Will we stand or flinch?

Zafar Aziz Chaudhry

THE latest development regarding anti-violence laws against women is that the religious and orthodox sections of society have made a common cause against it by threatening agitation and violence. The government seems to flinch under their pressure and might give in to their demands. They are right in thinking that their age-old “khandani Nizam” is likely to receive a serious blow through this new law because this ‘Nizam” is based on male hegemony where females are treated as no better than chattel, as had been the practice in the primitive culture before the advent of Islam.
Even before a movement for gender equality had taken roots in the world, our visionary leaders became apprehensive of this malaise. Our Father of the Nation was led to remark, “No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you. We are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the houses as prisoners”. Mahatma Gandhi another great voice added his weight to the same thought in more severe words, “Of all the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of the better half of the humanity; the female sex.”
These leaders uttered these words when there was no movement on the global level for the emancipation of women from the excesses of the male dominated society of the sub-continent. Their voice is a beacon-light and guidance for us to charter our future course. Will our government bow to the agitation lodged by the orthodox sections of society in such a scenario?
Historically, women have always been subjugated by men not by being less gifted by nature, but for being gifted a degree more than men in virtues relating to the matters of head and heart——love, care, patience, sympathy, compassion, generosity and sacrifice etc. Biological strength is the only attribute in which she cannot vie with men, which has made her suffer at his hands through the ages. In ancient times matters used to be decided by physical strength alone; wars used to be fought by men, and the way the new states and territories had to be governed became the exclusive domain of men, in which women had no part or say. Women’s place in society was no better than the cattle, and being objects of sex for men, they served only as the mother of their children and only good for their nursing.
It was the bold initiative of the Punjab Provincial Assembly that it passed The Women’s Protection Act 2016 giving unprecedented legal protection to women suffering from domestic, sexual and emotional violence. Its key features include calls for a free phone reporting hotline, setting up of women’s shelters and district level panels to investigate allegations of abuse, and providing for use of GPS bracelets to keep track of offenders.
The law has been misunderstood by our religious circles partly because it was passed in post-haste and partly because its positive effects on society were not highlighted by a vigorous propaganda campaign. The real text of the Act is still not available on net causing further misgivings in public minds, paving way for anti propaganda. There is need for women, their associations and NGOs to come out in the open and highlight the tremenduous benefits it promises for the oppressed women who can’t follow the intricacies of law for redressal of their miserable plight.
The vital question we face today is ‘Do we already have gender equality where things run smoothly and the women live in complete harmony with men’? Benazir Bhutto despite her claims to empower women could not practically do anything. It was only during the last regime that under international pressures, and strong recommendations of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the then PPP government was led to pass “Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace 2010”
Two further legislations in 2012 criminalized the primitive practices of vani, watta satta, swara, and marriage to Holy Quran, which made women as tradable commodities. Life imprisonment was provided for acid throwing. However weak the previous PPP, it redounds to its credit that it brought all this legislation to emancipate women from centuries old slavery. Whilethe Act of 2010 only provided security to the employed women against excesses at their workplace, the scope and range of present legislation is universal and all-embracing. Conciliatory committees at the district level are there to prevent, protect, and rehabilitate the aggrieved person against all types of domestic violence brought against her not only by her husband, but also by her father, brother or other relatives or persons with whom she is living. The relief is available to the women against all types of atrocities and against all persons. Hence its scope and range is much larger than the previous legislation.
The new law has made an easy access to the aggrieved women who can directly either herself or through anybody approach the District Women Protection Officer at the district level who will initiate an enquiry into allegation and if true lodge a report with the family court which will hold a summary trial into the matter and punish the wrong-doer. If illegally confined, she can be set free immediately. Restrictions also apply to the wrongdoer by providing sufficient deterrence to him. The law can swiftly act without natty gritty involved in civil or criminal action.
The objection of the religious parties that the law is un-constitutional and un-Islamic does not hold ground as under Art. 25 of Constitution all citizens are equal before law , and there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex. Sub section (3) of the same article says: “nothing in this article shall prevent the state from making any special provisions for the protection of women and children. “Soany law protecting women and children from any excesses of society is very much within the ambit of the Constitution which allows positive discrimination for the protection of women from the excesses of society. There is nothing unconstitutional about the matter.
On the religious side, the Holy Quran is our guide. The Quran says that the sole basis of superiority of any person over another is piety and righteousness, not gender, colour or nationality (49:13). Marriage in Islam is based on mutual peace, love and compassion, not just the satisfaction of man. The female has the right to accept or reject marriage proposals, and her consent is prerequisite to the validity of the marital contract, according to the teachings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
The husband is responsible for the maintenance, protection and all needs of the family. The mutual dependence and complementary roles of males and females does not mean subservience of either party to the other. In a way, this law only reinforces Islamic injunctions in so far the status of woman in Islam is considered.
The need of the hour is that the law should be seriously implemented and the government should provide liberal funds for it successful implementation. If at this hour the government flinches under pressure of orthodox sections of society, and softens or nullifies the effect of the present law against repression of oppressed and forlorn women of the society, then we will be adding up our woes to the incidents of acid throwing and honour-killing which have already disparaged our image internationally. The question is when most of the developing nations of the world have narrowed down the gap of genders, can we afford to roll back in time and live in a primitive society of the medieval ages?
— The writer is retired Secretary, Government of Punjab, Lahore.

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