Before the Sindh Assembly gets on to “business”, a euphemism for passing the buck, there are prayers for the departed – usually party workers or victims of a terrorist attack or major road accident. “Can we pray for the health of the woman who Waheeda Shah slapped and whose head was split open?” asked MPA Marvi Rashdi, a little too innocently. “Her head wasn’t split open, she was saved!” came the reply from someone, who couldn’t be identified among the smirking MPAs.
Rashdi and the other MPAs weren’t allowed to discuss Waheeda Shah’s now-infamous slap, worthy enough of the attention of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry to have taken notice. Deputy Speaker Shehla Raza said it was wrong but that they were not aware of the background to the slap.
But the PPP, as the assembly was told repeatedly yesterday, is a champion of women’s empowerment. Information Minister Shazia Marri said that women who had been subjected to torture and abuse should stand up for their rights, “and we will be right behind them”. Will the PPP allow any of its members to stand behind the woman who was attacked by Waheeda Shah, who was contesting the by-election on a PPP ticket? Surely someone should dig a fake grave in the assembly grounds and mourn the death of irony.
Many an expert on women and religion was born on the benches today, birthed by a resolution that MPA Pitanbar Sewani attempted to move on the subject of forced conversions and marriages of girls from minority religions. “You don’t like the Baloch, and soon you won’t like Hindus,” Sewani said, in an impassioned speech inspired by the recent case of a Hindu woman being allegedly forced to convert in Mirpur Mathelo. A district judge has ruled that she converted of her own will.
MPA Sachal Shah threw his hat in with Sewani but made the rather grave mistake of mentioning that Muslim women in India have married Hindus. Several MPAs, bristling with anger, offered their expert advice on why this was, firstly, untrue [Sachal later refuted that by pointing out an interfaith celebrity marriage in India] and secondly, how rare it was for women to be “forced” into a Muslim marriage.
Rashdi believed that “any Muslim woman who has married a Hindu must have disowned her faith first” and “no Muslim girl would do such a thing just to get married”. Others spoke highly of women who converted and were “accepted” by Muslim families. Education Minister Pir Mazharul Haq thought he would read Article 36 of the constitution to tell the minority MPAs that their communities’ rights were protected. The article reads: “The State shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities, including their due representation in the Federal and Provincial services.”
The original point went by the wayside, that Sewani and fellow minorities MPA Saleem Khursheed Khokhar were actually discussing forced conversions. But let a good point never come in the way of irrelevant debate. Amen.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2012.
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