Friday, October 9, 2020

Pakistan Press On Gang-Rape in Pakistan, Women in Politics and Death Penalty: New Age Islam's Selection, 9 October 2020

 By New Age Islam Edit Bureau

9 October 2020

• One Woman Is Raped Every Two Hours and Gang-Raped Every Eight Hours in Pakistan

By Dr Tania Nadeem

• Afghanistan: Heading For Peace through Landmines

By Asif Durrani

• Women In Politics

By Foqia Sadiq Khan

• World Day against the Death Penalty: Killing Justice

By Sarah Belal

• Discourse on Language in Education Has Taken the Intelligentsia by Storm

By Zubeida Mustafa


One Woman Is Raped Every Two Hours and Gang-Raped Every Eight Hours In Pakistan

By Dr Tania Nadeem

October 08, 2020

Rape is prevalent in Pakistan, as it is throughout the world. According to a study by Human Rights Watch, one woman is raped every two hours and gang-raped every eight hours in Pakistan. Data for men is not available. Rape is extremely underreported and most perpetrators get away with it. Most survivors never seek help for their own trauma. This happens due to an explicit and implicit rape culture which silences the survivors with no consequences to the perpetrator.

This culture is evident every time a rape case is highlighted in the media. After every rape there is extreme anger and cries for justice and at the same time an uptick in a rhetoric which highlights the patriarchal mindset of some. Such people usually blame the survivor, questioning their decision-making capacity. Others wage a war on social media with anger and indignation. Everyone blames one or the other for perceived failures. In this debate, the trauma of the individual, empathy for her/his suffering is forgotten. Do the survivors want people to judge them, talk about them, write about them, and further violate their control over their lives? Does this encourage further reporting and change or dissuades survivors from coming out as they will lose any power over their privacy? Maybe we should all think about this — a survivor is not public property. They have a right to feel their pain without all of us pitching in.

So how should we stand up against a rape culture of silence and survivor shaming?

Firstly, mind-sets need to change, which means each and every one of us needs to work at it individually, within the family and then more widely. No matter what people say in support, how many will hesitate when their sons want to marry a rape survivor and how many will disclose and file legal proceeding against perpetrators? Rape is about control, objectification of women and permissiveness towards male aggression (often excused as admi ki fitrat). Children, women, and men all suffer from it whenever these dynamics come in play. In our culture it is also associated with izzat and thus used to disrespect an individual or a family. This mind-set change can only happen from within. The education system needs to play a role where sexual abuse and rape is discussed; respect and consent is talked about; and women/transgender are taken as equals. When someone is sexually abused, it needs to be reported and the perpetrator taken to task. Unfortunately, often if fathers are raping their daughters, mothers are asked by the family not to leave or report, due to the stigma of divorce. The same happens when extended family members are involved as the survivor is asked to stay quiet to prevent a family dispute. It is horrifying to hear but it happens regularly in families of all socio-economic backgrounds. This is our collective shame and we need to take responsibility and change it.

Secondly, the reporting and legal systems need to be made easier and more empathetic. The way a forensic examination happens after rape and the uncompassionate attitude of the medical personnel, needs improvement, as it is extremely traumatising for a survivor. The police and our courts need to review their systems, and perhaps take on mental health professionals on board.

Lastly, how a survivor becomes public property needs to change. Confidentiality needs to be maintained. The media should play a responsible role in reporting. Television programmes should not sensationalise information just for the sake of ratings. People should come out on the streets to support the survivor’s rights and legal battle but personal commentary on how that individual feels or should have acted needs to stop. Also, entertainment programmes need to reconsider how they objectify women and idolise male aggression.

Ultimately, the protection of civilians is a responsibility of the state and the state is lacking.

Finally, families should support a survivor by being there, by listening to them, by supporting their feelings. They should not say things like: be happy you are alive; don’t think about it; don’t look so sad; it happened three months ago, why are you still so depressed; and so on. Be respectful of the trauma the individual is going through and realise that if you have not gone through it then you do not know how they feel.

For survivors, I hope that this will not define you and this will not be the end of you. You will grow older; you will find happiness and you will see your children grow. Take one day at a time, do not try to forget the incident rather seek help to address the pain, so it does not hold you back in the future. Do all of this at your own pace, do not feel pushed. Distance yourself from those who are unhelpful or those who try to shame you. You have nothing to feel guilty about. You have survived and will live beyond this and we all salute you for your perseverance.


