Sharmeen's win & women's rights

The Pak Banker - - 4ED­I­TO­RIAL - I.A. Rehman

SHARMEEN Obaid-Chi­noy has won a sec­ond Os­car and the prime min­is­ter has promised leg­is­la­tion to erad­i­cate the scourge of 'killing for hon­our'. The stage has thus been set for a grand de­bate on Pak­istani women's remarkable strug­gle to re­alise them­selves and the state's in­abil­ity to keep pace with them.

A few words about ap­pro­pri­ately read­ing the award-win­ning doc­u­men­tary first. Its strength lies largely in its sub­sidiary ti­tle, 'The price of for­give­ness'. Sharmeen avoids de­tain­ing the viewer on the young girl's hero­ism in pulling her­self out of the wa­tery grave pre­pared by her fa­ther and un­cle, and con­cen­trates on the pres­sure on her for a com­pro­mise.

The fac­tors that per­suade Saba Qaiser to for­give her fa­ther and un­cle for nearly killing her - the poverty of her hus­band's fam­ily, the so­cial power of the priv­i­leged class, and the in­ad­e­qua­cies of the le­gal sys­tem - con­sti­tute a for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge to re­form ad­vo­cates. (Sharmeen adds to her credit by es­chew­ing any ref­er­ence to the girl's fil­ial bondage to her heart­less fa­ther.)

Per­haps the most telling part of the film is a short mono­logue by the tri­umphant fa­ther af­ter his re­lease from jail. With­out any trace of re­morse or re­pen­tance in his con­duct he strides for­ward to pro­claim that his de­ci­sion to kill his daugh­ter has raised his stock with the com­mu­nity, and that sev­eral high-placed boys are now keen to wed his younger daugh­ter. A woman is rav­aged, and the an­swer is the state's de­liv­ery of a cheque to her fam­ily. He is the epit­ome of feudal bru­tal­ity and ob­scu­ran­tism that le­git­imise a whole range of de­spi­ca­ble cus­toms - from vani and swara to auc­tion of girls and karo kari - the mon­ster that the state has fed and fat­tened for six decades at the cost of the peo­ple's ba­sic rights. He is not speak­ing to any­one in par­tic­u­lar, he is mock­ing the en­tire pop­u­la­tion of Pak­istan. This is a fine ex­am­ple of cin­e­matic art al­though the pes­simistic mes­sage might dis­please women ac­tivists. Sharmeen, how­ever, scores high by pre­fer­ring re­al­ism to ro­man­ti­cism.

The gov­ern­ment is un­der pres­sure now to hon­our the prime min­is­ter's pledge re­gard­ing leg­is­la­tion to elim­i­nate hon­our killings. The task is not easy.

It is a mea­sure of the so­cial prej­u­dice against women that the Qisas and Diyat law has con­sis­tently been wrongly ap­plied to cases of 'hon­our killing'. In­stead of taking up the ques­tion of for­give­ness only af­ter the guilt of the ac­cused has been es­tab­lished, the prac­tice of re­leas­ing him at any stage of trial is con­trary to the law. It is said that the gov­ern­ment is think­ing of mak­ing for­give­ness sub­ject to a ju­di­cial or­der. That is un­likely to make a ma­te­rial change.

The mat­ter does not re­late to cases of hon­our killing alone; it has its roots in the change in crim­i­nal law made by re­duc­ing mur­der to the level of a pri­vate af­fair be­tween the killer and the vic­tim's fam­ily. What is needed, at the min­i­mum level, is the rein­tro­duc­tion of the con­cept of mur­der as a so­cial crime and restora­tion of the court's author­ity to pun­ish the of­fender re­gard­less of the vic­tim's fam­ily's choice be­tween re­venge and ac­cep­tance of blood money. It is doubt­ful if a sig­nif­i­cant re­form is pos­si­ble with­out crit­i­cal reap­praisal of the the­o­log­i­cal is­sues un­der­ly­ing the le­gal dilemma.

It is good that the cus­to­di­ans of power have be­gun to bask in the glory achieved by Sharmeen Obaid-Chi­noy - or by Malala or Sam­ina Baig. But is their con­science ever pricked by the re­al­i­sa­tion that the brave women of Pak­istan are do­ing their peo­ple proud with­out any help from the state, and of­ten in spite of it?

The state is un­for­tu­nately per­sist­ing with a symp­to­matic re­sponse to so­cial evils. A woman is rav­aged, and the an­swer is de­liv­ery of a cheque to her fam­ily. A woman is killed by her rel­a­tives for as­sert­ing her right to choose her life part­ner, and the an­swer is an or­der to pro­fes­sional drafts­men to tighten the law. Pay­ment of com­pen­sa­tion to vic­tims of male bru­tal­ity and a search for more ef­fec­tive laws are in or­der but these ges­tures leave the cause of women's suf­fer­ing un­touched.

There is lit­tle wis­dom in hail­ing Sharmeen's en­deav­ours with­out re­al­is­ing the state's obli­ga­tion to pro­vide for fa­cil­i­ties and in­cen­tives for the pro­mo­tion of au­dio-vis­ual arts - which are at the mo­ment un­der threat from com­mer­cial deal­ers in mer­chan­dise of doubt­ful value, nor in in­dulging in pro-women rhetoric with­out tack­ling anti-women fatwa fac­to­ries. If the state re­ally wants to en­sure that all the Malalas and Sam­i­nas and Sharmeens that our so­ci­ety is ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing do have the pos­si­bil­i­ties of re­al­is­ing their po­ten­tial it will have to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment in which the ge­nius of our girls - and of boys too, for that mat­ter - can flour­ish re­gard­less of the back­ward­ness of their birth­place and the poverty of their par­ents.

We can have no respect for politi­cians and their apol­o­gists among ex­perts who be­lieve that the Pak­istani peo­ple's ge­nius can find ex­pres­sion in any field - pol­i­tics, ed­u­ca­tion and the pur­suit of sciences and the arts - with­out a sys­tem­atic de­mo­li­tion of the feudal cul­ture and with­out free­ing peo­ple's be­lief from the clutches of its tra­di­tion­al­ist in­ter­preters or the stamp of Arab im­pe­ri­al­ism as Iqbal put it.

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