Through the Gender Lens, a handbook – and also the culmination of a yearlong collaborative effort between Uks and UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) and 39 youth selected from around the country – was launched in Islamabad on Human Rights Day, December 10.
Says Tasneem Ahmar the director of Uks, a research, resource and publication centre on women and media: “UNFPA approached us [Uks] in January this year in search of a partner who could train youth to create gender-sensitive media content on gender-based violence.”
Advertised through flyers in newspapers and at educational institutes, the response was overwhelming, says project coordinator Saadia Haq, who is also a radio producer. “We thought girls would not apply from a lot of the areas, but we were surprised when we received entries from areas of Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) – in fact small agencies of KPK – and Sukkur, etc.”
Aged between 15 and 25, the group of 39, which included an equal number of male and female members, hailed from both the urban centres and rural districts of the country: Chakwal, Jacobabad, Quetta, Peshawar, Waziristan, Mansehra, AJK (Azad Jammu and Kashmir), Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. In March, the group met for the first time for a one-day orientation session in which they were introduced to the project, the aims of which were to create awareness regarding gender-based violence, promote gender equity and equality, and advance the view that women’s rights are human rights.
The participants went through a rigorous training process over the passage of the year. Divided into three groups according to their areas of interest (print, radio or TV), they were educated on what gender-based violence was, trained to deconstruct media messages (projections and stereotyping of women in the media as well as the manner in which gender-based crimes are reported) by monitoring a selected number of TV and radio programmes and print matter, and tasked to eventually produce gender-sensitive media content of their own. Once equipped with the gender lens and the technical skills, the youth returned to their respective hometowns to begin peer training – it was expected of them to pass on what they had learned to at least 35 people in their communities – and complete their media productions that they were required to turn in by the end of the year.
The peer-training sessions ranged from workshops, seminars and press conferences to rallies and processions. “In extremely difficult circumstances, amidst deteriorating law-and-order situations, despite cancellations, the participants continued their trainings,” says Haq. “They even sat people down at roadside hotels to pass on the message. Some of our youth members were even displaced by the floods, they were living in tents – in fact some still are – but still they turned in productions that swept me off my feet. They have exceeded all expectations.”
A panel comprising some of the members of the core group, including Dr Salman Asif (UNFPA), Amir Mateen (Senior Correspondent, The News, Islamabad), Rana Jawad (Bureau Chief of Geo TV, Islamabad), Tasneem Ahmar, as well as guest speakers Sherry Rehman and the director of the HRCP, I. A. Rehman, worked closely with the participants and addressed the audience.
Ms. Ahmar informed the audience how initially the participants couldn’t really communicate with one another. “Some couldn’t understand English, others couldn’t converse in Urdu – or didn’t want to,” she said. “There was hesitation. We saw a huge communication gap. That has been bridged now, and that is another success of the project. They have overcome whatever inhibitions they had as a group. They’ve all worked together and there has been no discrimination on the basis of anything.”
Deliberating on gender-based violence, I.A. Rehman stated: “Gender violence is part of the Pakistani mindset; it is a part of the collective. We tried to get rid of this, but Zia-ul-Haq came along, and after that every man made it his duty to beat the woman – and women accepted their lot in life. I feel that there is an increase in gender violence today; it [the concept] is even embedded in the minds of those who call themselves progressive. The youth need to rid themselves of this inheritance.”
These 39 youth who, according to Rana Jawad, have already reached out to people in their areas and beyond to spread awareness, were to him “passionate and inquisitive, like a new lease of life.” Amir Mateen stressed the need to strike a balance in newsrooms as far as a female presence was concerned, without which, he stated, reporting could not become gender sensitive. However, gender-based violence needed to be highlighted more in the mainstream media, he added.
“When nobody viewed media as a construct, as something that shapes reality,” said Sherry Rehman, “Tasneem started this project: how the media covers gender-based violence and how it projects stereotypes. This is a grassroots project.” Addressing the participants, she said that Uks had equipped them with a revolutionary tool and they should ensure that the initiative is taken forward, that it remains an ongoing process and they become the ‘agents of change’ everybody sees them as.
The handbook, which was provided to all the guests at the event, details the different activities the participants were involved in as part of their training. It is available in both Urdu and in English. It also serves as a training manual for those who want to conduct peer training of their own.
Mai Jori’s name was first heard in March 2010 when, after the assassination of Sardar Rustum Khan Jamali, by-elections for his seat PB-25 were announced. Mai Jori was one of the contenders.
An illiterate hari woman, she was offered an Awami Party ticket, and was put up against tough opposition: Nasir Khan Jamali and Mir Atta Ullah Buledi. How and why she was nominated is an interesting story.
In the village of Goth Ghulam Mohammed Jamali, Jafarabad, the villagers convened a meeting to decide who should stand from among them. With issue-based politics as its motto and the working classes as its candidates, the Awami Party found support in the village that had been a part of the Hari Tehreek, and where its inhabitants did not look to the feudal lords for a solution to their problems. Their leader must come from among them, they believed. However, with contenders like Buledi and Jamali, who could possibly stand up against them? It was then suggested that a female candidate be fielded, the reasoning being that a male contender was most likely to be kidnapped or killed, while a woman would be spared because killing one for political reasons would bring disrepute to the feudals.
A few names were suggested but for various reasons, those women could not contest. It was Mai Jori’s husband who came forward and volunteered her for the position. Mother of nine, with one daughter with a disability, Mai Jori’s journey and campaign was not an easy one. Hailing from an extremely poor household, in which very often there was not a meal to eat in the day, starvation did not deter her – in fact, it fuelled her political ambition. “Main apni bhook se election mein khari huwi hoon,” she remarked. But election campaigns require money, and there she was without enough to even pay for her family’s sustenance. That is when she embarked on the ‘Jholi Chanda Mohim’ (fund collection drive) at the suggestion of some of the villagers.
She went from house to house – sometimes on foot and sometimes on a donkey cart – beating a drum. People filled her lap with whatever they could give, and women came out and joined her in raising slogans, one of the popular ones being, “Na chori ka, na zori ka; vote hai Mai Jori ka!” (Neither from plunder, nor from threat, this vote belongs to Mai Jori). By the end of it, she managed to raise Rs 25,000-30,000 through her campaign. On one occasion, her rival, Atta Ullah Buledi paid her a visit, and in a traditional show of appreciation, and to commend her on her bravery, placed an ajrak on her head.
