Usman Malik Incident Reveals Double Standards For Women, Class Imbalance In Pakistan
Whether from the elite or from the poor, once a woman’s character is tarnished, she alone understands the daily hell her life becomes. In contrast, men belonging to the elite who violate anti-harassment, rape and murder laws are not only protected but also celebrated for their transgressions, writes Imaan Mazari.
To say that women and the marginalized in Pakistan have a bad deal is an understatement. The sad reality is that women, regardless of class, perhaps have the worst deal. The Usman Malik case illustrates that women, even when they belong to the elite, cannot escape the humiliation, threats and torment society inflicts upon all women when they are victims of violence.
This mindset is so deeply embedded within us – men and women alike – that we do not question the contradictions therein. Recently, news broke on social media of a property tycoon’s family members storming into a private residence and attacking two young women, on the pretext that one of the women who was assaulted was involved in an affair with the attacker’s husband. One is baffled, trying to understand why a wife would humiliate and assault two women instead of dealing with her cheating husband considering it was that cheating husband who took an oath to remain loyal to her.
Women are always blamed in Pakistan: our country does not see women as a source of strength but as an object of shame. That is why the honour of Pakistani men lies in our bodies, and why calamities and epidemics are linked to women’s clothing. Our society genuinely believes women have no right to determine their lives and futures. Moreover, even when women have been subjected to violence, our national psyche prompts us to blame the woman.
Men, by their nature, can’t help being unfaithful or raising their hand when they are refused or questioned. As Uzma Khan does not belong to a disenfranchised class, what the incident and subsequent response to the incident clarifies is that women, regardless of the class they belong to, are demonized, threatened and harassed, while men evade accountability for their actions. The belief that boys will be boys needs to be shattered. It is an excuse for men to get away with bad (and even criminal) behaviour, while women face the brunt of backlash.
Article 25 of our Constitution safeguards equality of all citizens before the law and extends equal protection of the law to all citizens, specifically stating that this protection applies irrespective of gender. Yet, in every aspect of life – concerning education, health or autonomy – Article 25 is seen less as a fundamental human right and more a privilege extended to “good” or “deserving” women.
Whether from the elite or from the poor, once a woman’s character is tarnished, she alone understands the daily hell her life becomes. In contrast, men belonging to the elite who violate anti-harassment, rape and murder laws are not only protected but also celebrated for their transgressions. There is a blatant double standard for women, reflecting how just being born a woman is problematic enough.
The Usman Malik case also shows that conduct of this nature (i.e. breaking and entering into a home, with armed guards) is the norm due to a complete breakdown in rule of law. One cannot begin to understand how any citizen feels entitled to break and enter into a home, along with their armed guards, unless we acknowledge class and power imbalances in this country. Prima facie the law is the same for anyone who breaks it and while world over, there is a certain degree of influence wealth and power can buy for the elite, in Pakistan, it is systemic.
To put it simply: if you’re a low-income drug peddler, you will probably end up in jail because this State and society deemed this country’s laws applicable to you from your birth (while extending none of the rights to you), but if you’re supplying high-quality drugs to the country’s elite, the law simply doesn’t exist. Two clearly parallel societies operate within Pakistan: one for the rich and powerful, and another for the weak and disenfranchised.
The same is true on an institutional level: a politician can be removed from office for alleged corruption but a general will be given a slap on the wrist for proven corrupt practices while the journalist or activist who broke the news would be forcibly disappeared. There is no rule of law in Pakistan. We have an arbitrary, non-transparent colonial-era system of governance and laws, which we have refused to reform, that continue to perpetuate daily injustices with no accountability for the same.
Much has been written on this in an African post-colonial context and several pertinent observations apply equally within our State. Patrick Chabal in his book “Africa: The Politics of Suffering and Smiling”, explains the chaotic reality of post-colonial African States “in which the extremes cohabit in strange configurations”. Chabal writes on how “most African states treat their citizens like subjects in their day-to-day dealings with them”, while “violence of a kind permeates all aspects of the relations between state and populace” – an observation true for Pakistan as well.
He further explains how people in Africa are treated like citizens during election-time. Chabal’s explanation of political clientelism in Africa is so apt a description for Pakistan: politicians know they need to get the support of voters, but “what is variable is the extent to which they do so by means of full or only partial clientelistic means”.
While Chabal wrote within the context of African States, clientelistic politics in Pakistan has also been discussed by others. In 2011, D. Morgan wrote on Pakistan and patronage politics, explaining how Pakistan, as a country, works: “National and regional power brokers, usually in the form of the large political parties, award favours – cash, jobs and influence – to their supporters in return for votes”. Morgan explained that the impact of this clientelistic politics is that the funds that should be going into education, infrastructure and other important areas are wasted through patronage.
The entire construction of the Pakistani State and society is therefore inherently exploitative. And in States where such widespread and rampant exploitation is the norm, the most vulnerable communities will continue to suffer.
The writer is a lawyer.