DAWN - Features; September 24, 2002

September 24, 2002


After nuclear parity, stiff competition is on to prove Freud right

By Jawed Naqvi

SIGMUND Freud divined the Biblical commandments that forbade the killing of fellow humans and which also, among their top priority, sought to inculcate sexual discipline in our forbears, as a fairly good pointer to our essential past.

According to this theory, we are all the progeny of sexual delinquents and manic murderers.

The essential violence of our societies is reflected in many ways, not least by the wars and contraptions that we devise to annihilate mankind. By that yardstick the subcontinent is not lagging in its innate genetically-driven rage.

To be sure, the recent arrival of nuclear weapons in our patch and the willingness to use them, despite official coyness about their real purpose, would only seem to confirm Freud’s fears that we are a highly evolved, efficient and compulsive bunch of killers.

As for our sexual waywardness, the great mediaeval poet Kabir had berated both the Hindu and Muslim debauchery with equal contempt, highlighting the degree of social degradation that had prevailed in his time and had clearly existed, even honed during the pre- Islamic centuries before him.

In the post-nuclear subcontinent, the defined attributes of our fellow humans as killers and sexual delinquents do not have to be subjected to a sociological scrutiny to spot the glaring link between those who are willing to annihilate and those who commit and celebrate rape as a feature of hierarchical prowess.

According to my friends in Gujarat, who are still trying to rehabilitate those who were spared their lives in the recent pogrom there, not a single case of gang-rape has been taken up for prosecution, nor is likely to be under the present dispensation. And yet there were men, and women encouraging the men, who raped and disembowelled their quarry.

A cursory look into the minds of those among the mobs who tracked and killed women in Gujarat from Feb 28 on, or those who outraged and approved of the assault on Mukhtaran Bibi in Meerwala would reveal the type of the bestial man who rejoiced at the nuclear tests in Pokharan and Chaghai Hills.

Therefore, when we go shouting “Me Tarzan” amid acrid chest- thumping into the nuclear club to stake our claim there, we must keep our eyes peeled for the sociological category that we are. The five nuclear powers, whatever else their other social warts, are not known to have authorized kangaroo courts to strip and molest women.

True, the American society has evolved from a gory period of slave-trade and racial extermination, the Europeans have taken slaves and peddled opium across the world, the Soviets have indulged in their own form of slavery (In capitalism man exploits man, said the wit. In communism it’s the other way around!) and the Chinese have yet to completely come out of their feudal past.

But in none of these countries are we likely to find the time warp of the Stone Age flourishing as they do in this region. Look at us, we have all the ingredients of slave societies, tribal rituals, feudal practices coalesced like sedimentary rocks into layers of different levels of evolution, one on top of the other.

I am not certain of how long it took the story of the Meerwala outrage of Mukhtaran Bibi to travel from its locale of a seamless time warp to the so-called pockets of civil society in Pakistan, and from there to the rest of the world.

However, in India news is just coming in of our own version of yet another post-nuclear gang-rape. But before I hand you over to Brinda Karat, the fiery woman leader, for details of the latest outrage, this time from an obscure village in Madhya Pradesh, let me recall for you an equally horrific incident a few years ago.

It happened in the Mehsana village, near Barsana, near Mathura. The names are important. This is the region where Krishna, the Hindu pantheon’s most colourful deity, had dallied with 16,000 milkmaids eons ago. Barsana is the village of Radha, Krishna’s preferred consort. Stories of their love and passion form the core of much of our musical compositions, including the classical khayal and the dhrupad bandishes.

It was in one of these villages that some time about 1992 I covered the aftermath of a public lynching of a girl and the two boys she knew, by a village panchayat — a euphemism, as it turned out, for a kangaroo court. It was of course ironical that this was the region of Radha and Krishna.

The story was familiar. A girl of the upper caste Jat community had eloped with a lover of the lowly-placed Jatav community. Another Jatav boy, a friend of the two lovers, was involved in the plans for them to run away. The village elders, all Jats naturally, got together, launched a hunt, found the three and ordered all of them to be lynched after mutilating their naked bodies with burning wood.

