of where power lay between the genders in the U.S. remains unclear.
These statements not only offer a glimpse into the patriarchal-to-the-extent-of-misogynistic mindset of the mullah, but also his ability and habit of rattling off complete nonsense as fact to support his stance. In similar vein he attacked the Punjab wide VAW helpline and all purpose one stop shop shelters for survivors of violence as the most dastardly scheme of the Sharif brothers to turn the women of Pakistan into immoral, obscene prostitutes who would leave their homes and go live in sin - all to please the West to whom the PM has already promised a ‘liberal Pakistan’ (reference investment conference mentioned earlier).
On and on flowed the untreated waste, at some point folding in Shirmeen Chinnoy in its blitz of obscene and abusive accusations, then reminding all and sundry that ‘scholars’ like him will never allow the law to be implemented and so on and so forth.
Curiously, the Jamat-e-Islami clerics while criticizing the bill exhorted the government for not having consulted the Council of Islamic Ideology (which I have written about in the past as the Council of Insanity and Idiocy – a body of sex crazed octogenarian men) and ‘scholars of Islam’ (read sex and power crazed mullas).
These outbursts were the best endoscope into the excrement that is the mullah mind, and the mindset that Pakistan’s people and elected representatives are now giving a hard push back to. And the pain is visible, and the stink noticeable.