PFS 6: Women and Minorities of Pakistan

Chapter 6


With 108 men for every 100 women in Pakistan (59), the women of Pakistan could probably be called a minority, to be counted along with other minorities of Pakistan such as Shia Muslims, Ahmedis, Hindus and Christians.

The state of Pakistani women has a powerful bearing on the condition of Pakistan. For example, two out of three women in Pakistan are uneducated. The importance of this fact lies in that many studies show that poverty, malnutrition and child labor are higher in societies where the women are uneducated.

Pakistani women’s rights activist Ameera Javeria, in an article entitled To be a woman in Pakistan is to ask for a life of subservience (60) wrote:

Pakistani women continue to be victims of an unjust society rooted in history and tradition. Lack of awareness about their rights and their need for education has added to their predicament. Most Islamic communities are averse to the idea of giving women social status equal to that of men. That a strong feudal elite still rules the roost in the vast countryside is a major impediment to enlightenment and democracy, while a powerful clergy rejects all notions of equality and freedom for women. Those women who rebel by asserting their rightful place in society are punished and considered immoral; many have been the victims of domestic violence, rape, and murder.

Another report (50) on Pakistani society says this about women:

A woman’s life is difficult during the early years of marriage. A young bride has very little status in her husband’s household; she is subservient to her mother-inlaw and must negotiate relations with her sisters-inlaw.... A wife gains status and power as she bears sons. Sons will bring wives for her to supervise and provide for her in her old age. Daughters are a liability, to be given away in an expensive marriage with their virginity intact. Therefore, mothers favor their sons.

A gender bias toward boys is clear from this description. With girls being a liability to be given away after marriage, education of girls has a low priority in Pakistan. Among some groups it is believed that education of girls leads to immorality.

The woman of the family is considered fundamental to maintaining the honour of the family group. A woman must be chaste and subservient to the man, and failure to do this can lead to dishonour a crime punishable by death. honour killings in which a father or a brother kill a woman for having dishonoured the family are common in Pakistan.

A report on family violence in Pakistani society (61) says:

(sic)The Male dominant society of Pakistan with strong sense of complete “ Mastery “ feel’s pride to Dictate his terms of Physical and Mental Torture to his Wife, Sister, or Daughter in front of other adult and small members of the family.

Particularly egregious is the Hudood ordinance - a law that is in effect in Pakistan. One of the purposes of the Hudood ordinance is apparently to discourage extramarital sex. An explanation of how this law is applied can be seen in the following quote (62):

Since the passage of the Hudood Ordinance in 1979 under the military government of Zia al Haq, “zina” or extramarital intercourse, has been considered a crime against the state in Pakistan...this law often prescribes cruel and devastating punishments, such as whipping or stoning the individual(s) in question, and explicitly discriminates against women...the Hudood Ordinance has legally blurred the distinction between rape and extramarital sex, resulting in the imprisonment and/or physical punishment of numerous women who have come forward with charges of rape without witnesses. Consequently, many rape victims are deemed criminals in a Pakistani court of law.

Pakistan is stuck in a vicious circle in which the elite corner all the resources, leaving little for education of the poor. And among this class the women are the worst off, uneducated and discriminated; and this leads to further poverty and degradation in society. No force in Pakistan seems to have the wisdom, will or power to change this.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan is said to have had a vision for Pakistan in which people of all religions in Pakistan would co-exist. In his 11th August 1947 speech to the constituent assembly of Pakistan, Jinnah said (63):

You may belong to any religion or caste or creed - that has nothing to do with the business of the state ... in the course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state.”

A few months later, in 1948, Jinnah reiterated his vision:

We have many non-Muslims-Hindus, Christians and Parsis ... but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.”

But Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan died with Jinnah. Pakistan’s record in the treatment of its religious minorities is shameful and unapologetic.

