Even if for some reason or the other, the women were forced against their will to adopt a conservative life-style, the least they could do was to raise their sons to respect women irrespective of who they were, but what transpired was extremely frightening. The seeds of hate for non-conformism were sown in the minds of men by their own mothers in a way that any woman, no matter relative or stranger, with even a slight implication of self-determination had to be disciplined in the most ruthless fashion. Earlier ignored modernly dressed women were becoming targets of ‘interest’ for the passersby who would not refrain from passing rude comments if nothing more. Honour killing on the most minor of excuses, was going unpunished, girls were being deprived of education and married off against their will, more and more men were taking on multiple wives as a matter of religious right at the expense of destroying their families. Cultural centers, music academies, theatres, clubs were being closed down and the entertainment industry suffered a rapid decline.
Consequently, many non-Muslim communities comprising Anglo-Indian Christians, Parsis and Hindus had no choice but to migrate to other countries taking with them intellect, high moral values and the fascinating sense of a mixed cultural society of which, tolerance, love and affection were the hallmarks.
Some may have viewed these minorities as remnants of the colonial era but the fact is that Pakistan’s two most crucial departments, health and education, were being handled by them. All the leading educational institutions as well as hospitals, where even Muslims thronged in large numbers, belonged to them where the teachers and staff devoted their services without discrimination. As a result, quality education and health facilities were available to the masses while government schools and hospitals functioned suitably with lower burden on them. Besides, the well-groomed presence of these ladies in hotels, corporate offices, the airlines and other employment concerns, left an extremely progressive image of Pakistan on foreigners visiting the country. They imbibed values which reflected in even the illiterate men belonging to the lower stratum of society. Their exodus caused a huge loss to the cultural fabric of this country converting it into one, overrun by fundamentalism, intolerance, regression with a dearth of moral values.
Impurities permeated in honorable professions, honesty became victim to deceit, integrity got sacrificed at the altar of corruption, rudeness underscored politeness, upsetting the environmental balance of the country and changing its law-abiding citizens to becoming defiant—all this metamorphism occurring despite high-ended moral sermons on the national media and mosques, openly punishing the so-called ‘moral’ delinquents in large numbers, persecuting dissenting voices and governments’ extreme censorship.
The new millennium ushered in an era of modernism in Pakistan with the promise of a better future for women but terrorism wedged in between, retarding this journey once again giving victory to the fundamentalists. Today, crumbling values are conspicuous in all aspects of life and especially in the media. Many television channels thrive on provocation, heated discussions and arranging “verbal wrestling championships” between opponents that have on some occasions extended to abuse and even battery, thus defying all norms of decency and good behavior. Many a times, anchors seem to be relishing the ongoing exchange of abusive content, intervening by adding fuel to fire for further incitement. In their enthusiasm to humiliate the opponents, more verbal artillery is let loose.
Women are treated with disrespect just because men, especially so-called religious leaders display signs of aggression in clear view, while talking with those of the fair sex whose appearance or thinking is not acceptable to them. So while they may appear to be courteous towards a lady whose eyes are only visible, they can be quite rude and intolerant with a boldly dressed one or someone who dares to challenge their viewpoints. Similarly, even some women have been noted as misbehaving or talking boisterously in the capacity of moderators or participants which just proves the low quality of mannerism, residue of the earlier tempestuous decades.
Amid all this furore, one cannot help appreciate the efforts of those few commendable women who, despite the prevailing adverse conditions proved their mettle and earned accolades for themselves. They withstood the negative forces, defied all restrictions, remained sturdy with their cause, confronted strong opposition, crossed all obstacles hurled in their path, swam through murky waters only to rise above and make the country proud of them. Of course these were the exceptions and not the rule with credit going to their parents who most probably extended their full support!
Had the woman of the seventies and eighties shown some resilience instead of falling prey to proponents of Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi’s Bahishti Zewar that lays down code of life for women, which entails nothing but total subordination to men with no hope for equality, things would have been much disparate. All which was required in that crucial era was the upbringing of her children, inculcating proper values in both girls and boys, mainly with respect to treating other women. She could have invoked those qualities that would have saved an entire generation from falling into the trap of moral and religious bias. She could have empowered her girls with good education and boys with broadmindedness, of making them understand the concept of equality, compassion, tolerance and fortitude, of the contrast between modernity and immorality, of teaching them lessons of faithfulness, patriotism and devotion to the country. Indeed the Pakistan we see today would have been an altogether different country.
Despite all the hardships and social resistance, the Pakistani woman today is full of enthusiasm to change her way of life. Daughters are less considered burden and they have proved themselves that in many ways they are far better than sons in taking care of their parents and families. There has been observed a gradual shift from undermining the status of girls to providing them with education and opportunities to improve their lives. Even the government has increased the quota of women in civil services to a remarkable extent allowing more and more females to participate in the state’s affairs. Girls belonging to the less privileged classes can be seen riding motorcycles and going around their daily chores, working in factories or learning vocational skills to make ends meet. These are indeed positive changes although quite delayed but since the wheel has become operational, the time will not be too far when Pakistan would rank high among progressive countries of the world.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)