Now, according to Brinda Karat, general secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, another incident almost exactly in the manner of the Pakistan outrage has occurred in Madhya Pradesh.

“If there was outrage and horror at the sentence meted out by the Meerwala Jatoi council in Pakistan in revenge rape against a young woman for the alleged offence of her younger brother, at least it could be said that those responsible were ‘self-proclaimed’ councils. But what of an elected sarpanch holding a constitutional post delivering a sentence of gang-rape and then continuing in that post, protected by a conniving administration and government?” asks Brinda.

The story of this particular kangaroo court unfolds on July 30, 2002, in the village of Sankarikala, Lanji tehsil of the Balaghat district in Madhya Pradesh. In an incident that makes a mockery of India’s otherwise laudable panchayat system, an elected sarpanch, Jiya Lal Patle, with his assistants, sentenced a schoolteacher to “gang-rape” to “punish” her for her alleged “sexual relationship” with a male colleague.

Bhuvaneswari Devi is a 27-year-old schoolteacher in a panchayat-run school in the village of Sankarikala, Lanji tehsil, in the district of Balaghat, Madhya Pradesh. She has been teaching in this school for the last six years and is popular among the students. She is the only woman teacher among the seven teachers in the school.

“Her crime is that she is young, articulate and attractive and has maintained a distance from the other teachers,” says Brinda Karat.

Last year she had to publicly upbraid one of the male teachers for his objectionable sexist behaviour, lewd comments made in front of her. She suspects that he is also behind the incident.

The sarpanch claims that two children in her school informed him that on July 24 they had seen her in a “compromising position” in the teacher’s common room with another teacher. The male teacher, Shri Joshi, incidentally happens to be the oldest and seniormost teacher in the school, nearing retirement. Bhuvaneshwari knew nothing of this absurd charge.

She was summoned to a special meeting of the panchayat. As soon as she arrived, there were catcalls, whistling, and filthy slogans against her. The sarpanch called the children to give their statements. The first child, just nine-year-old, could barely speak and said he had “seen the two sitting together.” The second child, about 11 or so years, made what can only be called a tutored statement.

It was humiliating but this brave woman stood her ground. She refuted all the allegations and said that she had spent time with the said teacher during her tea breaks because he was the oldest, “like my father,” and she felt safe with him.

All through the statements, men were shouting that a “woman like her deserved to be raped.” At the end of the meeting the sarpanch and others with him declared her “guilty” and sentenced her to gang-rape and even named the four men who were to carry out the sentence.

What is the moral of the story? Nothing new. This is exactly what happened with Bhanvari Devi, a villager from Rajasthan who fought for women’s rights until the upper caste lobbies were riled and she was raped, gang-raped to put her in her place. Bhanvari Devi’s ordeal is well-documented and someone has even made a film on her life.

There is nothing new in the story because this is exactly what happened with Phulan Devi, known to the world as the Bandit Queen. The lower caste girl was gang-raped by upper caste thakurs. But that is where Phulan’s script becomes different. Unlike the other women in this stereotype she armed herself, joined a group of bandits and returned to the village of Behmai to avenge her humiliation. I think she killed all the men who she believed were her rapists.

There is something to be said for the vagaries of India’s democracy though. Phulan was elected a member of parliament, causing revulsion among her upper caste detractors. But they got even with her when last year she was killed by a group of young men who hated her cour-age.

Those who killed Phulan, raped Bhavanri Devi in Rajasthan and numerous others in Gujarat, and more recently assaulted the helpless schoolteacher in Madhya Pradesh cannot be easily tracked, because they can slip away even more easily into a crowd of chest-thumping patriots. This is the pattern. There may be exceptions.

What do Pishtakhara, Okara and Sri Saral have in common?: DATELINE ISLAMABAD

By Aileen Qaiser

DESPITE efforts at better governance through the year-old local government system and reform of the police system, at least three major incidents of violent clashes between security authorities and local residents have occurred in three consecutive months.

The most recent is the last week’s police-residents encounter in Pishtakhara in Peshawar over prolonged loadsheddings in which a union council Nazim was killed. Last month, the two-year-long standoff between the military farm management and tenants over land rights in the Okara military farms in Punjab turned nasty, resulting in the death of at least one tenant. The month before that a “cowboy” style shootout between the police and residents of Sri Saral on the outskirts of Islamabad over land compensation led to the death of two villagers.

