Recent incidents like blasphemy cases and the attacks on the young women in Karachi this week are terrible situations, but perhaps there is some hope that they have at least served to start a conversation about vitally important topics – how we treat minorities and women, and what we can do to improve the situation.
Dr Awab posted a blog submitted by an anonymous author that takes what I think is a popular view of social change among the middle-class: that agitating for social reforms is premature until the root causes of intolerance have been addressed.
Contrast this attitude of waiting until the time is right with another post on Dr Awab’s blog:
Hunger, poverty, injustice, oppression, unfairness, obscurantism, and darkness engulf the life of the teeming millions in this country. And all we can do is talk, talk and talk. We talk so much about the rights of the people of our country, but when the time comes for action, all we see is abuse. Starting right from the top. The basic rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness seem to be the stuff of fairytale luxury that is out of reach for the common people.
Who are we waiting for? A Messiah? He will never come. When will we stand up for ourselves?
These are two competing viewpoints from people who both claim to want to see social reforms and progressive change in society, but have two very different ways of getting there. One, the more conservative group, would like to see change, but thinks that it must wait until underlying problems have been fixed. The other is less patient and wants to see change happen now.
Meanwhile, Joint Action Committee for People’s Rights, Women’s Action Forum, Insani-Huqooq Ittehad (IHI), National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW), women’s human rights organizations and several women parliamentarians have strongly condemned a ‘declaration’ of the Shariat Court that seeks to reverse sections of the Women Protection Act 2006 and revert back to the Hudood Ordinance of 1979.
These people did not stop at simply condemning the declaration of the Shariat Court, they demanded change to the system that allows such discriminatory declarations to be made.
They also demanded abolition of all parallel judicial systems such as Federal Shariat Court, Islamic Ideology Council and Jirgas. The civil society said that unless and until we were not going to resolve our contradictions with respect to the nature of the Pakistani state, these issues were not going to be resolved.
So, who is right and who is wrong? Should these groups have simply kept quiet at the Shariat Court’s declaration and waited until people’s minds have changed? Or should they be out trying to change minds?
I must admit that while I appreciate the pragmatism of Anonymous, I don’t know that this will be quite enough to satisfy those who suffer under such discriminatory laws. The group that condemned the Shariat Court asked pertinent questions:
“How any law made in the name of women protection can be taken back?” the statement questions while expressing deep concern over the decision. “What sort of confidence would Pakistani women and girls will have?”
I think there seems to be something of a ‘Which came first, the chicken or the egg?’ question here. Anonymous may be willing to sit back and wait for social change to come, but what of the girls and minorities who are affected by these laws? What of the people languishing in jail because they threw a business card in the dustbin?
Anonymous quotes a PEW poll that found that only 16 % of Pakistanis opposed capital punishment for apostasy, only 11 % opposed segregation at work places and stoning to death for adultery and 13 % opposed amputation for theft. What he determines from this is that “human rights groups are very misled in believing that they can either match the street power of these groups or have public sympathy for their cause”.
But I would offer another answer which is that this means that it is all the more urgent for human rights groups to organize and spread their message of tolerance. It’s also most important for individuals like anonymous to not sit on the sideline and wait for society to magically change itself.
Using the logic of Anonymous, Palestinians should not struggle against Israeli hardliners who are keeping them in miserable conditions. Blacks in South Africa should not have struggled to overturn apartheid. What about the struggle of blacks in America to overcome discrimination that was so deeply ingrained not only in the laws of the US but in the very social habits of the people. Some well-meaning liberals said at the time that blacks should just be patient, that change would come once people realized they were misguided in their thinking. The poet Langston Hughes wrote the poem Dream Deferred about this point:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Social change has never been easy, and there have always been well-intentioned people who told us to wait. We were told to wait under the British. Jinnah was told to wait and not rush the founding of the nation. There will always be those who tell you to wait. We need people to stand up and be counted as against discrimination, even if it isn’t the popular opinion – especially if it isn’t the popular opinion. We have too many dreams deferred already, and we don’t need any more explosions.