By D Suba Chandran
There is a spurt in the comments and responses within the electronic and social media condemning Taliban’s attack on Malala for her courageous efforts to oppose the radicals’ ban on education. This article explores whether such an incident is a one-time phenomenon or is it likely to occur again? And is Taliban alone to be blamed for what is happening in Pakistan?
Attack on Malala: Is it likely to be the last or is there a Social Amnesia?
Violence against women in Pakistan, especially in Swat Valley is not a new phenomenon. A few years ago a teenage girl was publically whipped by two or three Taliban militants, with scores of men watching on the sides. The incident became a rage on social and electronic media. It had evoked a similar response from the civil society which condemned the violence in social and electronic space. Yet, even today, the video of this public flogging can be can be accessed on public portals like the YouTube. The current attack on Malala is in this sense, almost a deju vu in Swat. And so is the societal response.
Where does the problem lie?
A commentator in the Pakistani media raised an emotional, yet practical matter by raising the question that how many more Malalas will it take to awaken our (Pakistani) collective conscience? That precisely is the problem and not the Taliban – failure of collective conscience to lead a “protracted” social war against gender inequality. Blaming the Taliban for violence against women amounts to externalizing an inherent problem of the society and abdicating societal responsibility.
In fact, Swat is a microcosm of what is happening in many parts of rural Pakistan – Balochistan, KP, Sindh and even Punjab. As is the case of many parts of South Asia, the society is rigidly patriarchal with a heavy emphasis on male authority and chauvinism vis-à-vis women. While the urban Pakistan is suave and has a better gender equation, primarily given better education, opportunities, better governance and access to a secular legal process, but rural Pakistan continues to suffer from such tribulations.
Is there a governance deficit?
Misgovernance and the failure of legal institutions are the two primary culprits that have provided a space to the Taliban and other conservative backward looking social institutions. In this context, the Taliban resembles the jirgas in Punjab, Balochistan and Sindh. Consider the following cases: the jirga led rape of Mukhtaran Mai as a part of honour revenge in Meerawala, Punjab and that of Naseema Chohan, a sixteen year old girl gang rape in Sindh; killing of Zille Huma, a minister in Punjab (!) for being a bad influence, as she was planning to organize a Marathon for women; and the burning alive of women in Balochistan (which was defended in the Parliament by a Senator as a part of centuries old custom!) for allowing the daughter to marry a man of her choice.
Certainly, in none of the above events was the Taliban a party to the atrocity against women. It was led by a section of the society, with another watching it in public. Notably, in each of the above cases there was a public outcry immediately after the event.
However, after a week of intense debate in the media and blaming either a jirga or the Taliban the Pakistani society gets back to its business as usual. The State in Pakistan seems to have many other important issues and problems to deal with than focusing on the condition of women; worse, these events provide a much needed diversion. The State keeps away from any effective intervention. There are very few effective social legislations or trials which could lead to exemplary punishment that would act as deterrence. The judiciary has also turned a blind eye; while it has been too active on political trials, its record against social evils is hardly satisfactory.
To make a rude and perhaps a harsh comparison, such events resemble the gladiator battles of the Roman era, where the State and society released its pressure periodically, only to wear an amnesia blanket the next week and pretend nothing has happened. The only big difference is that instead of gladiators getting butchered by animals and criminals, women today are now being butchered by another set of animals.
Is there a conspiracy led by the West to malign Pakistan?
Another section, the Taliban apologists, is quite active on the parallel, diverting attention by blaming the West, especially the US for leading public outcry (deviating attention from the drone attacks). Conspiracy galore!
The above reasoning makes a case for a West led focus on the issue. The same logic could then be extended to mean that all those who are voicing their opinion against the attacks within Pakistan shed crocodile tears and are a part of the American conspiracy to malign Pakistan. It can also be extended to mean that by providing an opportunity to criticize and malign Pakistan, the Taliban also becomes a part of the larger American conspiracy. However convoluted such logic may sound, but a section within Pakistan believes that al Qaeda and Taliban are Western tools and continue to further their agenda.
Clearly, both the society and the State in Pakistan are externalizing an internal problem by blaming the others – the Taliban and the West. For the real answers lie elsewhere, that is, in the vision of an egalitarian society with a fundamental right to education, honour and respectable life, irrespective of gender.
D Suba Chandran
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