The marathon race organised by the government of Punjab as part of its sports festival in Lahore on March 4, included a shorter run for families, added on to the main 17-kilometre run. Even though the event was conducted peacefully, vociferous objections have been raised by clerics to women running in the family event. The Tahaffuz-i-Namoos-i-Risalat Mahaz (TNRM) saw it fit to conduct a special meeting to condemn the participation of women and stated it was ‘un-Islamic’ to bring them onto the streets for any purpose which was not religious. The organisation has warned it will stage a protest against the action by the Punjab government.
The situation is, of course, reminiscent of the furore created in the mid-2000s by the staging of mixed marathon races by obscurantist forces. The situation led to a showdown, with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan staging its own marathon after the government caved in under the protest action. The violent police action against the organisation’s leaders to stop them from running led, of course, to further controversy. Eventually though, the HRCP was allowed to run its own mixed race, under heavy police escort, even as religious groups voiced threats.
The whole situation is obviously a ludicrous one. There seems to be no reason at all why women running in a marathon should provoke so much anger. It would appear that in a country with as many problems as ours, the TNRM would be able to find other, more worthwhile issues to protest. We wonder what they make of acid attacks on women, the female infanticide that takes place and other crimes that violate both religious teachings and humanity. It is a tragedy that voices are seldomly raised against these issues, while events such as a friendly marathon have to be run under heavy police cover to ensure participants do not come under any kind of threat from forces which seem opposed to joy.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 7th, 2012.