Alongside, Buledi was trying to score political points against Mai Jori’s other opponent, Nasir Khan Jamali, who wasn’t half as gracious. In fact, Jamali and his men tried to dissuade Mai Jori from running for the seat. From issuing threats of opening cases against her husband, to offers of giving him a job in the city and providing the family with a house there – they tried it all. At one time, narrates Shaheena Memon, member of the Awami Party, Nasir Jamali even staged a whole scene where he got a woman to dress like Mai Jori and had her announce that she was stepping down. Such measures were resorted to as eliminating her by force was never an option.
Says Ramzan Memon: “Some criminal elements who like to curry favour with the feudals told Zafarullah Jamali we can take care of her (meaning kill her), but he forbade them saying, ‘You don’t know the media and civil society; I won’t be able to enter Islamabad after that.’” But as head of the Jamali clan, he decided to take care of her another way. He decided to pay her a visit and ask her to step down. The villagers were faced with a dilemma: on the one hand was their pledge to fight the fight and not step back, and on the other were cultural norms that required them to accede to the request of the head of their clan when he called on them. So they devised a plan of their own: they decided they would hand Zafarullah Jamali a gun when he came and tell him to kill Mai Jori and her husband. That way, they wouldn’t have to retract from their stand, and neither go against their customs. And a clever plan it was, because when Zafarullah Jamali got wind of it, he cancelled the visit altogether – exactly what the villagers had wanted.
Eventually, political clout ensured the victory of Nasir Jamali, whose men had secured every polling station. However, Mai Jori received the maximum votes at the polling station in her village and became a symbol of hope and pride. “She proved that though poor and destitute, if a person who has been subdued and oppressed is given the smallest opportunity, they will seize it to make a change,” says Shaheena.
The feudal lords, it seems, have still not recovered from the setback they faced from Mai Jori’s entry into the largely male-dominated arena of politics. They are always finding ways of getting back at her. Ramzan Memon reveals that after the floods, several attempts were made by the party to deliver relief goods to Mai Jori’s village. But since the relief efforts were facilitated by the state and the feudal lords are part of the state machinery in the province, they prevented any aid from reaching Mai Jori and the villagers, as punishment for their earlier defiance of them.
But this is a struggle Mai Jori and the villagers have carried on all their lives. Denied the right to land, water, sustenance, health facilities and education, fighting deprivation is an age-old issue. And this is why she decided to step into the tricky/dirty/murky world of politics in the first place: to ensure that the rights of the downtrodden were given to them – especially to the women.
Newsline would like to credit the following people for the compilation of this profile: Khadija Parveen (Shirkat Gah), Shaheena and Ramzan Memon (Awami Party) and Attiya Dawood (documentary filmmaker).
Facebook started off with making sure others had restricted access to you. People couldn’t search you if you didn’t want them to. They couldn’t view your profile picture. They could not “friend” you.
But all that has changed.
Now you don’t have the option of disallowing your friends’ friends to try to befriend you, or to make sure nobody can view your display picture (or copy it – yes, all pictures on Facebook can be copied by others if they have access to them). But what is really, really creepy is that Facebook allows random people to poke you!
Well now, here’s another cause for concern.
If your account happens to be temporarily locked, Facebook allows you two options to gain access to it. Here is what I discovered yesterday, after I was locked out of my own account. My first option was to answer my secret question: standard stuff.
The second option was troubling, though. Facebook offered me the option of identifying my friends. A series of three pictures was displayed with the common denominator being friends tagged in all of the pictures. Below each of the photos, in multiple-choice format, were five names. I had to click the right name for each tagged friend. Facebook informed me that it was satisfied with my answers, and I passed. Seemingly, more pictures would be displayed if one of the initial friend questions is answered incorrectly, so as to rule out ‘innocent’ mistakes or alternatively confirm that the person seeking access is not the genuine owner.
However, the images that Facebook displayed were not only pictures from my albums or pictures that I’d been tagged in but also seemingly pictures from the albums of my “friends.” This would make it especially easy for someone I know to pass the same tests.
The business of buying and selling people’s information is huge. And while your account is at risk to the dubious activities of hackers, stalkers and sometimes even people you know, often your personal information is also being mined by the businesses that you have trusted to safeguard it.
There are basic precautions that you can take. Here are some basic dos and don’ts as far social networking goes:
- Do not make personal contact information (i.e. phone number, address, etc.) available online
- Do not give your location
- Do not upload things that would compromise you in any way
- Do not put information you don’t want others to have access to because, remember, what goes up on the Internet stays up there, even if you delete it.
For more tips on privacy, see Bolo Bhi’s Digital Security Guides
Everyone knows of the Mukhtaran Mai rape case. Not just in Pakistan but around the world too people have discussed the infamous case and been appalled at the treatment of the victim at home. Remember former President-General Musharraf’s comments on rape? Many believe those comments mirror the misogynistic attitudes of many in the land of the pure.
Today, more cries of surprise and disgust are likely to be heard from international observers as five of the accused in Mukhtaran’s case have been ordered by the highest court in the land to be freed. The announcement from Islamabad that the Supreme Court has upheld an earlier judgement by the LHC has also caused outrage here in Pakistan – but it appears only in some quarters.
While activists and those sensitive to Mukhtaran’s plight are angered, it seems there are many to whom the plight of women in general (often the victims of heinous crimes such as rape) means nothing at all. According to Anis Haroon, chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women, who was there for the hearing, only three sentences were uttered with regards to Mukhtaran’s case and it was dismissed (while the judgement consists of 90 pages).
As the case stands, Abdul Khaliq, who was convicted and is considered by the court to be the main figure behind the crime, will go on to serve his jail term as per the Lahore High Court verdict, while the five other accused have been released. Haroon reports on the senseless questions she was asked by the media after the verdict.
Here are some examples that she has shared with Newsline:
Q: Is the verdict a failure of the government?
A: It is the failure of criminal justice system.
Q: You mean the present?
A: We are referring to the judicial system.
Q: Will you go for repeal in America?
A: A stupid question.
. . .