Afghanistan: Heading For Peace Through Landmines

By Asif Durrani

OCTOBER 9, 2020

Should there be a glimmer of hope with Afghan leader Abdullah-Abdullah’s visit to Islamabad which he undertook last week after 12 years? As a Chairman of High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR) he holds the most unenviable job of conducting peace talks from the government side with an interlocutor which has the upper hand and, after the Doha Agreement, the militant religious group has developed much better understanding with the Americans. Taliban’s refusal to reduce violence or agree to ceasefire has become a bone of contention in the ongoing intra-Afghan dialogue at Doha, which Abdullah-led HCNR delegation has been insisting from the day one. Still, there is no agreed agenda for the talks, at least this is the impression one got during Dr. Abdullah’s interaction with officials and think tanks.

Dr. Abdullah, who received an unprecedented welcome normally reserved for the heads of state, conveyed to his interlocutors in Islamabad that since Pakistan has been instrumental in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table with the Americans, it should also nudge the religious clerics to be reasonable at the intra-Afghan dialogue. In the meantime, he reminded his audience that if there was internecine war in Afghanistan then “no one will be a winner”. However, if there was an agreement for peace then “everyone will be a winner”, he argued. Dr. Abdullah assured Islamabad that “Afghan soil would never be allowed against its neighbours or beyond”. He also hinted at the tremendous potential in trade and transit opportunities between Pakistan and Central Asia via Afghanistan should peace returns to Afghanistan.

Pakistani officials were equally warm to Dr. Abdullah and his delegation, and assured him that peace in Afghanistan was of prime concern to Pakistan which immensely suffered during the past two decades for being part of the war against terrorism. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s advice to Dr. Abdullah was to forget about the past mistakes and look for the future. In his twitter message he said: “We had a very interesting conversation: theme being the past is an invaluable teacher to learn from but not to live in”.

Symptomatic of the future contours of Afghan scene, where after two decades of war and destruction, one can feel the change in the offing although full of uncertainties

Dr. Abdullah was also assured by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi that Islamabad had no favourites and that “Pakistan fully supported the demand for reduction of violence by all sides leading to ceasefire”. Hopefully, these words would have sounded music to Dr. Abdullah’s ears which was evident in his reiteration of Mr. Qureshi’s assurances to his other interlocutors, including Islamabad-based think tanks and international media.

Despite well wishes displayed by both sides during Dr. Abdullah’s visit, Afghan watchers were skeptical about the possible role Pakistan could play in the intra-Afghan dialogue which is purely an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process. It is altogether a different matter to nudge the Taliban to sit with the Americans and thrash out withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan, but it would be entirely a different matter to stick our neck out on an issue where Afghans would be suspicious of Pakistan’s role. We should not forget that Afghanistan is heading towards peace through a path strewn with landmines.

For Pakistan, an equally important issue has been the role of spoilers in the Afghan imbroglio during the past four decades, especially after the 9/11 when India got the opportunity to use Afghan soil against Pakistan with the help of Afghan intelligence, NDS, to cause death and destruction in Pakistan. It is no secret that Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have been receiving financial assistance from the Indian intelligence agency, RAW, through the NDS and/or Afghan intermediaries. Dr. Abdullah would not directly address the issue of India’s spoiler role, but was emphatic that Afghan soil would not be allowed to be used against any of Afghanistan’s neighbours. It is yet to be seen how Dr. Abdullah conveys to India during his visit to New Delhi to “lie low”, as commented by prominent Indian journalist Jyoti Malhotra in her recent article in The Print.

While Dr. Abdullah was still in Islamabad, diplomatic circles were rife with speculations that Americans have reconciled to the idea of accepting lion’s share for the Taliban in the future dispensation in the country provided the Taliban stick to their assurances of denying sanctuaries to Al-Qaeda or ISIS. Reportedly, Taliban seem to have sounded out the requisite assurances to the Americans. The foregoing assumption may have merit due to ground situation but it does not augur well for a negotiated settlement through the intra-Afghan dialogue unless government interlocutors receive huge inducements or armed twisting to accept Taliban’s dominance. Articulating the American thinking, eminent Afghan expert from the US, Barnett Rubin, said in a twitter message: “Like it or not Afghans have to figure out how to live with each other and their neighbours without the US. US might stay engaged, but don’t count on it.”

Secondly, Americans also seem to have convinced themselves that a democratic order in Afghanistan is still a far cry given the tribal structure of the Afghan society which prefers tribal norms over democratic principles. Added to this complexity is the past nineteen years of rent seeking by the Afghan warlords, including those supposedly elected through a democratic process. While Americans found themselves clearing the muck, Afghan warlords continued to thrive under the war economy; poppy cultivation reached its peak making Afghanistan the largest poppy producing country (92%) in the world. Ironically, it all happened under the US-NATO watch.

