If you happen to live in Pakistan and have access to any kind of media, mainstream or otherwise, you would know the step by step details of Waheeda Shah slapping a polling officer, roughly two weeks ago. The commotion that followed the incident may be justified. But, if looked at closely, every episode in this murky saga — including the initial slap — truly reflects the society we live in.
A well heeled feudal woman slapped a government servant to show her might. She did it because she knew that she could get away with it. Had that slap not been recorded by the television cameras in all its violent glory, she definitely would have gotten away with it — something that happens in this country every day.
The media rightly reported the incident as an act of violence and desecration of the election process. But then, it went on to add dramatic music and some crafty edits to make it look like a case of repeated slaps. Our esteemed media turned a grave violation of law into a caricature, which has become the routine here.
Pakistani police also stayed true to its character in this sorry tale. Waheeda Shah slapped the poling officer right in front of a senior police official — a DSP — who did nothing to stop the aggression of a powerful and connected feudal.
Under duress, an FIR was registered against Waheeda Shah, but instead of booking her for assault on another human being — which carries harsher punishment — she was charged with ‘disorderly conduct at a polling station’, an offence punishable with just three months of imprisonment, a fine of Rs 1,000 or both.
When a PPP candidate is involved in shenanigans of the worst kind, how can Pakistani judicial activism be far behind? The Supreme Court of Pakistan also decided to jump into the fray and take suo motu notice against Ms Shah because, let’s admit it, her slap is the biggest issue threatening the core of the country. Incidents like genocide of the Hazara Community in Quetta or the brutal killings of Shias in Kohistan do not merit the same response. Just like the country it represents, the apex court has its priorities straight.
Some women rights activists on social media have criticised the Supreme Court’s decision to take suo motu action and said that the higher judiciary’s judicial activism is directed to women alone because they are easy prey, be it the credit card theft case of Shumaila Rana of the PML-N, the case of possession of alcohol by Atiqa Odho of the A-PML or PPP’s Waheeda Shah’s misconduct during elections.
After the Election Commission of Pakistan disqualified the election of PS 53 Tando Muhammed Khan, the PPP should have graciously accepted defeat and vowed to get their act together before the general elections. But as Pakistani’s, we never learn from our mistakes. Furthermore, the PPP officials also supported their candidate, with at least one PPP minister in Sindh refusing to buy the rumpus that followed the incident saying that Ms Shah had “only slapped the staff!”.
As if the whole brouhaha surrounding the incident was not enough, Raja Riaz of the PPP in Punjab decided to add his voice to the commotion. He first denied Ms Shah’s assault on the presiding officer and said that she was just “pressed”. He then defended her act of violence as the grief of a traumatised widow and then blamed the victim — in true Pakistani fashion — for rigging the elections. Waheeda Shah’s act of aggression is not unique, Pakistan has turned into an Orwellian nightmare, where even if might is not always right; it still wins in the end.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2012.