Far be it from me to reinforce stereotypes about Pakistani attitudes towards the safety and security of women. I am a product of Musharraf’s Enlightened Moderation and the soft image of Pakistan is my top priority. Pakistanis are nothing if not conscious of the softness of their image.
This was evidenced today in the remarkable step taken this week by the Senator from Balochistan, Sardar Israrullah Zehri, when he was asked why no inquiry had been made into the murder of five women, buried alive in Balochistan a month ago in the name of honour.
Zehri said, and it was quoted as such in the daily Dawn, that this was a part of “our tribal custom”. On Monday, he appeared on Dawn News television
Speak video, an English language news network, to let us know that, yes, murder is against the law and, yes, it is un-Islamic to bury people alive, but, you see, there is no real education in this area, it’s tribal culture and it will take five thousand years to change.
Well, that’s alright then. Thank God it wasn’t an act of barbarism by otherwise civilized people. Thank God they were already barbaric to begin with. Now we can go sip coffee and continue to exploit natural gas resources in Balochistan without providing any infrastructure, education or healthcare in return.
Would that every human life was valued the same. In Pakistan, we look to the vagaries of US foreign policy to confirm this suspicion, forgetting that we ourselves are devout believers in this hierarchy of value in human lives.
Poor, brown women living in poor, brown countries are among the least valued – by rich and powerful brown people of all genders as much as anyone. So when three girls in their late teens decide to chose whom to marry and run away to a safe house with their mother and aunt, hoping to go to the civil courts in the morning, it is a brown man in government that comes with his thugs and takes all five women away in a government vehicle, beats them, shoots them and then buries them while they were still alive. Another man in power, a supposed representative to government of those very women, the proceeds to defend this act as tribal custom untouchable by the federal government.
The strangeness in Pakistani life right now is that, now that we have begun actively questioning our leaders – no one expects or requires that they represent us – we are realizing exactly how deeply entrenched and widespread this culture of repression and suppression really is. Where one part of the country is subject to blatant suppression by moneyed and powerful male-dominant systems, another is a subtle but equally heinous example of the same.
Where in one part, women can be buried alive for wanting to marry of their own will, in another, men and women in positions of power can tout their devotion to alleviation of poverty and ignorance out of one side of their mouths and dismiss the death of innocents as “culture” with the other.
And yet, at least now we can question our leaders. At least now we can protest on the streets, as Pakistanis did Monday in Lahore, and did again on Tuesday in Karachi, under the auspices of the organization, South Asian Women in Media. At least the news carried it and it was a woman who demolished the senator’s abominable arguments.
People here are fond of saying that hopelessness is infidelity to Allah. In Pakistan, this fidelity is litanized now in a catechism of “at leasts.”