And some more:
Q: Where are your human rights? Why don’t you feel for innocent people who are released?
And another . . .
Q: They were in jail for six years, why don’t women have sympathy with them?
These are just some. But the issue is not whether we should pick a fight or not, but it is about the attitudes that must be challenged. They go a long way in shaping the society.
Sadly, as per norm, we victimise the victim.
“We are making sure the law is institutionalised”
- Dr Fouzia Saeed, Chairperson,
National Implementation Watch Committee and
AASHA (Alliance Against Sexual Harassment)
Q: The journey for a policy and legal framework against Sexual Harassment started way back in 2001 – and it took up to 2010 to achieve this…
A: Initially, people weren’t even familiar with the term ‘sexual harassment.’ In the government, they didn’t even want to refer to the word ‘sexual’ and just used ‘harassment.’ In the first two years, our major achievement was to get the issue acknowledged. Then we developed a policy to be instituted in the formal sector. As a strategy, we felt that it was better to take on [the issue of] formal workplace harassment first because it was relatively easy to manage, and then take up the issue of harassment at bus stops and market places. We worked with the government from day one, especially the Ministry of Women’s Development (MoWD) and the Ministry of Labour. That’s how the Code of Conduct for Gender Justice came to be – incidentally, that’s what it had to be called, so they could stomach it.
The policy that we developed was agreed to by the government, but once it was finalised they didn’t accept it, even though every word had been negotiated. We compromised and compromised, but when it was time to implement it, they backed out. The minister for MoWD and Labour were interested, but the commitment of the larger party – the ruling party – was not there. So the policy was not approved by the cabinet division.
Q: Is this because of a general mindset when it comes to women’s issues, or conservative elements within parties?
A: One finds the well-educated, those with a supposedly liberal façade to be the most difficult. On women’s issues, they don’t have their act together at all, even though these are simple issues. All we are saying is ‘respect women.’ If I had to pick one challenge throughout this period, it has been dealing with the bureaucracy – especially the women’s development secretaries.
We found a lot of resistance from the secretaries of the women’s ministry, throughout these 11 years. Most of our time was spent on pushing the draft through, getting comments from other ministries, getting it vetted. It was less so in the assemblies, although that is the longer process. And the sluggishness of the process is another thing. I was amazed that there were men in the ministry – not secretaries – who would sit and joke about the issue, but were happy to be drawing salaries from the same ministry. The only secretary who was helpful, who used to hear us out, was Salim Mehmood Salim. At least he didn’t say women should not have dignity.
Q: What kind of feedback did you receive from them? How dismissive were the secretaries about the issue – were they brazen about it or would they sugarcoat the dismissal?
A: Secretaries said [harassment] is the fault of women, because of the clothes they wear etc. We were confronted with very traditional, stereotypical myths and misinformation – if she gets beaten up, harassed or raped, blame the woman.
Q: Did you find the private sector more forthcoming?
A: Much more! Now I am experiencing some conservativeness in the private sector, but back then we were dealing with whoever we could get along with. The Chamber of Commerce, Karachi, was particularly open-minded at the time; they were very clear on women’s issues. The initial step of getting the first few organisations to adopt the code of conduct voluntarily was difficult. But we managed to get 300 to adopt it eventually, before we started drafting the legislation.We had the labour unions, chambers, civil society, academia and some law-enforcing agencies on our side, and that really helped build the momentum.
We had them adopt and implement the code, which we then studied for five years. The unique aspect of this legislation (Protection Against [Sexual] Harassment Act 2010) is that it was based on research, it reflected the ground realities, it was tested and huge mobilisation of all sorts of stakeholders took place before it was proposed. Then when we began political engagement, we were again faced with the same stereotypical myths, where men said what if they [the complainants] lie. We said that happens with murder, theft, etc. Eyewitnesses lie. That doesn’t mean there should be no law. We were adamant that it should be a government law, that there should be a unanimous vote on it or, at least we have most of the parties on board – and that is what we did and how we did it.
In the National Assembly we got through with a unanimous vote, but in the Senate, there were problems. Sometimes there are conservative people within a progressive party or ruling party.
Q: Which parties were receptive and supportive?
A: The PPP, ANP and the MQM were totally on board. They all had a very clear stance, but it took us a while to get them on board. MQM was absolutely clear on this and they made sure their party members voted. Half of the PML-Q – members in their individual capacity – supported us. Wasim Sajjad, the leader of the opposition in the Senate, also did not oppose us. PML-N came on board at the very last stage. We didn’t want to let go of anybody.
Q: What kind of convincing was required?
A: Three years of my life were totally donated to this process – every minute of 24 hours. One needs to do a lot of lobbying and people do turn around, and they do so with their hearts.
We started with attitudes such as ‘women bring it upon themselves,’ ‘it will not work,’ ‘it will not be implemented,’ but the end point for most of them was, ‘we are totally with you, nobody can vote it down and our women need this kind of help.’ The word ‘sexual’ was omitted from the title because they are still unable to swallow the term, but we have incorporated it in all our definitions. We have made compromises, but not at all on the overall integrity of the law. There were times when we said no, like the time we were asked to put in a clause outlining the punishment for a woman if she lies. That is something we did not compromise on.
Civil society needs to engage. If you convince people, they do listen to you. And I have found politicians to be much more receptive than bureaucrats.
Q: Do you feel the increase in the number of women in parties and the legislature has helped?
A: Yes, that has been big help, especially with people like Shahnaz Wazir Ali, Sherry Rehman and Bushra Gohar there. Women were very supportive – I do not know of a single woman who was not. But there were also men who were very supportive. Raza Rabbani has a very clear stance on women’s issues and it was effortless lobbying with him. Farooq Naek was very helpful and lent his support wholeheartedly. Farooq Sattar, Afrasiab Khattak and Shah Mehmood Qureishi must also be mentioned. Both the President and the PM were very encouraging in their words; the PM and his wife also lobbied for us.
Q: You are also heading the National Implementation Watch Committee (NIWC), and the committee has done a lot of work already…
A: Yes, we are in full swing. Our job is to get the law implemented into the structure of the system. While I wear the hat of the committee, which is a green hat, our strategy remains very activist. But we are not going and raising awareness and telling people to comply one by one; we are making sure the law is institutionalised. We are working on convincing regulatory bodies to facilitate their members to comply.
