Aurat March Exposes a Moral Crisis in Pakistani Men

The opening week of March was revolutionary in terms of gender politics in Pakistan in many ways. Women leaders and activists made a greater impact than ever before for rallying for the Women’s March, and men all over the internet were triggered.

Leading the response of social conservative misogynistic Pakistani men was their patron saint, Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar. Presented by the Pakistani conservative media as an intellectual, it is their answer to the rhetoric of educated liberal and progressive women who have started pushing the narrative of feminism in public discourse.

A long time anti-intellectual, Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar had recently caught attention with a hideous woman-hating interview, and many of his plays apparently depict women in the same light. Not to take away the artist’s license, but when you pose yourself as a philosopher of life and preach about puritanical sexuality, then surely it becomes hard to separate art from propaganda. Especially when your top client is the state propaganda machinery anyway.

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On a television talk show, Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar lost his temper and verbally abused and attacked feminist analyst and commentator Marvi Sirmed. All when they were discussing the Pakistani feminist slogan “Mera Jism Meri Marzi” or “My Body, My Choice.” Not only did he degraded Marvi but just like all conversations about Aurat March, he alluded to those women being sexually corrupt. Such comments were also widely made across the conservative media as well as the allegation of implementing a foreign-funded agenda.

Unfortunately, most of the people in socially conservative Pakistan believe that it is women talking about their right to have as much sex they want. While it should indeed be a part of their freedom, but it is not the only freedom indeed. Women particularly are talking about their right to be left alone, to not be harassed or raped, and yes, even to have their reproductive choice.

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With the likes of Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar, even otherwise seemingly liberal figures, and unfortunately encouraged by ignorant social conservative politicians such as Faisal Javed Khan, conservative men in Pakistan have taken it upon themselves to harass women for speaking up for their rights. They have been slut-shaming the organizers and the participants of the Women’s March, and furthermore, stooping as low as to block the public space they have been trying to occupy.

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This mindset is evident from the coverage of gotcha conservative “journalist” Yasir Shami, trying to blackmail and shame a male ally at the Aurat March by invoking Islamic traditions.

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It was inspired by the same anti-intellectualism and outright bigotry that the Lal Masjid goons, the same infamous mosque in the middle of Islamabad that had threatened armed rebellion against the state, that vandalized Aurat March artwork and posters. JUI-F chief Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, an otherwise democratic politician, also threatened violence if the Aurat March materialized.

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And if you think that this is extreme behavior only exhibited by the orthodox religious conservatives, there is no shortage of their supposed moderate and liberal allies who are socially conservative at heart and still want to perpetuate regressive roles for women. A similar mindset was at work when a conservative lawyer filed a petition with the Islamabad High Court to block Aurat March on the charge that it was against Islamic values. Challenged by the Women Democratic Forum led by Ismat Shahjahan, the relatively liberal judge Athar Minallah threw the petition out.

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It was an act of sheer courage itself that brave women political workers of the Women Democratic Front and the Awami Workers Party led by Tooba Syed went from street to street to put up posters for the March 8 event. This was probably unimaginable a few years back in the Islamic Republic but the courageous progressive women have made their presence felt on the ground in recent years.

This war of words between social conservatives and progressive women and their male allies have turned International Women’s Day into a battle of ideologies. However, the saddest bit is that in a country where vulnerable women and children have little protection from rape, the patriarchy is trying to suffocate and eliminate any dissent rebelling against their oppressive structure. At least, it had some immediate impact as Geo TV Network was forced to end their recently concluded contract with Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar.

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However, none of the bullying and abuse has been able to stop these women to have their voices heard. The scenes in their press conferences chanting the slogan that has become the bane of the life of conservative men in Pakistan were surreal. The way women marched this March 8 under the banner of Women Democratic Front has probably never been seen ever since Zia-ul-Haq took power in Pakistan. Each moment of the March was revolutionary and we can hear and see the foundations of Pakistan.

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At least, their morals have been laid bare for the whole world to see.

That’s why women say, “Mera Jism, Meri Marzi.”

How the Idea That Killed Gandhi Has Slowly Taken Over

Source: newspapers.com

India and the world are celebrating the 150th birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. I call him the Mahatma because I believe he was a great soul, an extraordinary man. The current Indian government would also refer to him as Mahatma Gandhi or a more affectionate “bapuji” or dear father. But do they really think he was a great soul? Or even a great leader whose ideals should be followed?

