By Farah Adeed
Women and minorities can be better protected if the state decides to focus on modifying the social goals and not just laws.
Women and minorities in Pakistan are not safe. This is the truth of the day, no matter if hyper-nationalists and religious fanatics accept it or not. We regularly hear about honor killings and persecution of religious minorities in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. These cases, as a matter of fact, of violence and mass-killing are increasing day by day. There are, however, some laws in Pakistan to protect its citizens from both internal threats and external aggression. But despite all the laws, a considerable part of our society is not safe – it does not feel protected.
The question is: why is violence against women increasing in Pakistan despite the strict legislation? Why has the state failed to protect minorities? What legal and political steps should be taken by the state to protect her citizens irrespective of gender, and religious differences?
Let’s examine the case of religious minorities in the country. Ahmadis and Hindus are facing violent opposition and being humiliated for nothing. Their only crime, may be, is being Ahmadis or Hindus. Recently we have witnessed the destruction of Ahmadis’ place of worship when a violent mob attacked the community. On the other hand, forced conversion of Hindus is no more a hidden thing. The question arises what is the relevance or significance of Article 20 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which clearly says:
“Freedom to profess religion and to manage religious institutions. — Subject to law, public order and morality-
(a) every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion; and
(b) every religious denomination and every sect thereof shall have the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions.”
I shall come to this question in a while. But here it is pertinent to include one more important and very relevant case that is of honor killing. The Constitution of Pakistan assures the equality before law and takes men and women as citizens. It says:
“Equality of citizens. — (25-A) All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law.
(2) There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex.
(3) Nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the protection of women and children. ”
But despite these laws, women and minorities in Pakistan feel as though they are second class citizens with no or few rights.
Although there is a ‘Blasphemy law’ in Pakistan, which assures that if anyone passes derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H), and is found guilty, will be convicted, yet we see the brutal murder of a governor of the biggest province of Pakistan. The saddest part of the story was that the governor himself was a Muslim. He clarified his position many times, but the ‘believers’ didn’t bother to pay heed to what he was saying repeatedly.
Another victim of societal pressure and stereotyping was social media star and model Qandeel Baloch who was strangled to death by her brother. The brother killed her to save his family’s honor. The unfortunate Qandeel was challenging the traditional belief system of our society and exposing so many ugly faces. There are laws, as we see, but people break them so frequently and even without the fear of being convicted and severely punished. Why does it happen anyway?
For this we need to understand the basic thing. Why laws are made.
Laws are made to protect the citizens of the state from all sort of internal as well as external threats and violence. But it needs to be understood that the law itself is not to determine the societal goals of any society, rather it only supplements the social process to achieve the socially determined goals. When laws contradict, known human history confirms, with local norms they are almost always ridiculously broken.
In case of Pakistan, the sense of male-domination and socially exclusive thinking are instilled in the mind of individuals through education at schools and colleges. For instance, the man who ruthlessly murdered ‘unruly’ Hindu is presented to our children as our hero and Hindus, in general, are portrayed as coward and hypocrites. This sort of educational curriculum is designed to foster official narrative in the minds of young students.
Individuals, who grow up in such a divisive society, find the laws which contradict what they are taught in early childhood.
Unfortunately, there is a contradiction between the social goals and the legal system prevailing in this country. Laws are made without carefully reading the public opinion, which sadly results into chaos and turmoil. Bertrand Russell in his book Power has rightly remarked that when the law is not supported by public opinion it is almost powerless.
This is the reason that despite the presence of laws, women and minorities in Pakistan are not treated equally. There is an attitudinal and cultural problem, which has been chiefly advocated to fulfil the narrow political interests of the ruling elites or of some powerful institutions. Law can play a role in minimizing the violence against all the victims at the moment, but for a long term and permanent solution, our state needs to review its policies and in particular its education policy.
There is a dire need of a formatting an education policy which professes inclusivity and the idea of coexistence. This change in education system with the aid of media propagation would definitely help the state change the societal goals and thus to make laws which would hardly be challenged or broken.
A change can only be brought through education without shedding blood. Without understanding the role and scope of law, the state can make so many other laws but nobody can protect Salman Taseer, Qandeel Baloch or Ahmadis and Hindus.
Our women and minorities can be better protected if the state decides to focus on modifying the social goals rather than only on laws.