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April 15, 2021

A country with secrets

Opinion

April 15, 2021

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.

We live in a country where secrets of various kinds lurk in the corners of our lives. There are secrets of life within households. We simply fail to acknowledge the extent of domestic violence which takes place in homes, directed against the weakest members of the family. These include children, women, and in an increasing number of cases, the elderly. Very few speak out about rape within households, or abuse that takes place amongst family members. Yet all these incidents have occurred.

The prime minister's strange insinuation that purdah would prevent this is curious, since it will certainly not prevent small children from being abused within their own homes, or their schools. Nor is there any evidence that it will protect women, since the few studies carried out suggest that even women who are fully veiled and who use the chaadar, suffer harassment or molestation on public transport and in bazaars as often as those who choose not to. The victim, of course, should never be blamed for the crime.

As Jemima Goldsmith has pointed out, in direct terms, on her Twitter account, the Holy Quran very directly places the onus on men to guard how they behave in public. And she also cites an incident in which an elderly woman in Saudi Arabia had to unveil herself to prove her age, and thereby prevent young men from harassing and teasing her.

This, then, is the kind of society we live in. Even though incidents of rape are being reported more often than before, there are still many cases which are not reported, and perhaps not even spoken of – except within immediate households, or perhaps not even there. We have heard tales of mothers who have told their daughters to keep quiet to save the family honour, even in cases where they have been raped by an outsider and still more often in cases where the perpetrator is a member of the family. After all, a woman has little protection in our society if she loses her house and the safety this offers her in the sense of social expectation, even if there is no safety in real terms.

But this is not the only kind of secret we hold close to our chests. There are many others. There are so many matters that we do not speak of. They go beyond the personal and into the realm of the social and the political. We do not talk about the manner in which workers are treated in factories and incidents in which they have been deliberately caused injury because a foreman becomes angry at the slow rate of production, and fears reprisals from the owners or managers, if he does not make some attempt to tackle the problem.

We hold secrets for long periods, such as the cause of the fire which destroyed a textile factory in Baldia in Karachi, and has left scars that will remain for many years in so many households in that city. There are secrets about the gangs which operate in many parts of the country, including Lyari but also other places, including cities of Punjab, and elsewhere.

Its only if these things are spoken about more openly, and politics is pushed aside that we can hope to get to the bottom of the problem and most importantly of all ensure punishment for those who carry out a crime so that the expectations and norms of society can be changed. In many localities, people are too afraid to speak out and too scared to report a local group of thugs to the police, who are feared even more than the thugs, and few dare to bring cases of any kind against them, leaving them immune from the judicial system or any action it may be able to take.

We are also a country that is becoming more and more secretive. Despite laws on access to information and the right of citizens to acquire it, we have a situation where it is increasingly difficult for reporters to gain access to the kind of information that should be available to people. The lack of access to public documents, even those presented in parliament, means they must depend on leaks and news put out by members of government or persons in places of power in order to know what has happened and how this came about.

This leaves the doorways wide open for fake or planted news, making it impossible to tell what the truth is and what is mere fiction thought up by someone who wishes to either take revenge on another or hurt an opposition politician in some way. At the present time Jehangir Tareen is claiming he is the victim of such a campaign. We do not know if his claims are true. Perhaps we will in time. But his account has revealed to some degree the amount of intrigue and conspiracy that takes place, even within the realms of government, and at its most senior level.

Even in schools, which should be the safest possible places for children, secret events occur. Many children and their parents do not realise the information that is being provided is either incomplete or blatantly false. We have eaten away parts of our history, and parts of the reality of our country. We have also chosen not to tell children about some of the facts that make up the scientific world we live in today. This is a grave injustice, which will continue until we learn that education involves a much wider vision of the world, and a sharing of opinion so that we can learn lessons on the past and learn how to move forward into a future where the same mistakes are not repeated over and over again.

Even teachers who teach from the textbooks handed out to them do not understand that all that is written in these books may not be entirely truthful and that more research and more reading is required to discover where the truth lies. Of course, subjective opinions exist. But informing older students about them is probably a wise step, allowing them to determine what has happened by carrying out their own research and engaging in that important act of thinking that has been effectively eradicated from most of our educational institutions.

There are all kinds of other secrets lurking in our society. They vary from the secrets of sport, to the secrets of amusement parks and building works. The scandal of match-fixing in Pakistan has been covered up again and again, each time it has occurred. We also know that in many cases, amusement parks are built without adherence to safety regulations putting children and the many other people who use them at risk. And yet no action is taken, no measures put in place to solve the problem.

Something needs to be done. And we need to act quickly so that we have a society which is more open and more able to understand what is happening around it so that the problem can be dealt with effectively and with the involvement of the people who are at the centre of our democratic system and should have a greater say in its working.

Email: [email protected]