The words from the Indian Prime Minister in his New York op-ed are very encouraging. He reminds why the world, and especially India, needs Gandhi more than ever. But the revival of the Hindutva ideology under his leadership since the disastrous leadership crisis in the Congress Party, the soul of the Indian democracy has never been the same.

As somebody who is currently a citizen of Pakistan, who was born in Pakistan, not only do I understand Indian nationalism, even the fears and desires behind the Hindutva ideology, but also the pain of the partition of India. Perhaps the most underrated and ignored political concept in India is the deprivation of Indian nationalism to the millions of people living under what is Pakistan and Bangladesh today. So I write this more as an Indian than as a Pakistani.

The greatest triumph of the Congress Party was to establish India as a Secular Republic, which immediately established its moral superiority over Pakistan, which was precisely established for the purpose of the Muslim majority. This was not something that Gandhi or the Congress did for their health, but it was a hand forced on them by the British colonists leaving in a hurry, who prevented India from recognizing its nationalist potential. These colonists thought that they were treating communities fairly while ignoring what kind of a humanitarian disaster they were creating.

These are the quoted words of Nathuram Godse after he killed Gandhi to quote a piece from the Hindustan Times.

“I do say that my shots were fired at the person whose policy and action had brought rack and ruin and destruction to millions of Hindus,” Godse told the court.

He added: “I bear no ill will towards anyone individually, but I do say that I had no respect for the present government owing to their policy, which was unfairly favourable towards the Muslims. But at the same time I could clearly see that the policy was entirely due to the presence of Gandhi.”.

The RSS that nurtured Godse, which by the way is not the “Nazi Party” the Pakistani leader Imran Khan and his political party PTI assert, has become the dominant force in Indian politics today. Its members in Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have firmly gripped the helm of its leadership and they are mobilizing the Hindu community to vote as one bloc across North and Central India. While this still does not affect the Secular character of India, it has started threatening it.

The same RSS member Narendra Modi has written a piece preaching Gandhi’s values to the world. However, slowly, they are closing the breathing space for the minority populations. The retaliatory politics that gave rise to the Two-Nation theory also gave rise to its Hindutva ideology. And both of them run counter to the kind of pluralist, secular, liberal India that was envisioned by its fathers.

Fortunately, for both these ideologies, which might have always found an opening in the manifesto of the BJP, fed off each other thanks to a belligerent and increasingly Islamist Pakistan. Despite the almost fatal blow to the Two-Nation theory after the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, the animosity of the Two-Nation theory remained as the bone of contention of Kashmir which had triggered wars even before the conflict had ever come to Bengal. Even today, you would find Islamist fanatics in Pakistan quoting obscure traditions about a “Ghazwa-e-Hind.”

Over the years of the Secular Indian government’s regressive concessions to theocrats in India and Pakistan’s constant intrusions in India, somewhere the dent was made in the wall of the classical secular pluralism which had become synonymous with the Indian Republic. Which despite its problems of poverty, inefficiency, and corruption was still one of the most exemplary nations in terms of its harmonious reason-to-be. Slowly, the belief in the principles of Gandhi’s India started to dwindle.

And despite a lack of major communal riots, there is silent persecution underway that is closing the space to the minority communities claim an equal right to India, let alone flourish. There are rampant mob-lynching by almost legally sanctioned gau rakshaks who are getting off the hook after beating people to death.

Perhaps this is why discourse such as controversial BJP MP Pragya Raj calling Godse a patriot became possible in an election season. It is why statements, as quoted in this news report, has become possible in India without consequences.

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I still have faith in the modern Republic of India because I know it has fathers in men like Bhimrao Ambedkar. I still have faith in the robust Secular Indian democracy because it got its textbook right with a fair system of justice and politics. I still have faith in the BJP as a secular popular party, despite the growing malignancy of the RSS and Hindutva agenda slowly weakening Indian pluralism.

But let’s just say it’s a faith that would be too precarious for even an idealist and an optimist like Gandhi himself.

I am sorry for choosing to write something that centers more on Gandhi’s death on the occasion of his 150th birthday, but I feel as if his India is being slowly killed at this moment in history too.