Our Glimmer Of Hope


Naveen Naqvi feels less optimistic than most.

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A headline in Dawn recently read, ‘Most Pakistanis see Taliban, Al Qaeda as threat: survey.’ This story was doing the rounds on Twitter, and as one young woman tweeted the link, she commented: This is our glimmer of hope!
Is it indeed that?

The rest of the newspaper gave little scope for optimism, starting with the front page of the Metropolitan section. ‘Three granted bail in child marriage case.’ This story broke a few days ago. Eight-year-old Zahida was married to 17-year-old Dilshad because her father, Abdul Rasool, wanted the young man’s sister in exchange. The picture that accompanied it was that of an obviously underprivileged family of five sitting on the floor. The young girl and her siblings are shown huddled around their dupatta-clad mother, who looks at the camera with despair. Zahida herself has her arms crossed around her knees, clutching them to her chest, and her eyes are downcast. At a slight distance is her father, his face glistening with grease, eyes staring out at us with an expression of audacious resentment.

The practice of underage marriage is not uncommon in Pakistan’s rural areas, but this one took place in the metropolis of Karachi – not that it makes it any better or worse.

According to Anees Jillani, advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the courts frequently condone child marriages on the grounds that a female has the capacity to contract marriage on attaining the age of puberty. This institutional oversight certainly doesn’t help counter the widespread, yet exploitative practice of child marriage. Jillani also argues that there is a need to make the offence punishable with harsher penalties. Zahida’s case is a good example of how the system fails young girls – the laxness of the law explains the bail that was granted less than a week after the arrest of the girl’s father, groom and the qazi who conducted the marriage.

That’s just one paper. I say we move on to The Daily Times. The back page recently carried the headline, ‘Christian families in Kasur hide from angry mobs.’ On Tuesday in a village in Kasur, about 50 kilometres from Lahore, at least 110 Christian families – that’s about 700 people – were accused of committing blasphemy. They were forced to leave their homes and run to nearby fields for cover when angry mobs assaulted them. Their homes were attacked with petrol bombs. They were beaten. Meanwhile, it is alleged that local mosques urged the Muslims of the village to unite against the Christian community.

How did 110 families or 700 individuals commit blasphemy? Apparently, it all began with an argument between two young boys – one Muslim and the other Christian. (Isn’t that always the case – if it’s not an understanding, it’s a dispute between two men?) It was something as trivial as the Muslim boy not allowing the Christian to pass him on the road. Except it’s not as small as all that. A Christian asking a Muslim for the right of way – what gall!

It would be unfair of me not to mention that it turns out the police officer in charge of the area is a decent fellow and has apologised to the Christian community.

But that is one incident. As long as draconian colonial-era laws that condone inhumane practices remain, Zahidas will continue to be married off at the whims of their fathers and Christian houses will be burned over the slighted ego of one Muslim boy.

And that brings me back to ‘our glimmer of hope.’

I don’t know. I’m afraid I just don’t see it.

This post was first published on 3rd July 2009 on dawn.com

One Response to “Our Glimmer Of Hope”

  1. 1 Our Glimmer Of Hope | Tea Break

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