A symptom of social sickness

On certain occasions, how blissful does it feel to be ignorant. I had the bliss that ignorance is said to offer before knowing that somebody by the name of Khalil ur Rahman Qamar, a playwright, exists. He shot to the cognizance of people like me only when he relentlessly tongue-lashed Marvi Sarmad on the idiot box, immediately before Aurat March.

Sadly, I was robbed of the bliss, which was duly substituted with agony of knowing the extent and intensity of the social myopia that some of our writers are plagued with. Mr Qamar is from Lahore and before writing television plays, used to be a bank employee. Recently, one of his plays achieved tremendous public acclaim.

He is conservative to the core when it comes to social customs and conventions. In any society conservative minds are generally hyper-critics and condemnatory towards any change even if it is for the better. Thus, being an ultra-conservative, Qamar’s condemnatory remarks made perfect sense.

Condemnation or criticism is the right of a free citizen, therefore, not essentially a bad thing, but it must be substantiated with some plausible argument. Besides, there is a culturally acceptable way to critique others, shouting and haranguing those who differ with one is deplorable behaviour, to say the least.

Ironically, Mr Qamar’s vituperation directed at his co-panelist, supporting Aurat March, blinkered his argument if at all he had any. It would have been of some interest as to why exactly he was so vociferously condemning Aurat March as well as the intent or motivation for holding the opinion. Apart from exuding false and frivolous sense of entitlement, he could spell out nothing but unabashed swearing typical of misogynists, steeped in chauvinistic traditions, conjured up by the male and for the male only.

Other gender(s) ceased to be at par with them. By foul-mouthing Marvi Sarmad, Qamar was catapulted to prominence in certain quarters, which otherwise had not been possible. As expected, he became the darling of a few reactionary showmen like Oriya Maqbool Jan and Ansar Abbasi who inhabit the 21st century but vehemently cherish medievality and social ethos emanating from that era.

Modern age and all the developments associated with modernisation scare the hell out of them. These gentlemen are bending backwards to vindicate Qamar’s position, which lacks any substantive argument.

The unnecessary commission of frivolity regarding the slogan “mera jism meri marzi”, which was trivialised without giving it a proper thought made it evident how the understanding of some about social issues of vital importance can be. If the likes of Qamar and litany of his admirers are arguing against this assertion “mera Jism meri marzi”, then what is implied from their condemnatory rebuttal to the women demanding equal status vis a vis men is that women don’t have a right over their own bodies.

To put it rather simply, they are not free the way men are. The foundational document that set us (Pakistanis) free didn’t spell out that the freedom that our leaders sought was only for men. Then why is it that Pakistanis are defined to be male, Sunni Muslims and essentially Punjabi? Apparently, anybody not falling within this description is not an authentic Pakistani.

Same is the case when it comes to the Constitution. Is our Constitution that specific towards the rights of women and their bodies or is it merely an illusion? Why can’t we pluralise our social sensibility? Are the guys condemning the Aurat March, reading the document which proclaimed our freedom from the British (on August 14, 1947), differently? Was that freedom (do read independence) meant only for men, the gender privileged to have the discretion of exercising their will on their bodies?

If that is so, these guys should come out openly and claim that independence was only for men and women will have to live as second-class citizens.

Several Y-bloggers and media commentators whom I listen to regularly, repeated the cliched opinion about women’s rights, saying that Islam has already accorded full rights to women and they must not demand anything beyond that. That was the line of thinking which got extraordinary traction in the 1980s when Ziaul Haq’s regime was trying to ‘Islamise’ Pakistani populace.

But those who have done a critical reading of women’s rights in Islam earnestly think that a fresh consensual understanding needs to be developed with particular reference to this issue. All that is prescribed by Mulla Abdul Aziz or semi-literate maulvis like him, does not qualify as definitive Islam.

Another aspect that is worth pondering is the question that the rights being exercised by men (in Pakistan and in the rest of the Muslim world) are in accordance with the Islamic injunctions? If not, then why do we insist that only women’s lives are to be regulated through the edicts of sharia? Another exemplification of women’s status according to Islam was under the Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Do Mr Qamar and his coterie of fans earnestly wish Pakistani women to be treated the way Taliban did?

The common refrain among the critics of Aurat March is that it has been supported and funded by the West, most specifically America. That indeed amounts to denigration of Pakistani women folks, thinking that they on their own are not capable of demanding their rights. But only for the argument’s sake, if that argument is conceded even then the question arises that why are we observing double standards? We can do trade with America and buy arms and ammunition from the country and from the rest of the Western world. We are eager to import technology from them. We have borrowed ideas like democracy, rule of law, constitution as well as modern education from them. It will be interesting to note what exactly in our lives is non-western? Then why are we making all this hue and cry, signifying nothing? When Narendra Modi was religion to brutalise the Muslim minority in India, it is an opportunity for Pakistan to showcase to the world its pluralism and social balance by demonstrating gender equality. By making Aurat March controversial, these people haven’t done any good to Pakistan.

A symptom of social sickness