THERE are few things as predictable in the country as the reaction of the religious right to progressive causes, especially the empowerment and protection of women.
When the regressive is confronted by the progressive, a meltdown is inevitable. Continuing that peculiar tradition is Mohammad Khan Sherani, chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology and champion of many a dubious cause.
He has claimed that not only is the recent pro-women legislation passed by the Punjab government against the law and Sharia, but that the Punjab Assembly could attract the application of Article 6 of the Constitution for approving it.
Also read: ‘Article 6 applicable against Punjab Assembly’
Treason, Mr Sherani apparently believes, is an attempt to give some protection to women who are abused and denied their basic rights under the Constitution. The absurdity of the claim is perhaps only exceeded by the dangerous idea buried within it — what Mr Sherani and his ilk really appear to be looking for is a veto over the people of Pakistan themselves.
The new Punjab law is particularly important because it does not simply criminalise attacks on women, but also seeks to provide a mechanism for enforcement and create an enabling environment for women to report crimes committed against them.
Be it in the home, the workplace or in public spaces, women who are harassed, attacked or threatened have been unable to get justice because of the anti-women bent of the law-enforcement and judicial systems.
And where women have been brave enough in the past to press for justice in the face of ugly challenges, they have often been left vulnerable to the excesses of their tormentors and persecutors.
While the efficacy of the law will only be known once women in communities across the province turn to it for protection and justice, the reaction of Mr Sherani and his supporters already suggests its great potential.
The rule of thumb here is that the more intense the opposition to a progressive law, the more likely it is that the law will be able to effect genuine social change.
Yet, as the legislative framework and social system improve, the time has come to directly challenge the religious right’s outsized influence and to reject its attempted strangulation of Pakistani society.
Mr Sherani’s relevance on the national stage is linked to his chairmanship of a body that is irrelevant in the parliamentary scheme of things. Perhaps it is time to take away Mr Sherani’s bully pulpit.
Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2016