A Giant Leap for Indian Civil Rights

Source: Tribune India

India might be taking a couple of steps back every now and then in terms of the secular health of its democracy. But one thing is for sure, its democracy is strong and steady.

India just took a giant leap for civil rights by suspending Section 377 of the regressive British-imposed Indian Penal Code. The Indian Supreme Court threw out this abomination of a law that criminalized homosexuality. It also functionally did not recognize male or male transgender rape. This section, which by the way is still enforced in Pakistan, only accounts for sodomy as an act against nature, even if a person rapes a man or a male transgender.

This is a demonstration of how the highest court that interprets the Constitution must function in a democracy. The Indian Supreme Court, I am proud to say, is performing that function indeed.

Unfortunately, back home in Pakistan, we cannot imagine coming anywhere near the suspension of Article 377. Although there is some activism going on, particularly brought into light due to the rampant cases of abuse and torture of Transgender persons throughout Pakistan. However, the idea of homophobia is central to the culture in the country, which is a heavy mix of Islam and traditional tribal patriarchy.

The case in Pakistan is actually far worse where the courts are not even aware of their jurisdiction and function. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has turned into an activist entity whose head virtually deems himself the reincarnation of Caliph Umer I or Umer II. Removing the Section 377 or any other human rights development seems to be low on the priority list, considering how critical it is to build the Diamer Basha Dam and to guard it.

However, for all its other ills, let it be caustic politics and corruption, growing fascist tendencies and theocratic influences of the Modi regime, and hideous communal violence, India is still robust as a democracy.

Very proud of India for this.

Bottom Line Feminism

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

If there is a single most important issue that could make the greatest difference to women’s rights in Pakistan, it is their financial independence.

Apologists irritated by feminists might want to disagree with it just for the sake of proving them wrong. But the fact of the matter is that the conservative structure of our society, obsessed with maintaining the unreality of sexual purity, is clearly rigged against female individuals.

Marriage itself is an area which is traditionally designed to disable professional opportunities for women to a great degree, citing the natural role of motherhood and family building. The traditional norms ensure that women remain dependent on their husbands for lives, which subjects them to endure never-ending abuse in many cases.

While you would expect modern and educated women to overcome these hurdles and end a relationship when they have to, many women are handicapped to do so even in our upper middle class. You can’t end an abusive relationship because you would have no means to live, and nowhere to live, especially if your own family refuses to accept you. But even in a normal marriage, no woman should ever run out of options on how to live their lives.

In many cases, you cannot help but conclude that the greatest protection women need are from their socially conservative parents, who are ready to sell them to the next best buyer for the next best price.

Just because marriage has the seal of social and legal approval, does not necessarily make it any different to slavery, if that is what it really turns out to be.

There is an easy way women can escape the abuse that ensues. By simple having the means to live on their own. Just like anyone else is supposed to.

We already know that, don’t we? Yet, it is still a problem, and it’s the 21st century.

And there is hardly anything we can do when we find such instances around us, even in our very families.

In practical terms, there is no cause more important to focus on than to promote the financial independence of women in Pakistan, especially outside the universe of the affluent and the educated.  And it is indispensable for women to reclaim their due space in the society.

This is why the more useful of our activists are focusing on helping women become financially independent and making actual difference in people’s lives.

Not to get too optimistic, but initiatives such as WeCreate from the US-Pakistan Women’s Council is more on the lines of what we need. I guess it’s about time that we momentarily stop complaining about America being the evil empire and start thanking them from thinking about women in our country, among other things. Because apparently we could be doing a better job.

But this is not the first initiative that promotes entrepreneurship and financial empowerment for women. While the Pakistani government has also initiated such projects which are much needed, we should not wait for it, or for American aid, for that matter.

Private local businesses and non-profits can make a difference by partnering and initiating grass root platforms to offer hope, if not security, to women facing domestic social pressures and help them become financially independent. We can never have enough of these initiatives.

No woman should ever be afraid of the idea of divorce and of living as a single mom. Ultimately, it goes down to building the culture of gender equality in economic participation, with zero tolerance for discrimination.

Eliminating segregation and ensuring financial independence.

That’s pretty much the bottom line to my mind.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.