Third, a positive development for the Americans is that since the signing of the agreement in February this year both the Taliban and US forces have avoided attacking each other, which has facilitated withdrawal of over 7000 American troops from the country during the past seven months. This should serve as a major confidence building measure for the US to negotiate future arrangements with the Taliban in case the US may want to keep its residual forces in the country. Naturally, other Afghan groups currently enjoying share in power are unlikely to look at the emerging scenario favourably.

Symptomatic of the future contours of Afghan scene, where after two decades of war and destruction, one can feel the change in the offing although full of uncertainties. There are lessons for Pakistan: having burnt its fingers during the past four decades, those dealing with Afghanistan in the power corridors of Pakistan would be well advised to tread carefully and stay clear of the intra-Afghan dialogue. Let the Afghans decide for themselves, good or bad. What we can doin the emerging scenario is to manage Afghanistan, facilitate Afghans in transit and trade, assist in reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts, and maintain a strict vigil along the borders. We should support any efforts, within Afghanistan or abroad, that may bring peace and stability in the war-ravaged country. Chances are, if Pakistan plays no favourites Afghans would prefer Pakistan as a partner.


Women in Politics

By Foqia Sadiq Khan

October 9, 2020

One field where the women’s movement has succeeded in Pakistan to a large extent is women’s political participation. Ayesha Khan’s perceptive book, ‘The Women’s Movement in Pakistan: Activism, Islam and Democracy’ (2018), deals with the larger woman question; however we are going to focus on the women’s political participation aspects of it in order to have a focused debate.

The book chronicles the contemporary history of Pakistan in a well-researched descriptive manner; the real contribution is added by referring to the qualitative interviews of women rights activists often associated with the Women’s Action Forum (WAF). WAF is an advocacy group that has been actively campaigning for women rights since the 1980s. The book is also objective; it brings out the achievements of the women’s movement very well – despite the enormous challenges – by interweaving both desk and primary research but also discusses its shortcoming through the sources’ voices.

Coming to the history, as early as 1947 women legislators demanded political participation, suggesting five percent reserved quota in the Constituent Assembly. This demand led to a provision in the 1956 constitution of reserving 10 seats for women; however, it did not materialize since no elections were held. The 1962 constitution reserved six seats for women through indirect elections. The 1973 constitution reserved five percent seats for women in the national and provincial assemblies, again through indirect elections. The 1985 Inquiry Commission on the Status of Women made a recommendation for 20 percent reserved seats for women amongst other demands.

In the 1985 non-party elections, 20 seats were reserved for women in the National Assembly. However, this provision lapsed in 1990 when the 1988 election assemblies were dissolved and there were no reserved seats for women in the next 12 years.

Restoration of women’s reserved seats was a key demand of WAF and advocacy NGOs such as Aurat Foundation – along with a broader agenda of women’s inclusion in political life such as increasing women’s turnout as voters, increasing general seats tickets for women, and promoting women’s wings within the political parties. This set of demands also included quota for women in the local government.

This consistent advocacy for women’s political representation was accepted to a large extent and the local bodies elections of 2000-01 gave women 33 percent reserved seats on the all three local government tiers and general elections of 2002 reserved 17.5 percent seats for women National and Provincial Assemblies and the Senate. This is in addition to some women contesting on general seats.

The large impact was made at the local level where almost 40,000 women were elected on reserved seats. However, in the 2005 local bodies election, the reserved seats for women were decreased to over 24,000 as the government decided to reduce the size of union councils to half. Post return of democracy in 2008 onwards, the local tier has not been consistently held up and women’s representation largely moved to the national and provincial assemblies.

Despite being considered ‘inexperienced’, women’s participation in these assemblies “added a significant dimension to proceedings”, says the author. In the 2002-07 National Assembly, women elected on the reserved seats attended parliament sessions regularly compared to men. Their legislative performance exceeded their ratio. According to the book, women “moved almost half of private member bills and a third of resolutions”. The same trend continued in the assemblies of post 2008 onwards, despite women’s decreasing numbers on general seats.

Women achieved this legislative performance despite not being taken seriously by their male colleagues, challenged by the lack of independent financial resources, weak party support, and sometimes faced by outright discrimination and harassment.