There is much more in common among these three incidents than the violent showdown between residents and the law-enforcement agencies. Regardless of how the violence actually started or who provoked whom, violence was the unfortunate result in all three cases because the tools of discussion and negotiations as the preferred means of conflict-resolution were abandoned in favour of arm-twisting and coercion. When the people refused to take this coercion lying down, the security authorities then acted upon what they call a “law and order” situation.

Differences in looking at the issue at hand was precisely the problem in all three cases. The authorities treated all three mainly as “law and order” issues. But for the people involved, they felt they had genuine grievances which the concerned authorities were not willing to listen to, let alone adequately address and resolve them.

In all three instances, the grievances had everything to do with the people’s livelihood and economic survival. In all three cases, anger at the authorities was fuelled, rightly or wrongly, by the feeling that the economic interests of the state and that of the rich and powerful were being protected at the cost of their economic rights.

In Pishtakhara, the issue which sparked the residents to come out on the streets to protest, leading to the death of the union council Nazim when the police opened fire, was the daily long hours of electricity loadshedding which Wapda and Pesco had imposed on the area for two months. Whatever the reasons for the loadshedding, the fact that the power authorities did not bother to consider that its action would hurt the people economically — the prolonged loadshedding resulted in the drying up of the Sarband Canal and, thus, no water for the standing crops — is a reflection of the insensitivity with which the authorities decided on the action.

Worse still was the feeling among the residents that the authorities were making them pay for a fault which is due to the authorities’ own inefficiency and corruption. Even after the incident, Pesco continued to justify the loadshedding as part of a “load management” effort to offset its own line losses.

In the case of Okara, the land rights issue had been simmering since 2000 when the tenants who had been tilling the farms for nearly a century resisted the military farm management’s introduction of a new rental system which they say would jeopardize their effort to get eventual ownership of the lands that are actually owned by the Punjab government.

Since the policy of giving away lands to the landless is being implemented in other parts of the country, the tens of thousands of landless tillers who have been cultivating for generations on the 26,000 acres of military farms in Punjab, some 17,000 acres of which are located in Okara, see no reason why they should be deprived of the same rights as tens of thousands of other tillers elsewhere in the country are or would be getting.

According to a Dawn report last week, Okara tenants have accused the authorities of trying to coerce them into accepting the new rental system through pressure tactics like lodging a hundred over FIRs involving thousands of tenants under the Anti-terrorism Act. It is the resort to these methods rather than to peaceful negotiations and a more sensitive approach to what the tenants consider their economic rights that is responsible for the continuing tension in Okara.

Similarly, economic interests was also the issue in the tussle between the Capital Development Authority and the villagers of Sri Saral which turned violent when the villagers resisted the start of development work by the CDA in Sector D-12, accusing it of not paying them enough compensation for the land on which the new sector was being developed. The CDA claimed that compensation was already paid in the 1980s when it acquired the land from the villagers but since development did not take place until now, the villagers were now claiming compensation according to the new land rates.

Whatever the actual position is, the real issue is economic and social discontent. The problem was defused somewhat when some of the demands of the villagers were met through negotiations later on. Could not this line of action have been taken by the authorities much earlier before the situation turned violent and resulted in the needless death of two villagers?

Local administrations, particularly the newly-established local governments, are supposed to act as a bridge between the people on the one hand and the state organizations or government on the other. They are supposed to be the means through which the government listens to the problems of the people and through which the people can present their problems to the government so that issues, specially economic and social, can be ironed out amicably. But in Pishtakhara, this system clearly failed mainly because the government thought it could use the local administration as a means through which it can dictate its policies, whether good or bad, on the people.

Similarly, one of the objectives of reforming the police system was to make it more people-friendly on the one hand and more effective in maintaining law and order and help the government establish its writ over the land on the other. But these objectives can only be achieved if at the same time the government addresses the people’s economic and social problems and genuinely seek to resolve them through the local administration. Merely relying on coercive power to keep people in line or under control is like putting the lid on a simmering cauldron in the futile hope that it would not boil over.

