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When silence is a statement


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MEXICO is being gravely wounded by drug cartels vying for domination just as Pakistan is being torn apart by religious zealots seeking supremacy.

Everyone knows who Benazir Bhutto was and who targeted her; we also know who Malala Yousufzai is and who wanted her dead. It was nothing short of a miracle that her beautiful life was saved. But how many of us know Maria Santos Gorrostieta?

Let me share what I have selected from an obituary of the woman called ‘Mexico’s heroine’ which appeared in the daily Telegraph earlier this week. Tell me if you find resonance in the bloody ways of the Mexican drug cartels and our murderous peddlers of hate.

“A doctor and mother of three, Maria Santos Gorrostieta served as mayor [of Tiquiche, a town in Mexico] from 2008 to 2011. Over that time she survived at least two assassination attempts, including one that killed her husband Jose and another that left her body peppered with bullet holes and scars….”

While over the past six years, since the government launched an operation against the gangs, “some key players have been killed or captured, the carnage has continued … Official estimates say 50,000 people have been killed since the crackdown began.…”

The region, “known for growing illegal marijuana and poppy crops, has become a key battleground … The main player is a group known as La Familia Michoacána, a cartel notorious for its grisly killings and beheadings….”

“In a country known for its machismo, it has often fallen to Mexican women to take on ‘los narcos’. Without weapons or financial resources, and often with no help from the police, women have come to the fore in an effort to improve the quality of life for their families and communities….

“Like many others Maria Santos Gorrostieta focused on improving social services for her small town and left Mexico’s drug cartels to the federal police, explaining that ‘I have a responsibility towards my people, the children, women, elderly and men who each day rip apart their souls just to bring home a loaf of bread’.

“But that made no difference to the drug barons, who came for her anyway…”

Earlier this month, as she was driving her daughter to school, without an escort since she was no more in office, she was kidnapped. Although at her pleadings her daughter was spared, Gorrostieta’s body, bearing torture marks, was found five days later.

Old-fashioned descriptions and stereotypes of women notwithstanding, the truth is such courage and commitment continuously marks the lives of most women. Yes, some like Benazir Bhutto, Malala Yousufzai and Maria Santos Gorrostieta become icons.

They are inspirational figures because their courage is for all to see, it has a public face. If her own life was her only consideration, then, after that massive bombing on her arrival in Karachi on Oct 18, 2007, Ms Bhutto could have left the country or kept a low profile.

Instead, she made a public declaration the following day that she wasn’t prepared to bow before the terrorists and would fight to reclaim the ground conceded to them. We all know what happened in December of the same year.

How stark was Malala’s reality and how fluid and dangerous the environment in which she chose to become the standard-bearer of girls’ education can hardly be imagined by so many who may be a few hours away from Swat but have as much sense of the dangers as if they were a million miles.

In a polarised and divided Pakistan, there are those who have the audacity to question Malala’s courage, even attribute motives to her. But surely their bias and sorry state of mind can never take anything away from the heroic chapter written by the determined teenaged girl.

Maria Gorrostieta didn’t appear any different. Her slender frame took bullets and punishment that would have felled a bull but she remained defiant while she lived. Yes, these women and others like them believe in causes where consequences, no matter how dire, are immaterial.

This is why we celebrate their lives, lament their loss.

But do we have time enough for equally courageous women whose everyday existence, mere survival, is heroism worthy of accolades? The mountain of biases they have to climb, the abuse they brave, be it in the name of culture, religion or tradition?

The world, including Pakistan, exists in the 21st century. Have we ever seriously asked why more than half our population lives and dies in pain and obscurity and often in circumstances which would make our claim to being part of humanity suspect?

Do we recall the name of the last victim of ‘honour killing’? Do we know the name of even one woman disfigured for life by an acid attack? Who was that young bride who so annoyed her in-laws that fuel was poured over her and she was set on fire so her agony in death resembled her life?

All that even the best among us will remember is a faint image of a tortured body and disfigured face. That’s all. We are like this because we choose to be so. Otherwise, why would we have tolerated an environment where questions of women’s equality are seen as challenges to the divine will.

Don’t shake your head. Believe me these aren’t holier-than-thou words. I read Gorrostieta’s amazing story followed by someone’s Tweet about the International Day against Domestic Violence and I reflected.

I couldn’t even recall the names of the women who earned filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy an Oscar and international acclaim. I am bereft. My indifference towards heroic women, in their millions, whose silence makes a statement every day, is inexplicable. Can you say you are different?

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

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Abbas Nasir is a former editor of Dawn.

He tweets @abbasnasir59.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (8) Closed

ali Dec 01, 2012 10:55am
"Unfortunately, Sharia and democracy are seen as compatible because democracy is understood as nothing more than an electoral process. Voters elect officials who often espouse undemocratic values like adherence to a punitive brand of Islam. Concepts that must underpin democracy, such as freedom of speech and of conscience, play no role."
LARA Dec 01, 2012 10:58am
Shame. A case of women turning on women. People who can help victims are those in power such as yourself and other women who are in priviledged positions, but most of them, I suspect, just want to look after their own in their cloistered worlds and circles, and not be too bothered with what goes on elsewhere.
ilmanafasih Dec 01, 2012 05:41am
In places like ours, or other Third World countries, most women are Malalas or Marias, fighting a minute to minute battle of survival against obstacles and threats. Not being so are exceptions. The only way we can pay tribute to these millions is, as both men and women, by either speaking on their behalf, or by not being those obstacles Malalas or Marias in our personal lives face.
Uza Syed Dec 01, 2012 09:20am
Yes! Thanks and write, write until we all agree and be courageous enough to show our support for our women here. We must refuse and fight against continuation and exploitation and cruelty to Pakistani women. To brutalize them, exploit them and kill them or watch it silently is the biggest act of cowardice and shamelessness, an act of "Beghairatee". Silence is no option, it's a dishonour to stay quiet when we ought to be loud in condemning all such acts.
Rizwan Dec 01, 2012 09:31pm
I don't know why author put name of Benazir Bhutto in this league. After all she did corruption along with his husband & came into Pakistan after Settlement with GENERAL.
Uza Syed Dec 01, 2012 01:11pm
Silence is never an option and in this case it is criminal. We all must unite and condemn all violations of the rights of our women folks here.
pathanoo Dec 01, 2012 05:06pm
Dear Abbas Nasir, No. You are NOT indifferent to these heroines' plight and courage. You are to be saluted for bringing it to our convenient memories and shame us. SALUTE!!1
hony. Dec 01, 2012 06:32pm
The writer has panning down a great article.