The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday dismissed a petition seeking to restrict the Aurat March as non-maintainable and not justiciable.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah dismissed the petition saying the right of assembly is a fundamental right but he stated that the court expects that the participants of the march will exercise their rights in accordance with the law.
While dismissing the petition, the top judge highlighted the following points:
- Courts across the country are inundated with litigation brought by women against the denial of their inheritance rights. "Mothers, sisters and daughters are denied their rights which have been expressly given to them by Almighty Allah in unambiguous terms."
- In this context, and in view of widespread violence prevalent against women in the country, the International Women’s Day should be observed as "a day of introspection".
- "The petitioners and citizens are expected to take [the march] as an opportunity to introspect and demonstrably show outrage against the practices, which are flagrantly offensive to the injunctions of Islam e.g. mindsets that do not welcome the birth of a female child, honour killings, rape, practices such as wani, swara, karo-kari, etc. If this happens, then many innocent 'Zainabs' will be saved from being treated savagely."
- The words used in Aurat March slogans "should not be given meanings according to the mindset of a certain section of society and that too, contrary to the explanation given by the proponents of the march".
- "Tribal patriarchal traditions and societal norms, based on egos and obscure insecurities [...] have to be defeated through collective struggle so that no mother, sister or daughter suffers the agony of litigation to assert rights of inheritance nor innocent 'Zainabs' have to endure unthinkable pain and agony."
The court had earlier in the day reserved its verdict on the maintainability of the petition, while questioning the petitioners' interpretation of slogans they had objected to.
During today's proceedings, the petitioners' lawyers told the court that they sought restrictions on the Aurat March — scheduled to take place across the country on March 8 as the world marks Women's Day — and shared some slogans that women would chant at such an event, including "mera jism, meri marzi" (my body, my choice), "divorced and happy" and "no bacha dani (uterus), no opinion".
The eight petitioners had earlier appealed to the court to regulate activities like the Aurat March "subject to law, norms, decency and public morality in the best interest of justice and to order the respondents to perform their obligatory duties towards the Constitution and the law of land in this regard and restrain unlawful, unconstitutional and un-Islamic activities forthwith".
The petitioners apprehended that slogans would be raised by some women's rights activists which they find offensive and in violation of Islamic injunctions. They feared that the slogans would disturb harmony in the society and offend the established norms.
But the court declared that "the prayer sought is not justiciable nor is the petition maintainable."
However, Justice Minallah wrote in the eight-page judgement that "this court expects that the proponents of the 'Aurat March' will exercise their constitutional rights in accordance with law having regard to conduct that is consistent with the norms of decency."
The event is an opportunity for its participants to "prove those who doubt their intentions wrong", the verdict said.
'Important to see march in positive light'
"In our society, various Islamic laws are being seriously violated. The court hopes that the petitioner also approaches it for the enforcement of all these Islamic laws," remarked Justice Minallah during the hearing today.
"The women's slogans are that they be given the rights that Islam grants them. Can we interpret their slogans by ourselves?" the judge questioned.
"It is important that you see the Aurat March in a positive light. On your own, how can you interpret these slogans?"
Justice Minallah said if anything against the law happened on March 8, legal action would be taken at the time, observing that the petitioners were seeking prior relief from the court.
"The first individuals to embrace Islam were women," the judge noted.
He said yesterday in a press conference, Aurat March organisers said they were asking for the rights granted to them in Islam.
"When they made themselves clear in their press conference then how can we have different interpretations?" Justice Minallah asked, adding that the press conference had been published all across the media today.
"Who ended the practice of burying girls alive?" the IHC chief justice inquired, in response to which the petitioners' lawyer said Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had done so.
"In our society, the birth of a girl is still not considered good," he added.
The judge also questioned the petitioners' counsel on how many women in the country were given the right to an inheritance, alluding to the difficulties they face despite clear Islamic laws in place.
During today's proceedings, the petitioners' lawyers told the court that they completely supported women's rights, adding that they were not opposed to the march or to the rights of women.
They pleaded for the court to pass an order that the march is conducted within the ambit of the law, Constitution and Islam.
Following the statements of the parties in the case today, the IHC reserved its verdict before announcing its dismissal.
Earlier this week, the Lahore High Court had also wrapped up a petition against the holding of Aurat March, reiterating its earlier remarks that the gathering could not be stopped under the Constitution and directing the Lahore district authorities to speed up their decision on an application seeking permission to hold the march.
What is the Aurat March?
The 'Aurat March', as it has come to be known since its first iteration in 2018, was organised by Hum Aurtain — a feminist collective. It has a manifesto demanding basic rights for women in each field of life.
For the past two years, it has been organised to coincide with the International Women's Day on March 8, which is also the scheduled date for the rally this year.
Last year, the holding of the rally led to a backlash against the organisers and participants for “violating Islamic principles” and “disrespecting women”. Most critics had issues with the placards and banners used during the march, which they said transgressed Pakistan's cultural values. There were also reports of the organisers of the march receiving threats on social media.