The anatomy of ad­vo­cacy

The Pak Banker - - Editorial - Zubeida Mustafa

AT a re­cent art ex­hi­bi­tion on hon­our killing in Karachi and that was cu­rated by em­i­nent art critic and edi­tor of Nuk­taArt, Ni­ilo­fur Far­rukh, the pre­sen­ta­tions to ar­tic­u­late var­i­ous con­cerns were fol­lowed by a lively di­a­logue.

One mem­ber of the au­di­ence raised the point that the ex­hi­bi­tion and dis­cus­sion should have been held in Nasir­abad. This is a district in Balochis­tan where some women were al­legedly buried alive in a case of hon­our killing in 2008 that shocked the nation. It was to the me­mory of these women that the ex­hi­bi­tion was ded­i­cated. The idea was that a di­a­logue at the site of the hor­ren­dous in­ci­dent would have raised aware­ness among fol­low­ers of such ob­scu­ran­tist cus­toms. No one would dis­pute the need to en­lighten peo­ple in un­der-de­vel­oped re­gions. But ex­er­cises such as the ex­hi­bi­tion, the di­a­logue that was pre­ceded by the screen­ing of Beena Sar­war's film on Mukhtaran Mai, At­tiya Da­wood's po­etry recital, Khadija Hus­sain's poignant re­port on her visit to Nasir­abad and an in­spir­ing talk by Amar Sindhu are de­signed not just for con­scious­ness rais­ing. They are also in­tended to be a po­lit­i­cal state­ment and de­signed to give a voice to peo­ple in sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances.

More­over, in the Nasir­abad case the act of de­fi­ance came from the vic­tims them­selves who seemed to be fully aware of their right to choose their own life part­ners. They must also have been aware of the risks they took. Theirs was an act of courage. Un­for­tu­nately, the af­fected party was too weak to even make its voice heard - their death gave them the pub­lic­ity that could have helped them.

The Nasir­abad women do not need any more ed­u­ca­tion. It is their killers who def­i­nitely need to be told that there is no hon­our in killing. But will an ex­hi­bi­tion of this kind in the heart of the re­gion where such crimes are com­mit­ted so brazenly change the male mind­set? A heated de­bate in the Se­nate did not stir the con­science of those who up­hold hon­our killing as a 'cus­tom'. They were not po­lit­i­cally os­tracised. On the con­trary, one was ap­pointed a min­is­ter.

So de­praved is our po­lit­i­cal cul­ture, that more than a decade ago a wealthy busi­ness­man and head of the Khy­ber-Pakhtunkhwa Cham­ber of Com­merce could ar­range for the murder of his daugh­ter in her lawyer's of­fice in La­hore for the 'crime' of seek­ing re­lease from an un­happy mar­riage. This heinous deed did not cast a blot on his pub­lic stand­ing and the Se­nate re­fused to con­demn his ac­tion.

Hence the need of the moment is to lobby and ar­range ad­vo­cacy cam­paigns all over the coun­try to con­vince the pow­ers-that-be that they will have to ad­dress the is­sues of women's rights as well as many other con­cerns that have a di­rect bear­ing on the lives of peo­ple.

Of­ten the laws do not pro­tect them and need to be changed. If the vic­tims are weak they can't make in­roads into the cor­ri­dors of power. Since they are gen­er­ally dis­ad­van­taged due to the dis­crim­i­na­tion they face they need help in pen­e­trat­ing the wall of ap­a­thy that sur­rounds our de­ci­sion-mak­ers. The Women's Ac­tion Fo­rum and the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion of Pak­istan are do­ing this vig­or­ously.

Many other causes call for ad­vo­cacy. Be it Aasiya Bibi's death sen­tence un­der the blas­phemy law or the in­jus­tices mi­nori­ties suf­fer on ac­count of their re­li­gious be­liefs or the de­nial of rights to dis­abled peo­ple, there is much for hu­man rights ac­tivists to take up.

In a coun­try where so­cial in­jus­tice is ram­pant, demo­cratic tra­di­tions are weak, il­lit­er­acy rates high, in­tol­er­ance is com­mon and the rule of law vir­tu­ally ab­sent, no dis­ad­van­taged sec­tion of so­ci­ety can take it for granted that it will get its rights in due course and must de­pend on ad­vo­cacy and lob­by­ing to move its cause for­ward, bring­ing it to the at­ten­tion of law­mak­ers, the ju­di­ciary and ad­min­is­tra­tion. Even when par­lia­men­tar­i­ans es­pouse their cause - some­times they also be­come a part of the ad­vo­cacy ex­er­cise - there is need to keep the pres­sure on.

The US which claims to be a demo­cratic dis­pen­sa­tion recog­nises lob­by­ing as an in­sti­tu­tional process but car­ries it to the ex­treme by re­duc­ing it to a fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tion. This in­volve­ment of money negates the very con- cept of ad­vo­cacy for the rights of the weak by mak­ing it de­pen­dent on fi­nan­cial em­pow­er­ment.

There­fore, ad­vo­cacy and lob­by­ing must be ac­cepted as a tool to pro­mote the rights of so­ci­ety's weaker sec­tions. Its aim should be to in­flu­ence the think­ing of peo­ple who are in a po­si­tion to in­tro­duce changes in the sys­tem.

To be ef­fec­tive, lob­by­ists must do their home­work well. They must spell out their de­mands clearly and must also give wide par­tic­i­pa­tion to the peo­ple whose rights are be­ing sought. That is im­por­tant to make ad­vo­cacy con­vinc­ing. That is why I be­lieve ad­vo­cacy groups should have strong links with or­gan­i­sa­tions work­ing at the grass-roots. Thus alone will they be able to bring out peo­ple in large num­bers in protest marches when­ever these have to be held as a show of strength.

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