Pakistan is a land where the women ends up the target of criticism at the end. It does not matter if the question is one of honour killing, harassment, torture or exploitation of her human rights.
This is not new. General Zia ul Haq’s infamous Hudood Ordinance was a way to deeply set in place a nexus of religious extremism and patriarchal thinking. And it had one target: women.
The openness provided by social media has not necessarily led to an improved public understanding of women’s rights. How can I not mention Qandeel Baloch, the star of Pakistani social media, who was killed at the age of 26 by her brother for being viral on social media. It was yet another case of a so-called “honor” issue: where males are educated to seek it in policing females.
The case is closed after 3 years of her death and her brother sentenced for killing her. The reason for her death was surely this perception of “honour” that had provoked her brother as well as the judgemental gaze of all those men who were, nevertheless, enjoying all her videos (whatever they were). Conservative thought processes that promote patriarchy, taboos and religious extremism existing in our society made sure that she was killed.
For a more recent case of violence against women propelled by social media glare, let us consider that of actress Uzma Khan. The case is different but again the victim is, predictably, Uzma. The videos of violence got viral on social media and were shared on the eve of Eid — the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramazan.
Uzma Khan and her sister were assaulted by three women (one of them was Amber Malik – daughter of the Pakistani real-estate tycoon Riaz Malik, along with her 16 private guards). Uzma Khan was caught while sitting with Usman Malik at Uzma’s residence in Lahore. The videos depict in horrific detail the episode of violence and humiliation of the two sisters.
We saw that Uzma Khan was trending for more than two days on Twitter after Eid. She got some support from Pakistan’s rights defenders and feminists who believe in the empowerment of women. But there is a great mass of people from the public who quite easily judged her a sinner and adulterer through their tweets.
In spite of focusing their outrage on the torture, harassment and violation of her home and privacy, which are criminal acts, Pakistani social media’s moral police – those irreproachable judges of honour, ethics, religion and patriotism – had other priorities. They asked that she be dealt with through the Hudood Ordinance, General Zia-ul-Haq’s brainchild and gift to Pakistan.
After seeing the outcry from rights defenders, Amna Malik later released a video stating she did this for saving her marriage of 13 years—posing in a dupatta in a rather obvious bid to gain sympathy from conservatives and patriarchally-minded individuals.
It is hard to believe that she had no option left to “save her marriage” than to torture and harass Uzma and her sister with a gang of her goons.
The patriarchy is so powerful that even those who are its victims are psychologically brainwashed to follow wrong ways for ‘justice’.
Quite simply there is an urgent need in Pakistan to work for gender equity and women empowerment. And in a society as fettered by conservative mores as ours, this might well begin by convincing ordinary people to consider them equal humans.
We should spread awareness, go for logical arguments and convince those in the corridors of power that the same women are the ones who create their world and gave them life itself.