The president of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl's (JUI-F) Islamabad chapter has voiced opposition to Aurat March held across the country every year on International Women's Day, celebrated on March 8, warning that they would use "baton" to stop it.
"If any attempts are made for obscenity on March 8 in Islamabad, we will condemn it," warned Abdul Majeed Hazarvi, the chief of JUI-F's Islamabad wing, while addressing a demonstration held in the capital's D-Chowk in connection with India's hijab row.
Hazarvi said that during Aurat March, "obscenity is spread in the name of women's rights".
He warned the government that if the march was allowed, "we will [use] baton to stop it".
Aurat March, which was first held in Karachi in 2018, is now organised in numerous other cities across the country on March 8 every year to celebrate International Women's Day and highlight the issues women face in Pakistan.
The march has been subjected to criticism earlier as well, in particular for the slogans and placards raised during it. In 2019, the march's participants in the capital came under attack when male students from Jamia Hafsa took down their tent and hurled stones at them.
Last year, petitions where filed in the Islamabad and Lahore high courts, asking for a ban on the march. But these petitions were dismissed, with courts saying the right to assemble peacefully was guaranteed in the Constitution.
The latest tirade against the event from the JUI-F comes just a day after Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri wrote a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan, saying that anti-Islamic slogans should not be raised on International Women's Day.
The minister had also suggested celebrating International Hijab Day instead on March 8, in an effort to express solidarity with Muslim women across the globe.
After the letter drew criticism on social media, notably from PPP Senator Sherry Rehman and Pakistan’s former ambassador to the UN, Maleeha Lodhi, Qadri issued a clarification saying that some political leaders were trying to spread negative propaganda without reading his letter.
'Govts can't police people's views'
Meanwhile, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that governments did not have the right to police people's views and clothing, adding that bans should only apply in places where violence is being promoted.
He expressed the views while speaking to Geo News where he was asked about Qadri's letter to the prime minister. "I have not seen Noorul Haq Qadri's letter [and] what he has written," he said, adding that anything which "did not involve violence" should not be banned.
"You can talk about extremism, but if there is no violence then there is no issue. You can't indulge in hate speech, you can't incite people to violence and you cannot carry out torture."
The minister went on to say the every person had their own ideas and views and that there were no curbs on this in democratic governments. "Where you think that they have tried to incite violence, then that is a separate matter."
Chaudhry said that the government should not become a party in the matter concerning what one wears and doesn't wear. "This is not the government's decision. This is society's decision. It [society] makes its own decisions about what is and isn't appropriate.
"If governments start making these decisions, it leads to anarchy in society which we are seeing in India," he said, also giving the example of the rise of Islamophobia in Europe.
He said that society should only stand up to violence, adding that every person had the right to their own views.
Asked whether he had any objections to the slogans and banners raised during Aurat March, he said that many of these had been "photoshopped". "When it was investigated later, it was discovered that they were photoshopped."
He said that there were clear lines which one could not cross in Pakistan. "But calling for a ban on someone having a [certain] point of view is incomprehensible."
'Hijab is our pride, our honour'
At the JUI-F's demonstration, MNA Shahida Akhtar Ali, who heads the party's women wing, also spoke about the escalating hijab row in India.
The issue grabbed headlines last month after a government-run school in India’s Karanartaka barred students wearing hijabs from entering classrooms, triggering protests outside the school gate. More schools in the state followed with similar bans, forcing the state’s top court to intervene.
The issue further escalated when a video of a hijab-clad student, Muskan Khan, being heckled and jeered at by a mob of Hindutva supporters in Karnataka surfaced on social media.
"We pay tribute to Muskan Khan," said Ali at today's demonstration, condemning the "hatred being directed towards Muslims in India".
She lamented that hijab was being targeted in India, adding that "we have all gathered here today ... to raise voice for hijab."
"Hijab is our pride, our honour," she said. "As Muslims, it is obligatory upon us to respect hijab."
Ali demanded that since the matter held significance for the entire Muslim ummah, it should be raised in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
She said the opposition to hijab in India was actually "propaganda against Islam, and we will continue to defend the sanctity and honour of hijab".
JUI-F general secretary Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri said, "India has been exposed as its constitution is being violated and rights of minorities trampled."
He criticised Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and "extremist groups" in India, regretting the "silence of human rights organisations" on the matter.
Haideri also demanded that the "OIC should play its role and raise voice against the atrocities in India".