Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hasba Bill Here, Women's Protection Bill There, Mindless Medieval Assholes Everywhere

I have depressingly low standards for political parties in Pakistan. When I ask myself why I support the PPP, I can only come up with three answers, each no longer than a sentence. One, they're not a mafia or terrorist organization. Two, the PPP leadership is on record as saying that Pakistan's territory should not be used for terrorism. Three, the PPP leadership is on record as saying that they are against the draconian laws against women that exist in Pakistan today. That's it. If any of our readers can give me the name of another party that fulfills all three criteria, I'll be glad to hear it. But the MQM fails the first test, almost everyone fails the second and the PML (both of them) fails the third. The MMA? Well, those bastards fail all three.

As most people know already, the MMA have once again tried to push the Hasba Bill through in the NWFP. If the Supreme Court gets tired of fighting the government's battles for it (as it should) and if it gets the governor's assent, the bill goes through. The bill's main accomplishment (if one can call it that) would be the creation of ombudsmen at various levels of government to "promote virtue" and to "eliminate un-Islamic practices". It also seeks to ban alcohol (somewhat redundant) and music in commercial vehicles. The obvious implication would be a dangerous extension of the powers of the Mindless Medieval Assholes and their kin. Lest anyone think I'm over-reacting, please remember "un-Islamic practices" can be defined however they see fit. This bill is about power: both of the "traditional" political kind as well as the Orwellian-oversight kind.

In its editorial (linked above), the Daily Times says "extremism is hardly being rolled back by the King’s Party. It is actually creeping in under its door like a stain of blood." Creeping is right. 40 km south of Peshawar, two girls' schools have already been closed down, with threats extended that further closures could be on the way. And although the Supreme Court (thank God for Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry...seriously) has done its bit to water the original Hasba Bill down, its passing would still be disastrous. If it goes through, I really wouldn't know whether to be scared or angry. Knowing me, it would probably be the latter. But it's still scary. As Dawn says, it is the duty of everyone opposed to this law to resist it, however they can.

If suspicions of a quid pro quo agreement between the government and the MMA on the Hasba Bill and the Women's Protection Bill aren't unfounded, then there's reason for even more fury. If it's true, then essentially the MMA has told the government "Let us pass a horrendously unconstitutional bill guaranteed to strike down the few liberties that Pakistanis enjoy and in return we won't resign in protest if you pass a bill that actually makes rape prosecutable." It's as if they think they're doing everyone a favour by not standing in the way of women attaining the most basic rights. What's truly mind boggling is that if that was the deal, they still weren't satisfied with it. No, they wanted their three proposed amendments to the Women's Protection Bill (the ones that pissed the MQM and the PPP off so much) to be taken up on top of all that. Well, guess what? Looks like they succeeded. Under the new WP Bill, "lewdness" is now a crime punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment and/or a Rs. 10,000 fine. What, pray tell, is lewdness? Why, consensual sex of course!

There are two mini-victories in the lewdness clause. One, the bill makes clear that the clause does not apply to rape cases and that a person suspected of "lewdness" could not be arrested without a warrant. In other words, an "adultery" case can become a rape case but not vice versa (this is important because so many women who are raped are afraid to come forward for fear of being tried for adultery if they don't furnish enough proof of rape). Two, somewhat bizarrely, two eyewitnesses are required for the prosecution of lewdness. So if my reading of this is correct, it means you must have a foursome (with two participants sorely disappointed) to be prosecuted for lewdness. If that's true, then it's fine. People that greedy need to be in jail anyway.

Make no mistake though. Those are mini-victories in a decidely lopsided battle. For a party (or group of parties, whatever) that really wouldn't stand in a chance in a truly free and fair election, the MMA gets to decide an awful lot in Pakistani politics. They decide who can run marathons (men) and who can't (women). They decide which crimes can be prosecuted ("lewdness") and which can't (rape). They decide, at least in NWFP, what should be encouraged ("Islamic" activities) and what should be discouraged (music, dance, art). For all of this, we can only blame Musharraf and his political engineering. None of this would have ever happened had he had the foresight back in 2002 to see how badly his backing of the religous parties would backfire. I hope to dear God he's regretting it now and ensures it won't happen again next year. In the short term, though, he can still rectify this by doing two simple things. One, prod the government to challenge the Hasba Bill and take it to the Supreme Court, where it'll be thrown in the trash can. Two, not back down on the Women's Protection Bill and tell the Q-League in no uncertain terms that they better take out the MMA-sponsored amendments.

I feel incredibly strongly about all of this. Women's rights and warding off Talibanisation are two issues I absolutely cannot compromise on. Nothing else in Pakistan - not the rampant inflation, cell-phone theft, sugar lobbies, lack of democracy, corruption, whatever - is as important as this. Last word to Ali Dayan Hassan of Human Rights Watch (full disclosure: Ali's a friend of my brother).
General Musharraf claims he is an ‘enlightened moderate’ in favour of women’s rights, but so far he has been all talk and no action. Failure to act this time will irrevocably damage his credibility. The government must present the draft bill to parliament as agreed with the PPP to ensure that Pakistani women finally get at least some of the rights long denied to them. It is time for the government to stop dithering and honour its word.

1 comment:

Farooq said...

Good post. Had been ignoring the news for a week or so and this post was really helpful in getting me up-to-date and aiding in my understanding.


The reason you dont support MQM is because you hate Mohajirs, u prick. The same Mohajirs who brought culture and business savvy with them from India. The same Mohajirs who are discriminated aainst in the Pakistan cricket team while no-talent Punjabis like Salman Butt and Farhat are allowed to prosper.