The Wrong Protest

crying woman

There has been quite a bit of chatter about the demonstrations organized in defense of Dr Aafia, which seems a bit curious to no one but me. Why is it that people are so upset about this woman that nobody knows anything about, but when our own neighbors are abused, tortured, and killed you couldn’t gather a group of people to speak out even if your promised free cell phones to all participants.

Marvi Memon (PML-Q) says that people should get the facts before they speak out defending Dr Aafia. But this seems to be the minority view, certainly in the media. For most people, Dr Aafia is saint. But the saint of what, exactly? I suppose she is right now the ‘Saint of People Who Want To Be Angry’.

But isn’t there enough to be angry about already? I’m not talking about corruption or coups or other bogey men. Actually, I’m talking about other Daughters of the Nation – and real ones, at that. Yes, our actual daughters. And yet unless you mention the name Aafia, everyone is completely uninterested in daughters, aren’t they?

Let’s look at the events of the past few days. MQM takes a massive rally demanding justice for Aafia. Where? In Pakistan. Where is Aafia? In the US.

And why are these people protesting now? Where were these people when Dr Aafia was in the American courts? I keep hearing talk about some Americans and Europeans wanting to come to Islamabad to protest. (Which is hilarious, really. I wonder if The Nation will publish their hotel room numbers and accuse them of being spies?) But if all of these people have information that proves that Dr Aafia is innocent, why did they not go to America and present this evidence? What is the point of holding a giant demonstration in Pakistan when the woman is being held in the US?

Okay, but that is somewhat beside the point. People have the right to be angry if they want to. I’m more interested in why they’re only angry about Aafia and not the other women in our country.

While everyone was angry about the treatment of Dr Aafia – who, by the way, said that she is treated well – nobody seems to notice that a woman in Orakzai was murdered by Taliban for the crime of being seen out with a man.

Is this woman not a daughter of the nation? Is she less Pakistani than Aafia Siddiqui? Why is Aafia worth more to us? Is it because we don’t really care about her, we just like the excuse to be angry?

Or what about the daughters of Pakistan who are being treated like cattle, traded between families to pay debts.

Consider, for example, a jirga convened on Sunday in Kaloo Jatoi village near Shikarpur, which ordered the marriage of two minor girls as a dispute-settlement mechanism. The complainant, a Jatoi tribesman, accused two men of having had an illicit relationship with his two wives, whom he killed a month ago. The jirga decided that two girls from the accused men’s families be married into the complainant’s family as compensation. Consequently, 12-year-old Sadia was forced to marry a man nearly 30 years her senior, while 9-year-old Shami was married to a teenaged boy.

Why does Altaf Bhai not cry out for these daughters of the nation? Are they not useful for his political ambitions?

I’m not the only person who has noticed this. Sana Saleem’s excellent blog post for Dawn makes the case exactly.

However she is not alone. Hundreds of women in Pakistan face severe torture, abuse and are raped in police custody. In July 2008, a 17-year-old girl was abducted by police officials in Faisalabad, and kept in private custody for 16 days, where she was raped and tortured to confess her involvement in the murder of her fiance. But it did not end there; her elder sister was also brought into police custody in order to pressurize her younger sister to confess to the alleged crime. The details, according to the Asian Human Rights Report, are extremely disturbing and very graphic. While in police custody, she was twice raped by a sub inspector, however no action has been taken by the government to prosecute the sub inspector.

Several human rights organisations have reported incidents of people being tortured while in police custody, using methods such as “beating with batons and whips, burning with cigarettes, whipping soles of the feet, prolonged isolation, electric shock, denial of food or sleep ….”

While we raise our concerns of the torture and abuse in jails in the US, our silence on abuse in jails within our country is nothing short of hypocrisy. It is only fair that the government, political and religious parties and most importantly, the people raise their voice against injustices within our country just as much as we do against those committed abroad. Siddiqui’s case has received immense media attention, while thousands of stories of sexual abuse, rape and torture within our own country remain unheard. After all, the ghosts of our prisoners should haunt us just as much as the ghosts of Bargram, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib do.

Have pity on Dr Aafia. Her story is a sad one. Even if she did get caught up with militant groups, it is still a sad story of such promise wasted. But we must keep things in perspective. Dr Aafia is one sad story in a nation with no shortages of daughters who need our help. So where is the outcry for them?

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  1. Pingback: Schizophrenia On Women’s Rights « New Pakistan

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