A human rights evaluation

Published: August 29, 2017
The writer is a public policy student working on human rights and fundamental freedoms

The writer is a public policy student working on human rights and fundamental freedoms

We try to find meaning in our actions. In the decisions we take we always have an obvious ending in mind. We observe outcomes and outputs to correct our actions and change directions, as though we are trying to follow a scientific process in our lives. Our desire to achieve an intended goal puts us closer to understanding the causal relationships that help organise our efforts in controlling change. Our need for evidence-based practice helps us address the problems we face.

Thus, it is valid to say that evaluation is central to human development. It assesses the effects of programmes, policies and initiatives undertaken to find their worth, provide useful feedback and guide further action. With this generic goal of evaluation in mind, each landmark in time is just another reminder of reviewing past decisions.

This August marks the 70 years of independence of both India and Pakistan. In order to evaluate where both these countries stand, we need to look back and see where we started and why we started. Back then, the people of the sub-continent were witnessing a cosmic change. The direct rule of British crown in India was ending and anticipation to this change fuelled an uprising. Deliberations on what post-colonial India will look like spanned decades and gave birth to a movement that was centred on the protection of human rights.

When Jinnah said we fought for Pakistan because there was a danger of the denial of human rights in this sub-continent, he was iterating the vision that was the soul of the partition decision. If we are interested in how far we have come since then, the only true criterion for evaluation is the status of human rights for the people of this land.

Sadly, the state of affairs today on either side of the border draws a very bleak picture.

In Pakistan, militant violence lasting over a decade has favoured the inexplicable rise in the political influence of the military. Without oversight, there is bound to be rights violations when a plan to eradicate terrorism is implemented. Addressing militancy provides a justification for authorities to muzzle dissenting voices in support of human rights. Freedoms are lost, and birthrights are denied when even parliament gives in and passes vague and overbroad legislation.

Be a part of any social minority in Pakistan and only then, you will be able to see how far we stand from the vision that created this divide in the subcontinent. Women, children, transgender and religious minorities all face violent attacks, insecurity and persecution. An overly charged bias has taken over us all that the state finds itself helpless to provide adequate protection to the vulnerable and hold perpetrators accountable.

At times even the state joins hands with the culprits and fails to ratify legislation on forced conversions, turns a blind eye to misuse of blasphemy laws and keeps up the pressure on journalists and rights activists to keep any criticism in check.

The situation in India is not much different. Their military is notorious for acting with impunity when deployed in areas of internal conflict. They also resort to communal violence to protect religious sentiments of a Hindu majority. Just like ours, authorities there are famed to use criminal defamation laws to prosecute citizens with dissenting opinions. Women there are too victims of rape, acid attacks and honour killings while the government seems powerless to ensure their safety.

Seventy years down the road an overview of the rights situation in either country reveals a serious parting from the original plan. We never arrived to the Pakistan, which Jinnah had envisioned. We became the very people who in his mind would have threatened to deny rights had there been no Pakistan. It is ironic to say that our blasphemy law is no different from their beef ban.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th, 2017.

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