The federal ministries were the first to form committees. And this is not easy. Notifications, committees, getting the code posted in the offices – all this has to be done. Now, if you go to the planning commission or the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, you will see the code posted on every floor. The State Bank has included the law in its audit, and the Higher Education Commission (HEC) has also issued policies, which means the code will be instituted in all universities and will apply to students as well.
We have been trying to get the organisations that have complied – the number for which is in the thousands – to give us feedback so we can create an online database. But the Pakistani mindset is not quite professional. We do do the things, but then we don’t report back. PEMRA issued a direction 4-5 months ago, but haven’t we received any performas or news. While the media was extremely supportive of the whole process (of lobbying), it is one of the slowest sectors to comply with the law. Only Geo and Dawn have done it, so far.
Q: Does the NIWC’s mandate extend to the committees as well – looking into their performance and checking up on the complaints?
A: The law doesn’t require anybody to report the complaints and we want to keep them confidential. We want the management to be empowered to deal with its own garbage. But organisations are required to tell us if they have formed a committee, if they have put up the code in a common lounge (or public area) and issued the orders that the law is part of their HR policy.
From Mehergarh – AASHA’s secretariat – we conduct a lot of awareness sessions and workshops for trainers from different sectors. So, for example, to banks we say get a few of your HR people trained and then they can take care of the bank. Similarly, HEC is sending a few people to us next week for training. Then we do one-day trainings for inquiry committee members. On the third of this month, the planning commission is hosting a big seminar of 150 people. They are inviting all inquiry committee members from all the government departments for a half-day session which is a great initiative.
In terms of provincial progress, Sindh and Punjab are ahead of the other two provinces. But what they do need to do immediately is appoint the provincial ombudspersons; the federal ombudsperson has already been appointed. As of March, our committee has decided to focus on the provinces and we also decided to shuffle the membership of the committee. It has not been approved yet, but it has been proposed that the heads of the women’s directorate from each province be asked to join the committee.
Q: What is the implementation mechanism for enforcing the law in public places?
A: Through the law-enforcing agencies. The top leadership is supportive, but it doesn’t serve us if the SHO or the person registering the FIR is not. So what we did was make a poster for stations, which outlines Section 509, what it covers, what they need to do, which sections it can be combined with. This has been done in 14 stations in Islamabad.
Awareness-raising is important and civil society and the media need to help with that. Putting pressure helps.
On May 20, a few people organised a press conference at the Karachi Press Club to discuss their views on the ban on Facebook. They were of the opinion that the page with the objectionable content that sparked the furore should be taken down, but not the whole domain. But before the discussion even got underway, some members of the press, who were there to cover the event, started lashing out at them. “You are disrespecting the Prophet (PBUH) by supporting Facebook,” they said. “You are not believers.”
Opposing the ban became equivalent to blasphemy itself.
The press conference concluded without a discussion. But the clash was far from over. Protesters outside the press club gates who were demonstrating against the attack on the Prophet (PBUH) were informed by journalists inside about the press conference organisers who were against the ban. While other attendees made it out in time, this reporter and one of the organisers were left stranded.
Angry protesters made their way inside the club and caught hold of Awab Alvi, one of the organisers, telling him to come outside and speak his mind to the crowd. Upon his refusal, they threatened to forcibly take him. More than once, different groups caught hold of him and pushed and shoved him around, lashing out at Awab for voicing his opinions. We eventually managed to break loose from the crowd and found ourselves hidden away in the press club office, waiting for things to subside and the protesters to disperse. It took a couple of hours for us to get out safely.
Several TV channels were there when Awab was being shoved around – one man against so many others – but was that newsworthy? Did any channel air footage of that? No.
The protesters were content to rely on a second-hand account of what another had said and lynch a man for it. They were so incensed to hear somebody had supposedly disrespected the Prophet (PBUH) that there was nothing they wanted to do but tear the person to shreds. It wasn’t true, but even if it was, why did they consider physical assault or taking the law into their own hands as justified? As far as blasphemy is concerned, although it has been noted time and again that lynch mobs have played judge, jury and executioner, it is obviously the mandate of the courts to decide on the matter after a fair hearing.
As for members of the press, where should the line be drawn between personal beliefs and duty? This is not the first time personal beliefs have infringed on duty, and we have examples of more senior and seasoned journalists committing the same folly. But had it ended there, a general debate could have been raised later; it is what followed that highlights the serious issues at hand: the ease with which people irresponsibly and criminally mislead and incite others to violence and the belief that anyone has the right to question the faith of another.
News of the event never got out except through word of mouth. Traditional media remained tight-lipped for days until different views eventually started filtering out in the print and eventually made their way onto television news programmes. With this, the nation was forced to address the dangerous maelstrom that exists when the tides of freedom of information and blasphemy collide.
The Facebook ban was not imposed through an executive order. It was a judicial one at the behest of a group of lawyers. Zulfiqar Ali, on behalf of the Islamic Lawyers Movement (ILM), filed a constitutional petition in the Lahore High Court to ban Facebook.com to protect the honour of the Prophet (PBUH).
The Facebook group “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!” had angered Muslims across the globe and was reported by the thousands to Facebook administrators. But when no action was taken, many called for a boycott of the social networking site by deactivating their accounts altogether. Others decided to register their protest by simply not using Facebook on the day of the competition.
On the eve of the competition, the court passed a stay order thus sanctioning a blanket ban on Facebook. Some avid users of the social networking site were shell-shocked. There they were, registering their protests in different forms, posting quotes and Hadith on the “We Love Muhammad Page” and then suddenly, they found themselves pulled off the battleground. Their right and ability to protest had been curtailed.
But there was a different tide on the Internet. Most Internet users – and Facebook users – in Pakistan supported the ban. In a poll run by ProPakistani.com, 68% of the voters wanted the ban to be permanent.
