By giving the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) Rs10 million, Australia has highlighted the growing trend of acid-throwing in Pakistan. The ASF is one of the two organisations that have received the Rs10 million grant from the Australian government under its annual Human Rights Grant Scheme. Pakistan’s Jinnah Institute is the other recipient. According to a report by the Aurat Foundation, acid attacks against women had soared by 37.5% in 2011 compared with 2010. This year, the ASF has noted 95 acid attacks.
If the figures are based only on the number of cases registered by the police, then we don’t have the actual size of the practice of throwing acid. It has almost become a ritual in Pakistan to disfigure women to satisfy the pride of the man in our male-dominated society. Under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2011, offenders can be fined up to one million rupees and can be imprisoned for life. But for the law to be effective, we need a police that is untainted by our dubious codes of honour.
In an environment of intense religious consciousness, Pakistan has fallen victim to male egotism focused on the female section of society for the satisfaction of its fundamental demand of honour. Wife, daughter and mother end up being the repository of this honour and their conduct has to be seen by men as upholding male honour at all times. Neither religion nor literacy seems to have affected this very primitive trend. This pitiable situation has been brought to international attention by a pioneering Pakistani film-maker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy in her Oscar-winning documentary Saving Face earlier this year. One can say that the help from Australia has come after the success of this film at the international level.
Saving Face highlights the bleak situation for women in Pakistan, particularly in remote or uneducated areas, where they are viewed as second-class citizens. Acid attacks — which destroy lives in an instant — are made possible by the easy availability of acid as a cheap cleaning fluid or for use in the cotton industry. It is no consolation to discover that Pakistan is not the only place where acid is used to express the honour of men. Cambodia, Colombia, Nepal and Thailand, too, are in the same league but not on the same scale as Pakistan where the trend is catching on, watched helplessly by a dysfunctional state.
Pakistan reacted to the acid-throwing phenomenon by staging yet another shameful episode. Malala Yousufzai was shot in the face by the Taliban for standing up against their drive to end female literacy in Pakistan through the destruction of their schools. What was shameful is that most Pakistanis turned against her on social media. She was condemned for becoming a tool in the hands of the Americans and America’s European allies to defame Pakistan. The media was rendered helpless in the face of the serried ranks of the religious parties who tacitly support the Taliban campaign to prevent women in Pakistan from becoming educated.
Just as Obaid-Chinoy’s act of projecting Pakistan ‘in a negative light’ in front of an American audience was taken amiss by conservative Pakistanis suffering from xenophobic symptoms of victimhood, Malala’s case at the United Nations, too, was misinterpreted by elements seeking utopia in a premodern state. The trauma of Pakistan’s acid-throwing activities was registered outside Pakistan, mostly in the Western world moved by humanitarian causes. Inside Pakistan, it fell to the lot of the ‘liberals’ who read English-language newspapers — after the TV channels were literally defeated by the anti-Malala backlash. It is our bad luck that the ideology of those who want to push Pakistan back is the same as the ideology of the state of Pakistan. Ideology has been a coercive tool in the development of states in the 20th century but in our case, it is not the state but the non-state elements that have laced ideology with terror and thus presented a dilemma to the ideological state. It is further bad luck that our women are becoming the foremost victims of this ideology, dooming our future and undermining our capacity to save our country from dying as a state.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 16th, 2012.