Why these slogans?

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SARDAR IMRAN HUSSAIN BALI
THE discussion onAurat Marchthatledtothe unsavoury event on a talk show has been the belle of the ball on most of the media out- lets.While support for both the panellists has been quite vocal on numerous mediums, regrettably, it demeaned the cause in question. A hotchpotch of reactionary explanations from cultural, religious and social perspectives has resulted in a confused and distracted audience. Everyone seems to be in accord with one thing though, as the Lahore High Court CJ Justice Mamoon observed that there are no two opinions on women’s rights. Yet year after year Pakistan’s global gender gap index ranking paints a horrific picture. To understand this discrepancy, it may be fitting to start from the trigger point itself, the “objectionable slogans”. The contingencies applied by the LHC, and rightly so, on the use of certain objectionable slogans cannot be more relevant than today in the face of the backlash. It visibly depicts that a society which is preservative of its social values, would restrict the inculcation or understanding of an unfamiliar sentiment. Such an unfamiliar sentiment, when forced on the people, would be counterproductive as it leads to a generalised retaliation on the entire cause. So before explaining the semantics of such slogans, it is imperative to understand what results in such slogans in the first place. As per the LHC’s directive, undeviating and morally acceptable slogans are to be carried atthe march. Direct demands such as women’s rightto education and employment, better healthcare, strict action towards harassment and honour killing etc., fall in this category. But there is a problem. Most of such demands have already been legislated – and the governments that played their part must be highly commended for it. Codifications in the Constitution and the penal code and the newly established acts seek to prohibit actions such as inheritance deprivation, forced marriages,maligning ofwomenmodesty, domestic violence and workplace harassment all while ensuring women participation in national life. With such laws already in place, carrying such demands at the march should be redundant. Despite such laws in place, clearly the situation on ground is far from reality. Pakistan’s second last rank globally and the last rank in South Asia in the gender gap index serves as a case in point. This is where the more objectionable slogans come into play. Such indirect slogans serve to reflect deeper, more ideological issues with the underperformance of legislation. Take the slogan “Khana Khud GaramKaro” as an example.The slogan on face value may seem to incite hate against a specific gender, but in fact what it really tries to depict is the inherent institutional and systemic patriarchy. A wife at home is not protected from domestic violence only via a law in place. Through these slogans her husbandis expectedto recognise his privilege at home and empathise with his wife forthe required social changeto exercise.Asimilarmisconceptionlies withthe “Mera JismMeriMarzi” slogan.An attemptto better understand need for such slogans against institutional patriarchy or systemic male chauvinism can be made by understanding another similar but more familiar “ism”: Institutional Racism. Institutional racism encourages patterns of discrimination against a specific race.This discriminationisinstitutionalized as normal throughout an entire culture. So, it is not just one particular person discriminating at an instance, but a whole social stratum which has evolved to act on prejudice and privilege. In such a racist system, no matter how well meaning an individual is, they can’t help but discriminate against other race. A great example of this would be the present day US where the Emancipation Proclamation abolished slavery against the Black Americans long ago but the institutional structures of racism remained. Prejudiced police brutality against Black Americans, White American operated banks using Black neighbourhood zip codes as a criteria for excluding people who apply for loans, first impression of a BlackAmerican as opposedto aWhiteAmerican at ajobinterview are all depictions of howinstitutionalised and systemic isms operate. As a reaction to this inherent racism, when for example a Black employer discriminates against theWhite, they complain about reverse racism. Here they are actually complaining about being denied the privilege and entitlement to be always first hired, rather than being denied the right. Such institutionalized isms can be applied to any structures of oppression. For our purpose, similar to the Emancipation Proclamation, there is much legislation for women rights in Pakistan but it has not been enough to counter the institutionalised male chauvinism and patriarchy that resonates in the society. Complaints against the women’s reaction to such chauvinism (such as a man being made to warm up their own food) is in truth a complaint against denied privilege and not a complaint against denied right. No matter how well meaning and big of a women rights champion a man is, women in Pakistan lack the institutionalized support that protects them when they are discriminated against male members of the society. So, while slogans with direct demands may help the cause in little doses, these are the evasive yet provocative slogans which shake the prevalent ideologies into debate. —The writer is freelance columnist.

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