Now is the time for the government to show some steely resolve over the matter of the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act (PPWVA). Now is the time to speak with absolute clarity and fortitude as to the primacy of democratically-elected institutions. And now is the time to possibly definitively confront the clerical cohort seemingly bent on usurping the role of parliamentary bodies. The Wafaq-ul-Madaris Al-Arabia (WMA) is the largest federation of Islamic seminaries and it has rejected the committee announced by the Punjab chief minister, tasked to look into the reservations of the WMA in respect of the PPWVA. In rejecting the committee, the WMA has instead called for the Punjab government to “take practical steps to immediately amend the Act”. This flies in the face of every democratic principle in the book, and is effectively a demand that the Punjab government bows to the will of the WMA, ignore parliament and submit a revised Act for WMA scrutiny and approval.
This is an unacceptable demand. The WMA is an unelected body seeking to overturn an Act that was unanimously passed by the Punjab Assembly on the grounds that parts of the Act are in some yet-to-be-defined way ‘un-Islamic’. The religious bodies have threatened to organise street protests if the Act was not withdrawn by March 27. It is not for unelected bodies to hold the gun of civil disorder to the head of government simply because they happen to have ideological and doctrinal differences with the elected legislature. It is for the elected bodies to do the converse and assert their primacy in matters legislative. If not, why bother to have a parliament or provincial assemblies at all?
If ever there was a group overdue for legislative protection, it is the much-abused women of Pakistan. To assert that Islam already makes provision for the protection of women is undoubtedly true. Unfortunately, it is a truth revealed more in the breach than the observance. The protection of women is a duty of the state and the PPWVA is a step in the right protective direction. Time to take a stand — and if not, open this government to the contempt of the rest of the world.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 18th, 2016.