2018 and beyond: We must decide what kind of country we want to be

Look at the newspaper headlines in any given week in Pakistan and it makes for some despondent reading. Just within the last couple of months a woman was repeatedly raped by jirga members near Faisalabad; a Hindu girl was raped by a member of an influential family in Umerkot; another Hindu woman was abducted from her house in Tharparkar district; a couple was murdered in Muzaffarabad in an apparent honor-killing; religious groups in Mansehra threatened barbers over ‘un-islamic’ beards; two women were murdered in Chakwal for honor, one by her brother, the other by her uncles; a man set his wife ablaze in Tank, for not allowing him to take a second wife; a 16-year-old girl was paraded naked in a village near Dera Ismail Khan to restore honor.
These are incidents that were reported or came to light, imagine all the ones that have remained hidden. The epidemic of domestic violence is considered a personal matter and is hardly ever reported. Minorities are regularly targeted and often the blasphemy law is used to settle personal grievances and agendas, the constitution effectively providing a tool for discrimination against minorities. Clearly this is no country for women and minorities. It is no wonder that the Women, Peace and Security Index rated Pakistan as the fourth worst country for women.

Events in Pakistan keep providing us with inflection points, opportunities for us to do some serious soul-searching and decide what kind of country we want to be, and what kind of society we want to leave for future generations. Whose soul doesn’t shudder to think of the eight-year-old Zainab, who was abducted in Kasur, raped, and murdered? Her body left on a trash heap.

Our extremism, intolerance and misogynistic attitudes are signs of a deep rot. It’s incredible that these issues are hardly ever discussed on TV talk shows or in newspaper editorials on an average day. They are too busy dissecting the latest political crisis or inter-institutional power games, while vital areas of law-enforcement, social and human development remain neglected.

How do we move forward from here?

We do not have to look too far for guidance. The founding father provided it in his speeches, most notably on August 11, 1947: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

And: “We are starting with this fundamental principle: that we are all citizens, and equal citizens, of one State.”

Furthermore the Quaid tells us what is the foremost obligation of the government: “… the first duty of a government is to maintain law and order, so that the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected by the State.”

We have failed Jinnah on all counts above. The constitution itself, riddled with discriminatory laws against minorities and women, contains violations of these instructions. It contains laws that make it difficult for a rape survivor to get justice. It is high time that Jinnah’s August 11 speech be made a preamble to the constitution so it can inform all law-making.

Nothing informs and influences a society more than its schools and its laws; this is evident in today’s Pakistan. Instead of creating a peaceful and tolerant society, our schools and laws have achieved the opposite so far. Bold educational and constitutional reforms, based on tolerance, equality and humanity, would disrupt the status quo, allowing the nation to move forward from this sorry state.

Perhaps a segment of the population in Pakistan is a lost generation, having grown up with narrow ideas of statehood and identity, having read apocryphal versions of history in textbooks, heard them in madrassas, on the media and from many of our leaders. There is no getting this lost generation back. The only remedy for them may be strict law enforcement. But we must plan for a better, more hopeful future. Why don’t we build tolerance, equality and humanity into our curriculum and laws so that a new generation could grow up with these ideals and help make Pakistan a self-respecting country? We owe this to Zainab and countless other victims of lawlessness, extremism and intolerance to bring about meaningful change in our society and culture and not let their memory slip into the oblivion of passing time. Time’s up!


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January 2018
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