Good tid­ings from La­hore

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

WHILE the Pun­jab govern­ment is yet to an­swer for its pol­icy on the religious ex­trem­ists, its shadow-box­ing with the Na­tional Ac­count­abil­ity Bureau and the or­ange train mega scan­dal, it will be un­fair not to recog­nise some of its re­cent ini­tia­tives. Most com­mend­able is the first Pun­jab Gen­der Par­ity Re­port jointly pre­pared by its Ur­ban Unit, the Pun­jab Com­mis­sion on the Sta­tus of Women and a Bri­tish NGO. The full re­port is yet to be re­leased but some of its fea­tures dis­closed on Mon­day tes­tify to the qual­ity and rel­e­vance of the pro­ject.

The re­port draws upon the data col­lected by the Gen­der Man­age­ment In­for­ma­tion Sys­tem on women-re­lated mat­ters. The six themes un­der fo­cus are de­mo­graph­ics/gov­er­nance, health, education, eco­nomic par­tic­i­pa­tion, le­gal rights and vi­o­lence against women. Al­though much has be­come known over the past few decades about the de­nial of women's rights and dis­crim­i­na­tion against them, the facts now re­vealed will cause wide­spread dis­may and con­cern.

For in­stance, in statu­tory en­ti­ties (com­mis­sion, com­mit­tee, board, syn­di­cate, coun­cil and au­thor­ity), women have merely 10pc of the seats of board chair­per­sons, sec­re­taries, and di­rec­tors, and their rep­re­sen­ta­tion jumps to 20pc only in the cat­e­gory of mem­bers.

Labour force par­tic­i­pa­tion rates and wages show sig­nif­i­cant gen­der dis­par­ity. Women in­volved in the 93,264 fam­ily cases and 10,325 cus­tody/guardian­ship cases pend­ing in courts need le­gal aid, but free le­gal aid of­fered by the Pun­jab Bar Coun­cil is grossly in­ad­e­quate. In 2014-2015 only 12 of the 49 ap­pli­cants re­ceived aid and barely four of them were women.

Cases of vi­o­lence against women in­creased from 5,391 in 2012 and 5,387 in 2013 to 5,967 in 2014 and 6,505 in 2015. The con­vic­tion rate fell to 1pc in 2015 when only 81 of­fend­ers were pun­ished as against 378 in 2012, 316 in 2013, and 211 in 2014.

The au­thor­i­ties prom­ise to pre­pare the gen­der par­ity re­port ev­ery year. This should help in keep­ing track of im­prove­ment/re­gres­sion and reg­u­larly com­pute the in­vest­ment-re­turn ra­tio. Ul­ti­mately, the use­ful­ness of the re­port and the data repos­i­tory will de­pend on the govern­ment's abil­ity to de­vise and im­ple­ment ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion plans.

The role of the Pun­jab Com­mis­sion on the Sta­tus of Women again un­der­lines the po­ten­tial of such in­sti­tu­tions at both the fed­eral and pro­vin­cial lev­els as agents of change. The other com­mis­sions can per­haps do equally valu­able work if they are al­lowed the re­sources, hu­man and ma­te­rial, and the free­dom to op­er­ate that the Pun­jab en­tity has been for­tu­nate enough to do.

An­other achieve­ment of the Pun­jab govern­ment that should do im­mense ben­e­fit to the peo­ple is the com­put­er­i­sa­tion of the land record in the ru­ral ar­eas. Re­gard­less of the un­nec­es­sary con­tro­versy as to who started the ball rolling the pro­ject has brought huge re­lief to the landown­ers by re­duc­ing the op­pres­sion of the pat­wari.

As the keeper of land own­er­ship doc­u­ments in the mon­u­men­tal scheme of main­tain­ing land records de­signed by the Bri­tish, the pat­wari was one of the most im­por­tant func­tionar­ies. He was also the key per­son for record­ing changes (dakhil kharij/in­tiqal) in land own­er­ship ne­ces­si­tated by the process of in­her­i­tance or any other form of trans­fer. In­stead of is­su­ing a land own­er­ship sheet (fard-i-haqqiat), promptly and for a frac­tion of a ru­pee he of­ten used his dis­cre­tion to de­lay the mat­ters and charge ex­or­bi­tant fees. In pre-emp- tion cases in­volv­ing big land­lords he could charge in­cred­i­bly high amounts and lit­er­ally de­cide the mat­ter be­fore it reached a court.

The pat­wari's post has not been abol­ished but he has been re­lieved of the func­tions of is­su­ing land own­er­ship cer­tifi­cates and record­ing land trans­fers. The en­tire land record of the rev­enue es­tates (ru­ral) in the prov­ince has been com­put­erised and mod­ern record cen­tres have been set up in the 143 tehsils. The costs for copies of record have also been cut down and the cen­tres are re­ported to be is­su­ing 100,000 own­er­ship doc­u­ments per day.

Com­put­er­i­sa­tion is also said to have helped cor­rect and cleanse the record and delete wrong, fic­ti­tious or mis­lead­ing en­tries. This by it­self is a sig­nif­i­cant ac­com­plish­ment, and it should now be pos­si­ble to elim­i­nate chances of ma­nip­u­la­tion by cor­rupt func­tionar­ies and their as­so­ciates among the land grab­bers as was done on a vast scale dur­ing the dis­posal of evac­uee lands.

One should like to hope that com­put­er­i­sa­tion of land records in the ur­ban ar­eas, that is still kept in the man­ner de­vised for the ru­ral land, will be taken up with­out much de­lay.

Fi­nally, the Pun­jab Pro­tec­tion of Women Against Vi­o­lence Act de­serves to be de­fended as vig­or­ously as it is at­tacked by the en­trenched wom­en­baiters. One can­not un­der­stand why this mea­sure has caused greater con­ster­na­tion in the ob­scu­ran­tist camp than the Balochis­tan and Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa en­act­ments.

The pro­vi­sion that is be­ing at­tacked (and ridiculed) the most says that "in case of an act of grave vi­o­lence if the life, dig­nity or rep­u­ta­tion of a woman is in dan­ger" the court may or­der the hus­band, who has al­ready com­mit­ted "an act of grave vi­o­lence", to move out of the house.

The pro­vi­sion may be crit­i­cised for le­niency to the cul­prit and there is no rea­son for the cler­ics' vi­o­lent re­ac­tion. Per­haps they are so used to the idea of women be­ing thrown out of the house by their vi­o­lent lords that a re­ver­sal of the par­ties' fates is not ac­cept­able.

Like any law that aims at cur­tail­ing the priv­i­leges of the dom­i­nant gen­der the present en­act­ment should not be pre­sented as a per­fect law. Civil so­ci­ety it­self has pointed out a few ar­eas in which it needs im­prove­ment.

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