Power and fear


Picture courtesy Abro Khuda Bux

Last night I went to an unusual event in Karachi. Some of the wealthiest people of Pakistan sat next to the poorest, and when I say that, I mean it literally. Leaders of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party were invited to speak at the same stage as those of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Labour Party to name just a few at the Pakistan Medical Association House where a couple of hundred sat in attendance. Till a day before, the event organisers, Citizens for Democracy were desperately searching for a venue as at the last minute, citing threats from clerics, the Arts Council withdrew the offer to host a remembrance of the assassinated Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer. I should point out that the Karachi Press Club also refused to allow the event at their premises. Knowing of these threats, there were not forty-thousand, but there were enough to fill the large hall and then some. It was an eclectic mix of human rights activists, independent journalists, politicians, doctors and trade unionists with one thing in common — the awareness that there needs to be a change, and their presence proved that while it may be improbable, it is not entirely impossible. Continue reading ‘Power and fear’

Photo published in the Express Tribune site courtesy Reuters

Ten years ago Pakistan was a different place. The country had many problems, and has had since its very inception, but it was not somewhere a man would fire forty bullets into an unarmed man’s back and be lauded as a hero. In the Pakistan of today there are rows of security checkpoints at every major street of the federal capital, and yet we feel unsafe, constantly asking for more police officers, who it seems will shoot us in our backs. Women have all but disappeared from the streets, and those that are visible are shrouded in black with only a pair of eyes to be seen. Continue reading ‘We buried a man not his courage’

Violence against religious minorities protest - The Nation

On November 25, 2010, Pakistan People’s Party MNA Sherry Rehman, submitted a bill to the National Assembly seeking amendments to the Blasphemy laws. Since then, the Islamist parties of Pakistan have been in a tizzy. Aside from the announcement of two major rallies – one on December 31 and the other on January 8 – we see that the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) or the ‘top Islamic body’ of Pakistan as it is known has a response to Rehman’s bill.

I admit that I am wary of the Council. My skepticism stems from their reaction to what could have been a great achievement, the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill. Many claim that the legislature has not been implemented primarily due to the obstacles created by the CII. The Council labeled the bill as ‘discriminatory,’ argued that it would allow police to violate the ‘sanctity of the home,’ and also lead to higher divorce rates.  What it would have done is broadened the definition of abuse, and created protection committees providing legal care and medical facilities to victims of abuse. These are just a couple of the positive changes the bill would have brought.

Interestingly, in October 2009 when the bill was moved in Senate, it was a senior member of Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F), who had raised the most vociferous objection to the Domestic Violence Bill. In November 2009, in a move noted by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan as ‘alarming,’ that same senior member of the JUI-F, Maulana Mohammed Khan Sheerani was given the valued and influential position of the chairman of the CII.

I bring up all that not to highlight the Domestic Violence Bill, which lies dormant and forgotten, as does most legislation that aims to help minorities. It is to return to the matter of the Blasphemy laws, and point out that while the CII’s watered down changes can be viewed as a counter-proposal, they can also be seen as a major success for Rehman. For it seems that those interested in maintaining the controversial laws sense a momentum for change that they cannot stop. To ensure a large turnout at the two rallies that I mentioned in the opening paragraph, the names of all their major players are being pushed. This includes all the leaders of the ‘outlawed’ parties, organisations that remain the same while thriving under new names. Be it the Jamaat ud Dawa, the Sipah Sahabah or whatever they are now called, Hafiz Saeed and his likes under one banner are ominously gathering in a show of strength. (The problems in allowing Hafiz Saeed to participate in a rally deserves a column of its own.) They could also find in this an opportunity to recover from the damage caused by the Wikileaks cable that revealed Maulana Fazlur Rehman to have kowtowed to former US Ambassador Anne Patterson for power in government.

It may be true that most opponents of the Blasphemy laws, and I include myself in this, believe that the law should be repealed, scratched altogether. However, an amendment or specifically, Sherry Rehman’s proposed amendments can be a good start. At the very least it brings some change, some initiative where there has been none for decades. As activist Beena Sarwar said to me, “Politics is about compromise, dialogue and negotiation too.”

Rehman has also stated that she hopes this will be only the beginning. In her moving piece titled ‘Stand up against the blasphemy laws’ as published in the Express Tribune, she wrote:

“This is the time to push for repeal of the blasphemy law in the legislature. If that does not work, just like the Hudood repeal bills did not when we moved them, we need to build positions and craft laws that amend these laws so they become toothless…”

I say let us be roused by Rehman’s appeal to stand together to make things better in whatever way we each can. This could be that bit of hope after which we are constantly clamouring.

For those who have not already done so, and are interested in studying the Amendments to the Blasphemy Laws Act 2010, it has been published with Sherry Rehman’s consent on Marvi Sirmed’s blog. To compare with the Council of Islamic Ideology’s changes, you can refer to this Express Tribune article.

Picture courtesy Reuters

In 2009, about 3 Pakistani children were sexually abused every day. A total of 2,012 reported cases of child sexual abuse were recorded from all over Pakistan. To lend perspective to that figure revealed this year by the non government organisation Sahil, let me add some numbers. Child abuse is a global phenomenon. As the Sahil report points out, the Human Rights Watch World Report 2008 says that 150 million girls and 73 million boys around the world have experienced rape or other sexual violence. Most of it was perpetrated by members of their own family. The statistic does not necessarily mean there were more girls abused although it is probable; it could indicate that many cases of abuse against boys go unreported, ironically, also for reasons of pride and honour. Continue reading ‘Heal someone’s world’

TBTT Digital Postcard

Today I learnt a new statistic. 95 percent of aggressive behaviour, harassment, abusive language and degrading images online spaces are aimed at women. This is a global phenomenon but one that can be and is overlooked. After all, when we think of violence, it is physical assault that comes to mind. What takes place in the worldwide web does not immediately seem as destructive as a blow on the head. Think again. Continue reading ‘Rising out of the Web’