In his landmark paper (64), possibly the first scientific statistical analysis of the question of ethnic cleansing in Pakistan, researcher Sridhar notes:

..almost 89% of the minorities in West Pakistan were ethnically cleansed, i.e. killed, converted or driven out of the country. Almost 54% of the minority population ended up as refugees in India, while a very high 35% of the minority population is simply unaccounted for. These are people who were likely killed or converted into Islam.

Population researcher P.H. Reddy has noted that at the time of formation of Pakistan, there were over 20 million non-Muslims in the areas that formed Pakistan mostly Hindus. After the migration of partition, approximately 7 million non-Muslims remained in what is now West Pakistan making up approximately ten per cent of the population of West Pakistan. In the years since independence, Pakistan’s population has more than doubled to nearly 150 million, but only three per cent, or 4.5 million people are non Muslims in modern day Pakistan. About half of that number are Hindus and the other half are Christian.

In simple terms, in 56 years since independence the population of Muslims in Pakistan went up from about 60 million to 145 million, while the population of non-Muslims fell from 7 million to 4.5 million. Hindus formed the largest minority in Pakistan at independence and their number has reduced to around 1.5 million.

In November 2002, the Times of India (65) quoted Noor Naz Agha, a prominent Pakistani lawyer and rights activist as saying:

Minorities are not safe in Pakistan. Recently, several attacks have been made on churches, hospitals, even on human rights organisations. And several people have been killed,”

The treatment of religious minorities in Pakistan leaves a lot to be desired. The problem stems from an attitude that Pakistan is for Sunni Muslims alone, and people of other religions, and even Shia Muslims are to be looked upon with contempt. The discrimination extends to derogatory references to non-Islamic people in school textbooks, as noted in chapter 3.

M.H. Aksari, writing in the Pakistani paper Dawn (66) said,

The former Indian foreign secretary, J.N. Dixit, recalling his days as ambassador in Islamabad says that once when he called on a Pakistani friend, the latter’s six-year old daughter on discovering that Dixit was a Hindu skipped around the table chanting ‘Hindu Kutta’, ‘Hindu Kutta.’

Hindu Kutta means Hindu Dog. But it is not Hindus alone who are discriminated against in Pakistan. Over the years the Pakistan army leadership has encouraged a particularly intolerant Islamic mindset to prevail and thrive in Pakistan. Shia Muslims in Pakistan are subjected to terrorist attacts and discrimination, and the Ahmediya sect have been declared as non-Muslims in Pakistan for their beliefs. Pakistan is busy changing Islam to suit the needs of a small elite.

The role of the Pakistani army leaders in this is clear from a report that was carried in the paper Dawn in November 2003 (67).

Ziaul Haq actively encouraged this misguided Islamic fervour...Ziaul Haq’s advice led to widespread religious riots ... Many people, mostly Shias, were killed and their houses burnt. The local administration did little to control the situation. A foreign diplomat, who happened to be travelling by road from Skardu to Islamabad a couple of days after all this started, told me that he saw houses en-route burning and that the route provided a spectacle of war and destruction.

There is a movement in Pakistan to have Shias declared non-Muslim. Following a massacre of Shia Muslims in a Pakistani mosque on the Islamic holy day of Moharram in 2004, senior analyst B. Raman wrote about anti-Shia hostility in Pakistan (68):

The last years of the Zia regime saw the Shias of Gilgit come out with a demand for a separate Shia State consisting of Gilgit and the Shia majority areas of Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). They wanted the Shia state to be called the Karakoram Province and remain part of a confederation of Pakistan. The Zia regime crushed the Shia movement ruthlessly. In August 1988, the Pakistan Army inducted a large Sunni tribal force from the NWFP and the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), led by Osama bin Laden, into Gilgit and it massacred hundreds of Shias and crushed their revolt. The hatred of the Shias for Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda dates from this period.

Successive governments in Pakistan, mostly military, but civilian as well, have consistently fought and opposed anyone and everyone, foreign nations as well as their own people. The only things that have been preserved intact and untouched in Pakistan are the power and wealth of the elite of the army, a few businessmen and the feudal lords and their allies, the preachers of a narrow brand of Sunni Islam, who are responsible for a rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism.

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