ON Thursday, Pakistan finally managed a step that ought to go some distance towards discouraging and punishing two of the most heinous crimes that are committed against the beleaguered women of this land. The Anti-Honour Killing Laws (Criminal Amendment Bill) 2015 and Anti-Rape Laws (Criminal Amendment Bill) 2015, originally piloted by PPP legislator Sughra Imam, had been left hanging for months. Passed by the Senate in March 2015, they lapsed because they were not taken up by National Assembly; the only way to secure their passage into law had been through a joint sitting of parliament.
Fortunately, last week, such a sitting was convened and the new laws were given parliamentary assent. Both contain several points of significance, key among them being that in cases of ‘honour’ killing, the murderer will be held liable even if (s)he is pardoned by another family member, and in cases of rape, DNA evidence will be used to prove that the crime has been committed.
Why create problems where none exist?
These are important gains. One would have expected that there would be consensus and congratulations all around, along with the resolve for the government to metaphorically roll up its sleeves and get to work. But Pakistan wouldn’t be the country it is if there weren’t sour faces and objections on the flimsiest of grounds, undermining otherwise positive optics.
On Thursday, these came from Jamshed Dasti, who lamented time spent on these bills and pointed out that the session had been called to discuss the matter of Kashmir. In his view, the latter issue had been overshadowed and “there [had been] no point in bringing up this bill today”. Instead, he felt, the occasion should have been used to “send a message to our enemy”.
It seems to have escaped the respected lawmaker’s attention that these two crimes, considering the frequency with which they are committed in this country, as well as the mindset they represent, can be termed a war against half the population. In choosing to say what he did, he broadcast the unfortunate signal that, notwithstanding progressive laws, attitudes remain deeply retrogressive.
He cemented this conclusion by bizarrely lamenting that “today, even fifth-graders are aware of sex education” — this, in a country that has seen a child sexual abuse scandal at the scale of the one in Kasur some time ago, and where even otherwise sexual abuse is rampant.
If this is an example of retrogressive attitudes and needlessly creating issues where none need exist, consider another example. The same day as the joint sitting of parliament was wasting its time on a couple of landmark pieces of legislation, it was reported that MPA Khurram Sher Zaman of Karachi’s upmarket Clifton constituency had on Sept 21 written to the Sindh minister for education and literacy. The grave issue he wanted to bring to attention was that, according to his information, dance classes were being made part of the curriculum in private schools.
Leave aside the irony that the offended sensibilities were those of a lawmaker belonging to the PTI, a party characterised by song and dance at its rallies, the fact is, as activists have pointed out, one would be hard-pressed to find any school at all where dance is part of the curriculum.
The immediate outcome of the contents of this letter becoming public was that the head of the Sindh education department’s curriculum wing had to go on record saying that music and dance were not part of the national curriculum; and the head of the Private School Management Association also stated that the national curriculum does not allow the teaching of dance. Meanwhile, those interested in teaching or learning dance were left saying ‘Where? Where?’
In the absence of any information about specific institutions where this nefarious activity is allegedly taking place, we can only speculate about what so moved Mr Zaman that he had to bring it to the attention of a minister who must already struggle to fulfil his responsibilities given the state of shambles the education sector is in. This much is known, though: most schools, public or private, organise from time to time tableaus and talent shows as part of their extracurricular activities. Are these what the lawmaker is objecting to? Regardless, while it has been confirmed that dance is not part of the national curriculum, the basis has been laid for the creation, one day, of a rule specifically outlawing it.
There is no dearth in Pakistan of very serious issues that need urgent addressing. One could have hoped that it would be these that primarily exercise the faculties of those elected to do something about them. But it seems that is not to be, apparently no occasion remaining entirely shorn of mischief-making by some quarter or the other (the examples are myriad). If that were not the case, perhaps Pakistan would not be what it is.
The writer is a member of staff.
Published in Dawn October 10th, 2016