Women on reserved seats pushed for the passage of legislation for women’s rights, human rights, and democracy by working through cross-party women’s caucus particularly in the post 2008 period. Women lobbied for changes in honour killings, rape and adultery laws amongst others. The 18th Constitutional Amendment accepts Pakistan’s CEDAW commitments under Article 25 (2). Post 18th Amendment, most legislation is devolved to the provinces.

Women legislators actively worked to pass laws to check domestic violence, sexual harassment laws, law to stop anti-women practices, acid crimes laws, Hindu marriage law, law for standardizing the age at marriage etc. Women often moved these progressive bills as private members as their political parties did not want to overtly support them due to fears of backlash and they managed to pass these bills through cross-party women members solidarity.

The last chapter of the book has an interesting discussion on whether activism for women’s rights can be called a movement or not. The overwhelming feeling is that women have come a long way in the last 40 years when the editors of leading papers used to refuse to publish WAF statements on women’s rights to the present day where women’s rights is a legitimate national agenda despite the massive challenges of mounting violence and sexual mutilation of women and girls. Women have also been combating the selective use of religion to suppress their rights.

Khan says that it is ironic that Western governments were supporting dictatorship and the Afghan jihad during the 1980s, yet still supporting a small number of women and their NGOs who were resisting the dictator’s Islamization (though WAF never accepted foreign funding).

It has been an uphill battle over the years. Despite the patriarchal and exclusionary biases of the state in Pakistan; women have focused on making demands from the state and its policies and tried to fight the discrimination of its legal framework. The non-formal arena of jirgas and violence of the non-state actors is much worse for women. The state has to deliver for women and their struggle for equality and empowerment will continue till it does.


World Day against the Death Penalty: Killing justice

By Sarah Belal

09 Oct 2020

Frankly, we’re tired. We knew there would be two scenarios as to how the pandemic would end. A medical end through the result of either widespread immunity or vaccination, or one which has already arrived. A social end. When we no longer fear it the way we did. The unknown isn’t as scary as the known. The kind of mortal certainty that comes with being a prisoner on death row.

Pakistan has over 4,000 of them, the second largest reported number of condemned prisoners. Where the slightest slight can send you to the gallows if you’re poor, while even damning video evidence of a wealthy politician running over a poor policeman cannot lead to conviction. Where people can be hanged and then acquitted of the crimes they were charged with. Dead until found innocent.

It takes a long time to prove your innocence when you don’t have means. A prisoner, on average, spends 11 years on death row before they are acquitted or hanged. Eleven years lost to faulty investigations; a fatal cocktail of forced confessions and shoddy defence that result in the Supreme Court overturning around 80 per cent of death penalty convictions.

Too many have been hanged for too little.

But we like extreme punishments. A spectacle. A lesson for others. An end in itself. Even when we know they are not the solution. Because real work takes time, effort and collective responsibility. Much easier to blame the victim and hang the rapist. It’s easy to be swept by rage. Rage that is disingenuous because it only fixes blame and kills the perpetrator but doesn’t put an end to crime.

In our anger, we do not care who it is we are killing. The mentally ill, physically disabled, those tortured into confessing the crimes of others. As if only those on the margins are capable of murder. Those already fighting to hang on to the very thread of life. Let’s hang them.

I once represented a poor Christian plumber who was barely 15 years old when he was arrested and sentenced for murder. Not only did two witnesses who had testified against him later withdraw their testimony, one of them — dying of guilt and old age — stood outside the prison gate the night before Aftab Masih was going to be executed 23 years later. He pleaded with prison officials to not hang the teenage boy he had falsely accused. The teenage boy who was nearly 40 years old. And dead before the sun came up.

I have seen too many hanged for too little. For being too poor, for loitering nearby, for just existing. Legal counsel is simply inaccessible for many prisoners accused of serious crimes. It doesn’t help that state-appointed counsels are paid a pittance. Most don’t bother to show up at hearings and almost never meet their clients. One prisoner, sentenced to death as a teenager because he did not have effective legal representation at the time, was released nearly 20 years later by the Lahore High Court. After his release, he told me being poor is like being blind. And that he’d rather be blind than dead.

The death penalty discriminates wherever it is implemented. It takes stock of the branded watches and deep pockets and discards the foul odoured and the wretched in the unwanted pile. In Saudi Arabia, for example, a large number of Pakistanis have been executed on drug-related charges. Most of them were poor labourers duped by kingpins into carrying contraband, often without their knowledge or consent. Many of them were shown dreams of employment or pilgrimage. Dreams that eventually turned into their worst nightmare.