Mairaj ul Huda, Ameer Jamaat-e-Islami, Karachi, told Newsline why he felt Facebook as a website should be banned. “The page on the Holocaust was removed within 24 hours, as was the page on Hitler. Not only was that page removed but the registration of the creator of the page was also terminated by Facebook. The reason Facebook gave was that it did not allow any hate material against religion. But if they don’t allow hate material against any religion, then why wasn’t this page taken down, that too when the number of people reporting the page exceeded the minimum required by them to take such action? We want Facebook to operate in Pakistan by its terms of service. We want them to apologise and agree that they will treat blasphemy against the Prophet (PBUH) the same way as they treat anything against the Holocaust. If they do this, then we have no problem if Facebook is reopened. You cannot operate in a country by violating its norms.”
Some people believe that Facebook needed to be taught a lesson and that it should be made to incur financial losses as a result of millions of people no longer using their accounts. “Just as Danish companies lost millions due to the[m] being banned by Muslims, similarly banning Facebook from Pakistan will have substantial effects,” argued one Internet user in a comment posted on a blog post. The extent of the financial impact on Facebook, though, is questionable (see “Logged Out”).
Another citizen saw the ban in line with the injunctions of Islam. “Pakistan is an Islamic State in which Islam is enshrined in our constitution and the people of Pakistan will have to be governed according to Islamic law. When it came to choosing between the Internet and Islamic law, our government chose Islamic law. What is wrong with that?”
This seemed to be the position of the majority.
However, according to Khalid Zaheer, a religious scholar, “Whenever Muslims are confronted with a situation where their religion in general or their Prophet (PBUH) in particular is ridiculed or disrespected, their only obligation is to remove themselves from it, so long as the insulting attitude continues.” When the offence ends, claims Zaheer, the problem for Muslims also ends and they are free to rejoin the platforms that they were forced to shun.
Anger and barricades do little to help the ummah in the long run. “I keep telling people that the world at large doesn’t know our Prophet (PBUH),” says Zaheer. “It doesn’t know who he was. They are only ridiculing or criticising a prophet of the Muslims of the present time. Their image of our Prophet (PBUH) is the image of someone who was our religious leader. The sad thing is that they form an opinion about him, the great man, looking at our conduct and behaviour.”
It is extremely important for the sake of the same Prophet (PBUH) that we keep our cool, and remain decent and measured in our response, continues Zaheer. “We have a more important message and objective to achieve, and that is to communicate to the world at large the message our great Prophet (PBUH) brought from the Almighty. When we overreact, the casualty is that great ideology – because people stop listening to us.”
Instead of a complete ban, several citizens reasoned that protests should be registered through other channels. Apart from setting up pages in praise of the Prophet (PBUH), for affirmative action, the United Nations or IGF (Internet Governance Forum) could be approached, proposed Awab Alvi, an online activist and blogger. “You cannot cut yourself off. That is not a solution. You have to be out there fighting against this. This is also a form of jihad.”
And many did fight against it. Various citizens blogged against the ban and many, as a result, witnessed their inboxes flood with hate mail, while many comments posted on their blogs were abusive and profane. Charges of blasphemy were levelled against them and their blogs were reported to the authorities as blasphemous.
But the venom didn’t stop there. Some writers began receiving death threats via SMS, MMS and phone calls from unknown numbers. One text message read: “Your naked dead body will be found by your family on the footpath.” Another’s family was threatened: an MMS was sent displaying where and how they would be executed.
In the days that followed, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) went on to block nearly 800 websites on the grounds that they contained “anti-Islamic” content. There were objections that more than just anti-Islamic content was taken down. Certain blogs became inaccessible. But the general provisions of the constitution were used to justify the censorship and blanket bans (see “In the Name of the Law”).
Censorship is not new to Pakistan, and it has often been justified for the larger good and in the best interests of the people. Pakistan’s history is littered with examples of different governments – whether military or civilian – exercising controls through various means. Ayub Khan’s National Press Trust, Bhutto’s Press and Publication Ordinance, Zia’s pre-censorship policy and the subsequent governments’ use of the ministries of information – and presently the Ministry of IT and Telecommunications – all were used to censor the press in their own ways, for their own motives.
As and when different mediums of communication and information exchange have emerged, regulatory bodies have been established. While that is necessary for licensing purposes, e.g. PEMRA for issuing licenses to the electronic media and the PTA to telecom and Internet ISP providers, more often they have exercised controls over content.
With the Internet emerging as the new medium for the voice of the people (see “Who’s Afraid of Citizens’ Media?”) and a critical tool for activism and disseminating information that is sometimes ignored in traditional media, it most definitely also threatens the clout of those in power. This is the fear with which many are viewing the situation: that censorship will be exercised indiscriminately in the name of religion for political gains. ProPakistani.com reported that Baloch separatist websites were taken down among the 800 websites shut down by PTA. There are others who allege that YouTube was actually taken down because of the “Shut up, Zardari” video that had been uploaded (though after YouTube was unblocked the video remained).
In the past too, similar allegations have been made. YouTube was blocked in 2008 for some days. While the PTA stated it was to filter anti-Islamic videos – some said a movie on the Prophet (PBUH) by a Dutch filmmaker – popular belief was that it had been done to take down videos that allegedly exposed the MQM of vote-rigging during the February 2008 general elections.
Bans in the name of religion are not unheard of, but trying to be reasonable in a highly charged environment is. The Danish cartoon incident was a testament to the notion that murder and vandalism would be the next move by Pakistanis in the absence of strong action in favour of public opinion. One of the rare times when some reason did prevail was the ban on Salman Rushdie’s book, Satanic Verses. At the time, there was debate as to whether all books by the same publisher should also be banned. The court, however, decided that since the publisher printed books such as those on education, the ban should only be placed on the book in question and not extended to its other publications.
The Internet is populated with thousands, if not millions, of websites that are used for educational purposes and are a source of valuable information. And as most people realise, Facebook and YouTube are widely used for purposes other than connecting with friends and family, or hosting dubious drawing contests. YouTube contains video streams of educational content, lectures from MIT and other universities, including the Virtual University of Pakistan, all available for free. Facebook has been used by small businesses to advertise, paying only $1 a day whereas if they were to switch to traditional advertising vehicles, they would pay many times the amount. Online and offline partnerships are an example of how online media is being used to boost sales (see “Logged Out”). Philanthropic efforts and welfare campaigns on Facebook have brought in proceeds by the millions, be it for the IDPs or Shaukat Khanum Hospital. In essence, it has benefited even those who neither use the network nor the Internet, and those who are oblivious to its existence.
