Protecting Women And Minorities In Pakistan – Beyond The Law
Women and minorities in Pakistan are not safe. This is the truth of the day and it does not matter whether hyper-nationalists and religious fanatics accept it or not as we regularly hear about honor killings and persecution of religious minorities in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and their ratio keeps increasing by the day. There are, however, some laws in Pakistan which seek to protect citizens from both internal threats and external aggression. But despite all the laws, a considerable part of our society is neither safe nor feels protected.
The questions therefore are: why is violence against women increasing in Pakistan despite legislation? Why has the state failed to protect minorities? What legal and political steps should be taken by the state to protect citizens irrespective of gender and religious differences?
Ahmadis and Hindus are facing violent opposition and are being humiliated for nothing. Is merely being Ahmadi or Hindu a crime? We 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. This sense of insecurity amongst Ahmadis and Hindus puts in doubt the relevance or significance of Article 20 of the Constitution of Pakistan which provides,
“Freedom to profess religion and to manage religious institution: 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.”
Similarly, in respect of honor killings, the Constitution of Pakistan assures equality before the law and takes men and women as equal citizens. It provides,
“Equality of citizens: 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. ”
Despite these clear dictates of law, women and minorities in Pakistan feel like second class citizens with little or no rights.
Same is the case with blasphemy law in Pakistan which assures that if anyone passes derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and is found guilty, he or she will be brought to justice in court and not lynched by a mob, yet we saw the brutal murder of a Governor of the biggest province of Pakistan. The saddest part of the story was that the Governor was a Muslim too. He had clarified many times his position but the so-called ‘believers’ did not pay heed to what was said.
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 had been challenging the traditional belief system of our society and exposing so many ugly faces.
It is apparent from these incidents that there are laws, parts of which have been mentioned herein, which are violated so frequently without any fear of being convicted and severely punished. The question that often remains unanswered is why these violations occur anyway.
For this we need to understand something basic: why are laws made?
Laws are made to protect citizens of the state from all sorts 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, it only supplements the social process to achieve these socially determined goals. When laws contradict with local norms, known human history confirms that they are almost always ridiculously broken.
In case of Pakistan, the sense of male-domination and socially exclusive thinking is instilled in the minds of individuals through education at schools and colleges. The educational curriculum is fostering negative impressions about the minorities and their role and conduct in society.
Individuals who grow up in such an exclusive society find the laws in contradiction to what they are taught in early childhood and hence assume an imperialistic agenda of the West to displace our socio-political order when laws contradicting their early childhood beliefs are implemented.
Unfortunately, there is a contradiction between the social goals and the legal system prevailing in this country. Laws are made without carefully examining public opinion, which sadly results in 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 prevailing laws, women and minorities in Pakistan are not treated equally. There is an attitudinal and cultural problem which has been chiefly advocated to fulfill the narrow political interests of the ruling elites or of some powerful institutions. Law can play a role in minimizing violence against all victims for the moment, but for a long term and permanent solution of the problem our state needs to review its policies, particularly its education policy. There is a dire need of formatting the education policy on the lines of inclusivity and promote the idea of mutual coexistence. This change in the education system with the aid of awareness through media would definitely help the state in changing societal goals through a social way and ensuring compliance with the laws which would then hardly be challenged or violated. A change can only be brought through education without shedding blood. Without understanding the role and scope of law, the state can legislate on many matters but it cannot protect the women, the minorities or people like Salman Taseer and Qandeel Baloch.
Our women and minorities can be better protected if the state decides to focus on modifying the social goals rather than enacting laws.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which he might be associated.