Tomorrow marks the 18th World Day Against the Death Penalty. It is observed every year to shed light not only on the conditions of prisoners on death row but also how their executions are part of a cycle of violence that affects everyone. The trauma does not end with the family. It seeps through the entire jail. The shame of killing a person is such that the jail administration turns off the lights and only turns them back on after the hanging has taken place. The execution leaves everyone, from officials to inmates, indelibly traumatised. Even in a place as inherently morbid as a prison, the dread is palpable.

This year’s theme is access to justice. Justice that is elusive in the best of times. But in a lockdown, with a pandemic wreaking havoc all over the world, it is not very different from chasing rainbows. Rainbows that eventually fade to black. No lawyers, no legal counsel, no visits from relatives. The pandemic has been a second death sentence for those already living through one.

Innocence is often a privilege in our criminal justice system. And guilt an indication of deprivation. It is absurd to risk the fate of thousands of faceless individuals languishing in death cells because some of them might be guilty. That is not what justice looks like. Russian roulette perhaps. But not justice.


Discourse On Language In Education Has Taken The Intelligentsia By Storm

By Zubeida Mustafa

09 Oct 2020

THE discourse on language in education has taken the intelligentsia by storm in the wake of the Single National Curriculum (SNC). The polarisation between various points of view is so intense that a meaningful debate is impossible. It is intriguing why the supporters of English distort some issues beyond recognition. Hence here is another attempt to clarify issues.

First it must be restated that the discussion is not whether children should learn English or a local language. Those who support the local languages as the medium of instruction have always added ‘and English must be taught as a foreign language’. I have yet to figure out why we are accused of pushing out English from our education system to make our children backward and incapable of handling technology. It seems to imply that even if we are failing to teach English correctly it is fine so long as we stick to our mantra of English and English alone.

The supporters of English also imply that if a child starts her education in one of our indigenous languages, her education comes to a dead end and she can never learn English thereafter. We must remember that we are not a country of fools. All the highly qualified people from earlier generations began their primary schooling in a native language and that includes Prof Abdus Salam, our only Nobel Laureate in science.

My position, like that of many others, is simple. When the child starts schooling, let her continue her education that began in her cot in her mother tongue or the language of the environment with which she is already familiar. She can start learning Urdu, the language of wider communication, a few years later. English should be introduced even later and as a foreign language. It is the language ladder that needs to be discussed. That means we have to decide which language should be introduced when and how. For instance, if English is introduced before the child’s hold over her mother tongue has been consolidated she will be dumbed. In other words, she will not learn any language or communicate coherently.

It is the language ladder that needs to be discussed.

Language experts in Pakistan mainly study socio-linguistics and do not go into the physiology/anatomy of language acquisition which is a natural process. Dr Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, psychiatrist and educationist, wrote about the language organ more than 100 years ago. Noam Chomsky is now speaking about it after retracting his universal grammar theory. This organ comprises the speech and hearing mechanisms and the Broca’s centre in the brain where comprehension takes place. These develop in coordination in a child from the time of birth and follow a certain pattern. This is Mother Nature’s way. Our attempts at tampering with it amounts to trying to make an infant walk even before it can sit.

Even Lord Babington Macaulay didn’t try to perform this miracle in his infinite wisdom. The brown sahibs he envisaged began their English learning at the secondary level.

What is the result of our misconceived language ideas? To see that, just step into the classroom of a so-called English medium school in a low-income area. You will be shocked at the hybrid language system it follows. The textbooks are in English but the teachers have no competency in the language. They read the text in broken English, explain it in Urdu, write the questions in English on the board, and copy the answers in English from key books (which should in any case be consigned to a bonfire). The children dutifully memorise what they copy from the board. They understand nothing. This is the rote culture which stays with them for life. Since the teachers don’t know any better nothing can change. It demoralises them for life.

There is another insidious evil this hybrid system breeds. The child struggles with an ‘alien’ language at a time when her mind is growing and cognitive development is taking place. She fails to learn how to think critically or write coherently. This phenomenon of a struggle between cognitive development and language learning is present in the students of the elite English-medium private schools as well. The focus on mentoring in their pedagogy and the overload of private tuition manage to mask the shortcoming. This damage is irreparable.

Finally, an appeal to private English-medium schools. They are trendsetters and owe a moral and ethical responsibility to society to think of the greatest good for the greatest number.

Admittedly, it is the government that is basically at fault. The poor learning outcomes in government and low-cost private schools are due to corruption, misgovernance and poor learning tools that include the language of instruction. Reform is needed and only the government can undertake it. Without the language issue being addressed, reform will not be a holistic and integrated process and will not work. Unfortunately, the SNC is diverting attention from the real issues.



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