The petitioner who demanded the ban on Facebook informed the court that “Facebook … a known website had floated the competition.” Secondly, “a number of Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, UAE etc ha[d] already imposed [a] complete ban on this website due to its immoral and illegal activities,” stating further that even China, despite not being a Muslim country, had imposed a complete ban on the website. Paragraph 2 of the judgment shows both these factors were taken into consideration for imposing the ban.
Of course, Facebook as a company did not float the competition; it was a Facebook user who had. Also, no permanent ban exists on the website in Saudi Arabia and Internet users in the UAE were actively using Facebook. In fact, Saudi Arabia and Iran blocked the page only (see “Defenders of the Faith”). As for China’s example, when were Islam and Communism ideologically aligned? Besides, it is a well-known fact that China went on to ban Facebook in 2009 because the company did not comply with its directives to block ‘anti-government’ content involving Uighur protests.
On May 31, the court, through a second interim order, lifted the ban on Facebook until the next hearing. While the hearing was open to the public, how the crowds behaved on the court premises was shocking. Supporters of the ban brought banners reading “We have sworn to protect the Prophet (PBUH).” In Pakistan, there is no law that specifically addresses this, and it is entirely the court’s discretion to decide what unruly behaviour or contempt of court is. It is not hard to imagine, though, how these angry chanting crowds could be intimidating. That is why, even in the US, time, place and manner restrictions apply in cases of contested hearings to avoid situations where one party might have the intent of intimidating the court and influencing the decision.
Those in the corridors of power have viewed the whole Facebook situation from a distance and with caution, lest their vote bank be affected in taking a stand against public opinion. It was not until several days after that the PM’s cabinet issued an order that the ban on YouTube and Wikipedia was lifted. It waited for the court to decide on Facebook.
From the very beginning, it has been more than just about Facebook. The disrespect shown to the Prophet (PBUH) was not disputed by anyone and there was unanimity that the page should be blocked. But the explosive reactions by citizens and the conduct of the decision-making and implementing bodies have been questionable. Sadly, few spoke up when the issue was boiling, some in fear of the consequences and others to safeguard their public positions. Even members and associations within the IT industry, who were directly affected, laid low because they did not want to come up against the arguments that were typically being made: “you care about money and business more than the integrity of the Prophet (PBUH).”
It seems that when it comes to religion, everyone prefers to sit it out and wait for the situation to cool – and understandably so. In Pakistan, people can work themselves up into an emotional frenzy over issues of religion. In this type of environment, who would want their faith to be questioned by angry mobs that believe in vigilante justice. As such, the hard-line stance is allowed to prevail and is accepted.
While the final verdict is yet to be delivered, it seems that Pakistan is steering in a dangerous direction: one that involves content filtration. On Shaheen Salahuddin’s show on Indus TV, Sindh’s Minister for IT, Raza Haroon said that if Pakistan is to continue filtrating content it must invest in the adequate filtration software.
In a report submitted to the court, the PTA said this: “The complete stoppage which required blocking of 80,000+ users pages per each group over the Facebook website … was more than impossible to attain while considering the available time and the tendency of the available content to shock and outrage the feelings of Muslims inside Pakistan. Keeping in view the situation, it was decided that a complete ban on Facebook website … would be imposed in order to avoid further visibility of such hateful content inside Pakistan.”
The same argument was stated in defence of the blockade on YouTube.
So to avoid public outrage, blanket bans are the only option at the moment. This is why the government is seriously looking into filtration software to screen Internet content on a regular basis. Obviously, there are many drawbacks to this. And end users are mainly affected in the process.
Over the last week when content was being filtered, Internet speed was considerably reduced. Quoting statistics, Jehan Ara, the president of P@SHA says, “When Internet monitoring and surveillance takes place and when content filtering is being done, service can depreciate anywhere from between 10-75% – and usually at least 35%.” If this slowdown to productivity continues, the financial losses will be devastating for Pakistan and the IT industry. Many citizens are employed in micro and macro level online businesses and have already been directly affected.
“As far as the IT industry is concerned,” says Jehan Ara, “trust deficit and unreliability is something that clients will never stand for. If they do not know when we can have access denied to various portions of the Internet, why would they have faith in our ability to deliver and meet deadlines? The IT and IT-Enabled Services industry is young and has been growing at a good rate, but it is fragile and actions such as this can bring it tumbling down faster than anything else. A strong IT infrastructure and continued and fast access is what we need without the sudden and unexpected brakes.”
Undoubtedly, more than the economy is at stake. Filtration programmes are just another form of censorship. They affect privacy and access to information, and could conceivably be used by the state to track and suppress dissent.
“Internet censorship only shows that we are not ready to join the deveoped nations of the world in using technology for our benefit,” says Jehan Ara. “By blocking access to it or censoring and filtering content, what the government is actually telling the world is that we are a backward country that is afraid of information dissemination. What we are saying is that we are not truly a democracy that is ready to give its citizens the right to choose what they access.”
Sabeen Mahmud, director of PeaceNiche, a social entrepreneurship project, says she is against censorship of all kinds, especially censorship by the state. “I believe in self-regulation and do not trust any external authority or regulator to be my moral custodian. Censorship stifles freedom of speech and individual opinions.”
Mahmud continues: “The Internet is revolutionary – it transcends geographical boundaries and enables conversations and communication like no other medium. A government that censors free speech and attempts to control the Internet is an authoritarian and dictatorial regime. As Voltaire said, ‘Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too.’”
But can there really be freedom of expression when the constitution and the Penal Code of Pakistan subject the fundamental rights of its citizens to the discretion of the authorities who can strip away their rights in the name of religion and state ideology?
Censorship is a slippery slope. The Facebook controversy showed how philosophically weak the strategy of completely shutting down far-reaching communication platforms is. “Tomorrow, if blasphemous content came into your mail, would you shut that down too, and eventually the Internet itself?” asked one young Pakistani. Even from an Islamic standpoint, censorship is a dangerous road for Pakistan. As Khalid Zaheer says, “We cannot continue to erect barriers between ourselves and non- Muslims.”
