The Same Spirit!
Women in Pakistan held rallies in different cities on International Women’s Day (celebrated on March 8 every year), ignoring the ire of religious clerics. The hardliners are against such rallies, as they believe that it is contrary to Islam! The chief of Assembly of Islamic Clerics, a Pakistan-based hardline organisation, condemned the women’s move, saying that it was a vulgar and obscene act in the name of Human Rights! There is nothing new in such incidents in Pakistan. According to the Pakistani media, the Islamic clerics condemn Women’s March on March 8 every year. This year, some unidentified miscreants pelted stones on the participants of Aurat March (Women’s Rally) in different parts of the country. Still, the women raised their voices against the male-dominated society. While women, holding placards, took to the streets, their male friends and well-wishers accompanied them. A placard read: “Men should also learn how to prepare food!‘ The Pakistani journalists are of the opinion that this sort of rally is a direct attack on the prevailing Patriarchy… and, to launch such an attack was impossible in the South Asian country a few years back. Interestingly, the participants were common women, and not Feminist or Post-Feminist women.
In neighbouring India, women have been staging protests at Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi in response to the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in both Houses of the Parliament on December 11, 2019 for the last three months. Protesters have agitated not only against the citizenship issues of the CAA, but also against the Police brutality, unemployment, poverty and for women’s safety. Mainly consisting of Muslim women, the protesters at Shaheen Bagh, since December 15, 2019, have blocked a road in New Delhi using non-violent resistance. It has become the longest ongoing continuous protest against CAA. The leaderless protest has become politicised and is generally against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Government. The protesters have also supported unions opposing the Government’s anti-labour policies and have protested against recent happenings, such as the 2020 JNU Attack, apart from showing solidarity with Kashmiri Pandits. These housewives were not seen coming out of their residences in recent past! The Shaheen Bagh protests have also encouraged women to hold anti-Government rallies in other major Indian cities. It is to be noted that male members of their families did not stop these women from staging protests at public places! Even if some men have tried to discourage them, the women do not pay much heed to them. This is a different awakening… silent, but sure!
Aurat March, Pakistan
It is to be noted that the women had shown courage during the Partition of the Indian Sub-continent way back in 1947. When Partition happened, men of all three religions took it upon themselves to humiliate the other group by ensuring that their women carried the sperm of the other’s religion. Mass rapes took place… carried out by men of all three religions against women of all three religions. In case a woman got raped, it was likely that she’d be killed by her own male family members in order to protect their honour. The situation got so bad that the only way women could think of saving themselves from such a fate was to end their lives themselves. Suicides became common. Women would often jump in wells to kill themselves until wells started filling up with dead bodies. At one point, women had to actively search for wells with some space left to die in.
When the two States – India and Pakistan – celebrated Independence, Urdu did not have a word for “rape“. When Bangladesh asked for its Independence, it did so because the East Pakistanis felt deprived of their right. The Bengali men realised that they would never be allowed to run their country or be a part of it. The Pakistani men could not fathom how the Bengali men could place their interest over national sovereignty. War ensued. Thousands died as an Army turned against its own people. Thousands of women were raped. In one of the most horrifying cases of war crimes in modern human history, the Pakistani Army raped thousands of Bengali women in an effort to insert their sperm in the Bengali lineage as payback for the Bengali men to prioritise their interests over national cohesion. The number of rapes was so high that rehabilitation of these women became one of the top most priorities of the newly born Bangladesh (in 1971). The Government promised economic reward to men who would marry these victims of wartime rape. In a war torn, newly Independent nation, men jumped at the opportunity, married these women, claimed their economic reward and left them soon after. Further stigmatising these women, until they started being conflated with sex workers.
Pakistan lost a war after committing one of the biggest incidents of war crimes. Later, it lost half the country… thousands of women had their lives turned upside down.
Urdu Did Not Have A Word For ‘Rape’
When General Zia-ul-Haq came into power in 1976, he put into practice the Hudood Ordinance in Pakistan. One of those laws contained the Islamic Judgement on Zina. The Islamic Judgement on Zina states that if an individual accuses two people of adultery, s/he is required to bring forth at least four eye witnesses as evidence. In case of failure, the individual would be charged with defamation. The laws of Zina were meant to ensure that public acts of sex did not become common, and any act taking place behind closed doors did not become a matter of public debate, and be dealt with privately.
Men raped women prior to the imposition of the Hudood law and also after the imposition. Women tended to remain quiet after being raped in order to protect familial honour. So, they did. As rapes can get women pregnant, they carried children of rape in their wombs… they had to go to the Police Station in order to report their cases so that they not be accused of adultery.
The law, then, asked them the question that was supposed to protect them against defamation: bring forth four witnesses of rape. As Urdu did not have a word for rape and despite a national history so closely tied to it, it did not have the concept of rape. Female anguish was not spoken of in national languages of these countries. It was not heard… it was only inflicted.
