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Top Story

July 8, 2006
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A woman's place

Top Story

July 8, 2006

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Hafizur Rahman

One's mind and senses go numb on reading the details of some of the recent crimes against women in Punjab. Then, almost every week a whole family is wiped out in small towns, shot dead or strangulated or their heads bashed in. No consideration is shown to women and little children in the craze for vengeance.

As a Pakistani I hang down my head in shame at what we are doing to each other. Leaving apart the cases of gang-rape which are symptomatic of the baseness to which our men can descend, just look at what now appears to be the pastime of the more macho men in our the country -- the desire to shame their opponents by publicly parading naked the women of their family.

There is another aspect of this situation too -- of women themselves being involved in the crime. They are increasingly taking to criminal acts, may be to show off their progress. A psychologist I know attributes the growth of female criminals to the tendency among men to dishonour decent women. He says it is a sort of revenge mechanism. It may be so, I don't know.

In our publicity literature, meant for outside consumption, we proudly display photographs of young girls engaged in pursuits which, in many Third World countries, are still the exclusive preserve of men. To this pictorial gallery we can add another that appeared in a Lahore newspaper some months ago, to illustrate the enterprising Pakistani. This was the photograph of three women who had been caught stealing a car.

According to the news report, these women asked the car owner for a lift, and when he got down at a shop to buy something they drove off with the vehicle. They were described as "educated and fashionably dressed."

Whatever one may have to say about this description, the picture showed them as decent looking and well-dressed middle class members of the feminine breed in their late thirties. They certainly didn't look as if they would decamp with your car, or even your

bicycle. Perhaps the photographer was not able to catch the revenge mechanism on their faces.

Have women then decided to go in for crimes in which previously they had no interest? If yes, is it out of sheer necessity or just for the heck of it? Are their parents or husband or children privy to the new spirit of enterprise on their part? Have they too been influenced by video films on crime and violence, or did these three bright females cook up their venture on their own?

Most importantly, did they bargain for their arrest by the police, photos in the press and the resultant ignominious publicity? Or was this publicity the real attraction? After all, these questions do arise but I'm not going to answer them. It is too much to think up questions of a public nature and then provide the answers too. Maybe there is some connection in this case with the theory of revenge mechanism propounded by my psychologist friend.

The transition from APWA to WAF is one index of the change that has come about in recent years in the attitude of educated women towards the treatment meted out to them by men. APWA was the goody-goody organisation confining itself to the welfare of poor women. On the other hand WAF is aggressive, and even abrasive, as also purposeful and realistic to the core. It believes that women's rights and privileges, as recognised and acknowledged by the modern world, and even those conceded by Islam, are being trampled upon and need to be talked about in Pakistan. It has done more by way of awakening both women and men to this issue in ten years than APWA could even dream of in its fifty years of existence.

I started with women car thieves. I don't mean to imply that consciousness of rights has the women embarking upon such sidelines as petty crime. But it does make one think. This would have been absolutely unheard of not so long ago. Of course women have always been in the crime business, but to a limited extent. They had their beats, sort of, and kept to them. Now they seem to be making inroads into strictly masculine preserves. From car lifting to bank robbery is not a long haul. Is anyone ready to lay a wager on when the all-women bank dacoity is likely to occur? Whenever it does, I can bet one thing: the robbers will go straight for the lockers where the jewellery is stored!

Car theft is somewhat on the lines of the things that leisured, wealthy and over-smart sons of influential parents in big cities are fond of doing. Just for the thrill of doing something unlawful. I don't remember reading the sequel to the case involving those three women. Maybe it was a flash in the pan and nothing more. I don't think educated middle-class women in Lahore will be inspired by it to take seriously to wholesale acts of car lifting.

The real surprise is why hand-to-mouth and oppressed women in this country abstain from criminal acts. Is it the restraint of religion or the bonds of tradition that keep them away? Because the provocation is certainly enormous. At the lower social levels the exploitation and the rigours of poverty are so excruciating that it's a wonder there are not more women murderers around.

While they are digesting my words readers can look forward to more and more stories of new criminal ventures by hard-pressed females. So far such ventures have mostly revolved around illicit romantic attachments and their often-gory consequences, and that too mainly in the villages where, actually, women are more liberated in some ways. Also they are becoming increasingly involved in the drug-pushing trade.

I don't think that by calling it a revenge mechanism we can fully understand all the implications of this state of affairs. With all our glib talk of the women's place in an Islamic society -- talk that is more gas with no substance to prove our bona fides in the matter -- what do we really want her to be? A logical view is that half the population cannot remain absolutely different, and more ethical, than the other half. If the men in Pakistan are bent upon becoming immoral, corrupt, intolerant and undemocratic, they can't expect their womenfolk to be angels. Not for long anyway.

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