“The biggest challenge is to maintain your self-respect”
- Shahnaz’s father
Father: “Because of the story Hussain had given the neighbours, a lady belonging to the MQM, who also lives in the same apartment complex as us, pulled some strings and despite my going to the police for two days, they refused to register an FIR against him. In front of me she had told Hussain, ‘There is no need to apologise, don’t be scared. You come with me to Farooq Sattar.’ The other neighbours did not take sides but were watching.
Those two days, Hussain and his friends continued to put a lot of pressure on us, boys would continuously sit outside our apartment. We had only recently moved house, and he accused us, in front of the neighbours we were second-rate people, that we were alcoholics and that we were unjustly blaming him for what had happened.
I filed a written complaint at Nine Zero against the lady providing protection to him, explained the whole matter to them, what had happened with us and the difficulties we had been facing in lodging an FIR due to her intervention. Then, I received a call from Farooq Sattar himself. I told him how she was protecting the culprit and asked him what I should do as I didn’t belong to any political party. He spoke to the SHO himself and told me go to him at a specific time. When I reached, the SHO was waiting with the book in his hand. They also dealt with that lady in their own way, after which nobody really harassed us.
I am a regular, middle-class man. I had a government job, but not anymore. I maintain my house through a private job. You can understand how difficult it is after such an incident; the child’s mind becomes so rebellious. To control that is very difficult, and this is what we’re dealing with even today. My wife stopped going anywhere. She kept herself at home to give undivided attention to the children. Unfortunately, Shahnaz* couldn’t complete her education because the case was under trial and we were afraid that if we let her out she would be picked up.
I just pray to God some good proposal comes for her. When Shahnaz will be married, only then will our burden feel less heavy.”
Mother: “Tomorrow if a proposal arrives for Shahnaz, they will obviously ask around in the neighbourhood as well. The neighbours know what happened, which is why we want to move out and find a house elsewhere. We are just not getting a good price on this house, and until then we cannot move. To live with this stigma is difficult, I think to die is better. When she gets married, her in-laws or husband will still taunt her, no matter what.”
Father: “Nobody knows about us, not a colleague, not a family member. Even they [WAR] kept the media away from us. So we were able to save face. This is a very necessary part of coping. But wherever we marry her off, we will inform them of what has happened to her. Nothing remains hidden. Then why ruin your life.
Only once, at the very beginning, an eveninger published our names. We were very angry. After enquiring at the police station, we were told that reporters strike a deal with secretaries at police stations so whenever such an incident is reported, the secretaries pass the information on to them. After we objected, no news item appeared ever again. We need the support of the media. They should not publicise such incidents; victims/survivors who want to publicise these are then doing so for other reasons. To publicise this is akin to doing ‘laashon pe siyasat.’
The biggest challenge is to maintain your self-respect – to keep your reputation intact.”
* Names have been changed to protect the victim and her family.
The Women’s Protection Act 2006 was, undoubtedly, a step in the right direction in that rape was finally separated from zina and became an offence punishable under the Pakistan Penal Code instead of the Hudood Ordinance. Further, it stopped unproven cases of rape from being converted into those of fornication or adultery. But while the Act solved one of the many legal hurdles that lie in the way of a survivor seeking justice, many remain to be faced.
Newsline spoke to four rape/attempted rape survivors and their families and learnt that had it not been for War Against Rape (WAR), a Karachi-based NGO devoted to fighting against rape, which provided them legal, monetary and moral assistance, they would have given up. What was common to each of these families was that they had never been to a police station before to lodge an FIR, or seen the inside of a courtroom.
It was WAR that saw them through the rounds of court, helped them face the insults hurled at them and even took care of their food and shelter needs. And once the families got this support, they became determined to settle for nothing less than justice.
In three of these cases undertaken by WAR, the accused have been punished and given sentences, while one case is under trial.
Tania*, whose case is currently under trial, awaiting the statement of the investigation officer, was six years old at the time of the assault. A tenant who lived two floors above Tania’s took advantage of a power outage and attempted to rape her and brutally beat her in the process. Found unconscious in the apartment complex by her mother, the parents were devastated. The remaining part of the day was spent dealing with what had happened, and attending to the child. The next day, the father went to the police to lodge an FIR after Tania narrated the incident to her parents. However, despite a police officer looking into the matter, an FIR was not registered. Instead, some policemen actually assisted the culprit while he cleaned out his apartment and left with his belongings.
Rifat*, Tania’s mother, then got in touch with WAR herself after being directed to do so by her employers. Then project coordinator Nasreen Siddiqui joined the family at the hospital after which the organisation’s lawyers took on the case. Tania and her family have been fortunate enough not to be ostracised by society. Neighbours, extended family and teachers at the school Tania attends agree that the child and her family have been wronged.
That was not the case with Mariam* and her family who was seven years of age when a shopkeeper close to where she lived attempted to rape her. Her mother says, “People taunt us; nobody thinks that it is a child. Our own relatives left us. They said you’ve had this done. My mother-in-law still doesn’t meet us. She says I am responsible.” Although Nadeem, the accused, has been sentenced to seven-and-a-half years of rigorous imprisonment and subjected to a fine of Rs 50,000, life is still not easy for the family, who keep silent about the incident.
“When people hear of what happened with us, they tell us to clear out their residence; we don’t get a place on rent. People from the old neighbourhood know of the incident, but not the one we live in now. Our landlady also doesn’t know; I keep quiet, otherwise she too will ask us to vacate the place.”
To avoid being taunted, Shahnaz’s parents didn’t let on to family or friends what happened with their daughter. Shahnaz* was raped five years ago, when she was 14, by Hussain, a university student who lived in the same apartment complex as her. Hussain has been sentenced to 10 years of rigorous punishment and subjected to a fine of Rs 50,000. But the road to recovery is a long one. (See box “The biggest challenge is to maintain your self-respect”).
There is always the possibility and fear of being called back to court if an appeal is filed by the accused. In Mariam’s case, Nadeem did file an appeal but it was dismissed and the previous judgment was upheld. AsNewsline was going into print, we learnt that Hussain, too, has filed an appeal, the hearing for which has yet to be scheduled, requiring Shahnaz’s family to go back to court – this time, the High Court.