No protection for domestic servants: DATELINE FAISALABAD

By Shamsul Islam Naz

THE NUMBER of female domestic servants has increased manifold in Faisalabad, as elsewhere, due to a variety of reasons, including the spread of heroin culture and increasing unemployment. Taking advantage of the situation, the employers fully exploit the job-seekers, asking them to agree on nominal salary and fringe benefits.

Domestic servants have various categories. Some work on a daily-basis from eight to 10 hours, and are paid every week. Others work on a monthly basis. The third category belongs to those who are provided shelter in servant quarters in lieu of work.

Another type of servants gets paltry remuneration for discharging specific duties like sweeping, washing and ironing, cooking, baby sitting and stitching. House servants in this category normally work two to three hours for earning their livelihood. Yet another category is of those who have been working as domestic servants for decades. Generations of such servants are provided necessities of life by their employers such as shelter, food and clothing. This category is bound to remain house servants and dare not send their kids to schools or work without the permission of their masters.

It was noticed that domestic servants were neither paid salaries according to working hours nor given the required food. Majority of them look weak and pale due to poor nutrition. During the last many years, wages of female workers have not been increased despite the price escalation.

It has been revealed that maid servants are also maltreated. Although the government has taken stringent steps for the welfare of women, the labour laws do not cover the domestic sector which is not in a position to voice its grievances at any forum.

This correspondent had a talk with one, Hameeda Bibi, 45, who has been working at various places as a maid servant. Her husband died in a road accident 13 years ago. She sold the property and gold ornaments for his treatment. Presently, she is not in a position to arrange marriage of her two daughters. Her children play in streets and have become urchins because of poverty.

Kaneez Akhtar, after the death of her husband, was married to an addict who beats her and her six children to satisfy his chauvinistic instinct. She failed to get any domestic job in the city and apprehended that her addict husband might sell her children, having disposed of the household articles already.

A widow, Safia Bibi, said she was paid a meagre salary of Rs600 a month after working round-the-clock. She cannot even properly feed her five children. She said she could not even think of getting her children admitted to an educational institution. In sheer frustration, she got them employed in the houses of moneyed people by getting advances to meet her daily expenses. Whenever any family member falls sick, there is no money for medical treatment.

Rehana, 13, said her mother was divorced by her father without any reason. Her mother sent her to work from 7am to 11pm daily for only Rs700 per month which she gave to her mother. She said she had a keen desire for education but her dream could not materialize due to poverty.

Shahnaz Bibi, with tears in her eyes, said she had been working in the houses of rich people, but she did not have a place of her own to live. She said she never sent her three young daughters for work because they would be unsafe in the houses of the rich. She proposed that the government should set up industrial schools for the poor and give financial assistance to their daughters so that they could spend their lives with dignity and honour.

Naseema Sadique said she had seven children. Her husband was a cobbler and earned only a few rupees a day which were hardly enough to run the house. To supplement the income, she had been washing clothes and utensils in three houses. But she and her husband were still unable to properly feed and clothe their children. After payment of rent, they were hand to mouth and could not even provide medical treatment to the ailing family members.

An old woman, Fatima, said she migrated from Haroonabad to Faisalabad in search of a job but failed to do so. However, a God-fearing woman engaged her for two meals a day.

Another old woman, Sughran Bibi, said she had been serving in three houses and getting only Rs700 a month. Her three grown-up sons were jobless while her two daughters helped her in domestic chores. They had only one tent to live in even during the scorching heat.

However, Naseema Bibi said the rich people contributed a lot to their survival, otherwise they would die of starvation. She said her husband was a daily wage earner and used to come back home in sheer frustration, not getting any work. Her children had become psychic witnessing the hobbies of the sons and daughters of the rich. They demanded schooling and new clothing she could not afford.

She demanded that the government should set up colonies for the poor and arrange some work for their children, or else provide unemployment allowance to them.

Now some words for a woman of a rural area who though not a servant was working hard round-the-clock.

Basheeran Bibi of Chak Jhumra says her husband owns one-and-a-half acres of land. She has seven daughters and three sons. All live in a joint family system with the parents of her spouse. She says she is required to wake up at 4:30am daily. She prepares fodder for the animals, milks the buffaloes and walks three kilometres to deliver the milk at the sale-point of a multinational company.