As far as the imposition of Hudood Ordinance in Pakistan was concerned, Zina was adultery… Zina was rape. And if Zina had taken place, then the person claiming it to have taken place (in this case a pregnant victim who is left with no option but to report), had to bring forth four eye witnesses of her rape. How do you bring forth four witnesses in the case of rape, when the entire logic to bring forth four witnesses was to ensure that the private does not become public!
The catch: a woman reported that she was raped. Rape is Zina in this reality. There was a life in her womb as testament to it. However, there was no man who committed the crime. The woman “confessed“, but there were not four eye witnesses to support her against the man she accused. The raped woman was sent to jail for Zina under the Hudood Ordinance!
Sometimes no man was sent to jail for committing the crime. In case the rapist was influential, it was arranged that some other men be accused for the crime, instead. They could be anyone… someone who was in love with the victim or who was her friend or who was cordial to her or who took pity on her. It was not a matter, as long as the two could be placed in the same vicinity by the locals. The man was then accused, taken into custody, tortured and forced a false confession out of.
As Pakistan celebrated itself as the Nation that brought a super power to its knees in the 1980s, women were being sentenced for their own rape. And men were being dissuaded from even being seen close to them.
Because Urdu Did Not Have A Word For ‘Rape’
That is when women took to streets and demanded this be put an end to. Remember the iconic image of women burning their dupattas? It was in one of the many protests women conducted against General Zia’s multiple misogynistic laws to protect the Islamic Culture.
Women marched after decades of being raped, or being killed by brothers and fathers after being raped. Even many killed themselves to prevent from being raped or to prevent being raped by their own Army during a war or to prevent being exploited by their own men after becoming rape victims. After being raped and being sent to jail for it, women finally forced the language to create a word for telling their experience. In the 1980s, Urdu finally had a word in the vocabulary that described the experience of women in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan: ‘Zina-bil-Jabr‘.
It was still just a word… not the law. Introducing Zina-bil-Jabr in the vocabulary meant that in the case of rape, a woman could accuse her rapist under Zina-bil-Jabr, instead of Zina. And her accusation not being taken as a confession of adultery. She still had to produce four eye witnesses of rape in order to convict the criminal. Again, it was impossible.
The introduction of the concept of Zina-bil-Jabr meant that the State would not punish the woman for being raped. Also, it did not mean that the State would protect her from the rapist/s. Men knew that the chances of being convicted in the case of rape were slim to none. Thus, there was nothing preventing them from raping women like they used to by the State.
Again… In 2020
The purposes of recent Aurat March and Shaheen Bagh protests are different in a broader sense. However, they have an innate similarity that cannot be ignored! The Pakistani protesters claimed that Islam speaks of women’s empowerment, urging the society to know more about Islam. Meanwhile, Shaheen Bagh protesters have been singing the National Anthem, and other patriotic songs in order to encourage others to oppose the Government’s move. While women use Islam as a weapon against the Patriarchy in an Islamic nation, the Indian women choose Nationalism. According to the Sociologists, the role of Islam in Pakistani infrastructure is equivalent to role of Nationalism in contemporary mainstream Indian Politics. At present, the Political scenario in India has started considering Nationalism as the official religion of the country. Women in both India and Pakistan have shown the courage to attack the Political Society by using its own (political) language!
No one can deny the fact that the concept of Modern State is still very much Patriarchal. Patriarchy takes different forms in different places… somewhere, it takes the form of Islam… elsewhere, may be, the form of Nationalism (in the veil of Secularism). Both the Aurat March and Shaheen Bagh protests could be considered as protests against the Patriarchy. By embracing the Language of Patriarchy, the Indian and Pakistani women actually tried to negate the Male Supremacy. Once, Historian Ranjit Guha had said that using the Language of Power against the Dominant Class is one of the most effective ways of displaying the anger! Perhaps, the women of two neighbouring countries have realised this!
Shaheen Bagh, India
It is also interesting to see that Feminism has taken a clear stand against the Patriarchy to contradict both Religion and Mainstream Nationalism. One of the methods of Women’s Liberation Movement is to avoid these two discourses. No… the Aurat March and Shaheen Bagh protests did not do much to foster positive changes in the present state of Feminism! They fulfilled none of the conditions of the Feminist Movement. The Indian and Pakistani women are not interested in Feminism that is usually practiced in a closed air-conditioned conference room. Instead, they have come out with their own language of protest! Now, it’s not possible for men to keep them inside their houses.
This is basically a silent change that has been nurtured inside the four walls. So, the male members of the society have failed to notice this change. These are the protests of common women who have nothing to lose. They are the women who become tired of preparing food and of producing children. Therefore, they have decided to come out from their homes and to raise their voices of protest. The Subcontinent does not have the strength to ignore or suppress this Spirit!
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