The final venue of appeal for any case is the Supreme Court. Iqbal*, Shahnaz’s father, is ready to take it to the upper court if required. Hamza, Naseema Lubano’s father, whose case reached WAR after a series of transfers, expresses similar sentiments as Iqbal. Theirs was a partial victory: under trial since February 2007, on January 23, 2010, the court sentenced one of the seven accused of gang rape to life imprisonment and a fine of Rs 50,000 and acquitted six others for lack of evidence.
“We have filed an appeal in the High Court against those who have been let off. If we do not get justice here, we will go to the Supreme Court. If the criminals are not punished, we will go to the chief justice and appeal to him to take action, and if justice is denied again then we will set fire to ourselves – we can and will do that,” says Hamza.
Lawyers at WAR laud the confidence of Tania and her presence of mind when testifying in court and Naseema’s bravery for standing in front of all the accused and identifying and testifying against them. The parents credit this to the counselling of their daughters’ at WAR. Even though the girls were kept away from the courts unless their presence was absolutely necessary, the psychological impact on them has been tremendous.
Apart from the criminal act itself, they have had to deal with constant threats from the culprits while the case was under trial, speak on several occasions about what happened to them to family, media, medical practitioners, police officers, lawyers, judges and faced the immense pressure of testifying against the accused, face-to-face, reliving the ordeal each time.
Mariam would cry after returning from court, her mother says. “The day she testified before the judge, Tania started running a fever,” says Rifat. Both the younger girls are recovering and are back at school. But the psychological impact manifests itself in a variety of ways.
“Initially, Mariam was even scared of her father. She wouldn’t go to him or to any other male relative. Even today, she won’t stay at home if I am not there. I tell her ‘Your father is home with the children. Stay back.’ But she refuses since she is still scared,” says Mariam’s mother. According to Rifat, “Tania has become very rebellious; she does only what she wants to, and not what she is told to. She was very good at studies – her writing used to be better than her siblings’ – but now we keep receiving complaints from the teacher saying she doesn’t work, doesn’t respond, doesn’t answer her roll call.” When asked, Tania herself replied she didn’t enjoy school and didn’t talk much.
Shahnaz had to discontinue her education as at the time the case was still under trial and Hussain was on the loose, so her parents were fearful of her being picked up. But a rebellious mind is what her parents also report. Naseema perhaps has been the worst affected, physically and mentally. She has been undergoing constant psychiatric treatment and is physically very weak. When she was visited in her home for this article, she was bed-ridden with fever, which she had had for the past eight days, and was constantly refusing to eat or drink anything. According to her father, it is when she has Ensure, a dietary supplement, that she is able to sit up. But when there is nobody funding it – as it costs Rs 800 – then she is back in bed.
And while Tania and Mariam don’t have much time on their hands to do much else and are busy with school, madrassa, tuition and their home routine, Shahnaz’s and Naseema’s movement outside their homes is restricted – Shahnaz doesn’t go anywhere unless her father accompanies her and being the sole breadwinner he is unable to do so always, while Naseema and her family still face death threats.
Running the house becomes a difficult task, especially when one is unemployed due to the time and physical presence required for a court case. But the cost of taking cases such as these to court is more than just financial.
Taking young children along to the court and exposing them to such environments, enduring shame and living secret lives or under the constant pressure of being apprehended by the criminals, also takes it tolls on the entire family. Mariam’s parents, for example, have both developed medical conditions as a result of the stress. And while the short-term concern for these families is justice and punishment for the criminals, marriage prospects for their daughters are a primary concern for all of them.
They have all come a long way, faced many difficulties, and they require support in different ways to go on living and fighting. The survivors know what it is like to be promised aid by government officials and to never hear from them again, to be the media darlings and then be dumped when they aren’t ‘newsworthy’ anymore. Theirs is a daily struggle and they have the strength, but are looking for some respite to keep them going.
* Some names have been changed to protect the victims and their families.
“We are living like immigrants here”
- Hamza Lubano, father of rape survivor
“We can never go back.
Only two of the offenders have been punished while the others, those who beat her, who abducted her, dragged her, who broke her spinal cord, have been allowed to return home. Those who have been acquitted now want to kill us. Any family member they find, they want to harm. They want us to withdraw the case and they pressurise our relatives, threatening us with dire consequences for not complying. Our extended family is back in the village. We have requested police security many times, to give the family protection so that they are not harmed. But this has not been done.
My children don’t even go down to play. They are always at home. There are doors and gates and locks. If we go out, we have to keep a low profile. We are always scared of being found by those people. Mentally, there is so much tension. One child, we are sending to school, but the rest of the children are being taught at home, thanks to our advocate who is providing for them.
We will live our entire lives in fear. Even if the ones who have been let off are caught, their progeny will remain. We have been struggling for so long; my 12-year-old expired in the process. We didn’t even have money to bury him, WAR helped us with that. We too will be buried here.
All my children are sick, both of us, husband and wife are sick. I am paid Rs 7,000 out of which Rs 3,000 is spent on fare and other expenses. Four thousand rupees is too little to keep the house running. Naseema is currently on medication. She needs nutrition and if she doesn’t get it, she is not even able to sit up. We don’t have anything. If we had, we would give it to her. We are living like immigrants here.
The governor of Sindh brought us to Karachi at the time when there were countrywide processions and protests. We were told that you are eight people, even if there were 2,000, the government would bear the cost of housing them, educating all the children including Naseema, give Naseema a house, get her justice. Then we were told, 10 days and justice will be delivered, the culprits will be apprehended. No such thing has happened. The criminals are roaming freely. After bringing us here, he kept no contact with us. What was the use of us contacting him when he kicked us out of the house?
He had put us up in a house in the police lines in Garden area, and after seven or eight months, we were thrown out of there. The whole world was a witness to that. The police, including officers at high posts, arrived with constables who picked up our belongings and threw them out. It was the day when several people died in the monsoon rains. In that storm, they threw us out onto the streets. They said Naseema had been given the house on a temporary basis and because she did not belong to the police, we could no longer live there.
We called out to everyone. You can see our pictures in the press, the way we were all out in the rain, how Naseema and the rest of the children were drenched. The roads were inundated with water, and in that storm, we sat on the curb outside the Karachi Press Club.
Then, Shazia Marri provided us with this place where we are currently living. It has been given to us on instalments, which we have also not been able to pay beyond the five or six initial ones.”