Independence Day provides an opportunity for all of us to reflect upon how much progress we have achieved in this country or how far we have slid back.
However, the present situation is so complex that it is not possible to present a simple assessment. There are many groups who are determined to take our country forward, turning it into a modern state upholding the basic rights of all citizens. At the same time, there are those who seem intent on dragging us all back to a more primitive era.
However, in my view, both of these groups of activists are in minority. The majority of our population is pulled in both directions by these groups, but tends to remain in the moderate conservative spectrum — typical of the history of this land. One other determinant is the level of support these opposing forces get from the established institutions of our country. These include the military, judiciary, civil bureaucracy and the political class.
Let’s use women as the litmus test to determine whether the trend is characterised more by an advance or a decline in human rights.
Women have successfully broken many social barriers in recent years and are entering senior positions and non-traditional professions in ever greater numbers. The current parliament has also achieved several breakthroughs in progressive legislation for women. These laws can make a major difference in the long term struggle for women’s rights — if they are implemented consistently.
However, major gaps in reforms of law enforcing agencies – including the police and judiciary – have reduced their impact. The culture of these institutions remains patriarchal with the personal beliefs of officials favouring ‘tradition’ over justice and, often, logic.
Police officers, senior administrators and even senior judges comfortably hide behind the smokescreen of being sensitive to “local tradition”. The crimes committed by the police and security forces themselves, including stripping and raping women, probably set a world record. The illogical Supreme Court judgments in Mukhtara Mai’s case and that of the Red Mosque merely encourage others to flaunt the law.
Many argue that violence is not increasing; it is just being reported more.
I don’t agree.
“No convictions” is one of the main factors driving the rise in criminality. The increased reporting of violence against women in print and electronic media has at least brought the issue out of the closet and pushed it into our faces.
It has also raised concerns that a crime committed behind the walls of a home can become public and can bring dishonour to a man and his family. This is a relatively new phenomenon. Our traditional culture has long protected those with strong social connections.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2012.
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