(The writer is a social activist, pursuing Ph.D. degree in China )
On this International Women’s Day (IWD), Islamabad- the bustling capital of Pakistan witnessed a different event. An event which has jolted the social fabric here to its core. Two different sets of people with similar agenda, yet a total opposite frame of mind, gathered in front of the National press club to commemorate this day in their style.
Fist set of people was the civil society, Awami Workers party activists whose primary slogan was ‘Mera Jism meri Marzi’ ( My Body, my choice ) – a slogan taken directly from the US’ abortion rights movement but used in a different context in the liberal circles of Pakistan. The second set of people were the religiously inclined people. The religious seminary students ( Primarily from Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa), Jamat-e-Islami and JUI-F activists –religious cum political parties of Pakistan. Their primary purpose to gather there was, as they call it, ‘HAYA’ (Prudence) March.
There were stark differences in the discourses which were being propagated through these Marches. Such differences are both interesting and worthy of being analyzed as they are shaping the modern path of the Pakistani populace in the current era. Furthermore, the hatred which was shown through sloganeering and pelting of stones from religious people on that day was also a signal of the increasing religious fundamentalism in Pakistani society.
This year IWD celebrations in Pakistan were greatly marked by the recent hurling of abuses by Khalil ur Rehman Qamar- an acclaimed Urdu writer and Marvi Sarmad- a renowned social activist in a private Tv channel talk show. Former being labeled as a misogynist by liberal circles and a Hero by the Islamists has become the most discussed subject of discussion in the social circles of Pakistan.
The debate between the two circles revolves around the famous slogan ‘Mera Jism meri Marzi’ (My body my choice). The liberal circles are labeling it with the women’s rights which are Not mostly discussed in media. They range from the criminalisation of domestic violence to Reproductive rights for women. Contrary to that, Islamic circles are taking the slogan on the opposite side and they are portraying it as a demand of liberals for the legalisation of prostitution.
We as a nation have seldom witnessed such a clash between two mindsets as we did on this IWD in the close vicinity of Red zone Islamabad. It speaks volumes about the direction we are heading to. The Lal masjid and Jamia Hafsa brigade is still active and, on the streets, marching towards the Red zone. Does this type of Pakistan we are going to deliver to the next generation?
In the wake of Corona Virus (nCOVID-19)- which is creating havoc globally and which has crippled the world’s most populist economy- The authorities should think zillion times before giving permission to such marches at the first place. Furthermore, the need of the hour is to keep close eyes on these religious groups who are on the loose now and demonstrating their ‘power’ on peaceful marchers. The discourse on Religious fundamentalism and extremism should be taken seriously as now it is on the streets marching towards the modern facet of society which is the progressive future of Pakistan. This IWD has given us a strong message of awakening. Are we waiting for the next disaster?