On return, she is supposed to make butter and lassi. Afterwards she is required to prepare breakfast for 15 members of the family. Then she has to send her four daughters to school and help her husband in the field. In-between she has to rush home to cook lunch for the whole family and do other works. These are her permanent duties she cannot afford to ignore.

Complaints of sexual violence against women working in the houses are also being heard which is a matter of shame for our society. NGOs fighting for the rights of women are working for creating awareness among the womenfolk but there is hardly any worthwhile activity to protect maid servants from the ill-treatment of their employers.

The Ramallah ruckus: SINDHI PRESS DIGEST

By Abbas Jalbani

CONDEMNING Israeli raid on the headquarters of the Palestinian president, Kawish writes that in the wake of the US-UK war threat to Iraq, the Jewish state has again attacked the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority and its chief, Yasser Arafat, who has the status of a head of state/ government. In South Asia, Indian forces have been deployed at the borders with Pakistan for the last nine months and the US has failed to convince it to withdraw its forces although Pakistan is its close ally in the war on terrorism.

There is little difference between Israeli and Indian demands. Israel is demanding an end to the suicide attacks while India is seeking termination of the cross-border infiltration. Both the countries are refusing to consider the circumstances which compel the Palestinians and the Kashmiris to resort to extreme measures. Unless and until Israel and India give up committing atrocities against the Palestinians and the Kashmiris and give them due political, economic and social rights, it is impossible to resolve the two problems.

President Arafat is a direct target of the latest Israeli aggression. Israel has been lately striving to isolate him and bring about an alternative Palestinian leadership. After having failed to do so, it is now targeting Arafat directly. It is weird that a country is forcibly trying to change the leadership of another while the champions of democracy are watching this horrifying episode silently. It means that for them democracy is limited to rhetoric only and their interests are dearer to them.

The American attack on Afghanistan and war threats to Iraq have introduced a new trend in international relations. The tendency to resolve international disputes through negotiations emerged after World War II. Now this trend has been reversed and the tendency to seek resolution of bilateral disputes by the use of brute force has appeared. This is a very dangerous trend for world peace since it will isolate and alienate the oppressed nations who will retaliate, sooner or later.

Ibrat points out that Iraq has unconditionally allowed the United Nations arms inspectors to return to that country. The Russian Federation, China, France and other countries have welcomed the Iraqi move whereas the USA, remaining adamant as ever before, has rejected it and sped up its efforts for a change of government in the Middle Eastern state. Here arises the question of the credibility of the UN. Iraq was to be blamed if it would have refused to allow the UN inspectors to carry out checks on its arms facilities. However, as it has yielded to the international pressure, the US has no right to act unilaterally. However, it seems that the US has decided to declare war on Iraq and it only needs pretexts for this purpose. The UN should take notice of the bullying attitude of America to reduce the threats to the world peace.

Tameer-i-Sindh, referring to the attack on the house of a PPP supporter in the Khairpur district by the PML (F) diehards, insists that fair election does not only mean a transparent voting process but also implies a level field for all the players. Federal Interior Minister Moeenuddin Haider has admitted that there are some no-go areas for some political forces in Karachi and Balochistan. Due to the dominant feudal culture, there is a similar situation in some rural areas of the country. The election commission should make special arrangements for the “sensitive” constituencies to ensure a free and transparent election process.

Sach deplores that no party has nominated candidates belonging to the so-called scheduled castes for the minority seats. Due to the apprehensions that allocation of minority seats will not benefit the scheduled castes, demand to allocate seats particularly for them has already been raised. These victimized people have been deprived of their basic rights also due to lack of representation in parliament. This deprivation is tantamount to racism, which is just unacceptable in today’s world.

Awami Awaz writes that the National Highway Authority has decided to sack 254 employees, including engineers and architects. Most of these employees belong to Sindh and Balochistan. It seems that it is easier to sack government employees from the two provinces since nobody raises a voice for them. The NHA should reconsider its decision and refrain from snatching the source of livelihood from its employees.