Tag Archives: Punjab

Writer’s Block and More

5 Feb

Sometimes, words fail you. Sometimes, you fail them.

They’re clamouring in your head, they’re sticking in your throat; they’re fighting to get out. But you just cant string them together into coherence. Sometimes angry phrases escape. But no fully formed thoughts can be hammered out from the shrieking, sobbing, angry mob of words in my hurting head or heavy heart. 

Dramatic? Sure.

But that’s how I’ve felt since the assassination of Salmaan Taseer.

I am confused and angry. A murderer has been crowned hero and the man he slaughtered is the villain. I am told there is a murder of this ilk proudly walking down every street of Pakistan waiting to slay anyone he, in his own head, accuses, tries and finds guilty of blasphemy.  And then there are the hordes who will not only defend him but shower him with petals. Then there are those who will sit in their plush drawing rooms and say the murder shouldn’t be glorified but the victim was asking for it. There are those who will tell you that Pakistan is now a failed state spiraling into the abyss of religious fanaticism. Some will incite you to take to the streets against the illiterate cleric propagating intolerance and violence. Others will invite you to a candle light vigil or a facebook group for the slain Governor where they will collectively wish that they could swat the mullahs back into their caves with their Prada bags.  The blood lust and hysteria of the masses that cheered the governor’s assassin has me mourning for the flight of reason, tolerance and the rule of law from this country. The small band of people advocating that liberals confront this bloodthirsty mob in the streets has me worried for their sanity.    

I’ve tried to write many times since it happened. But everything I had to say seemed to utterly inadequate that I couldn’t. I havent been able to find the words to express my disappointment with Pakistan. I know the words exist and others have used them eloquently, but I have failed in finding them. Maybe, I don’t want to hear what I really feel and think. Maybe it’s not the words hiding from me but me hiding from the words that will spell out in cold, indelible ink, what Pakistan has become today.

Escapist? Sure.

You have to be one if you want to live in a country where 500 lawyers will sign a petition to defend the murderer but not one lawyer can be found to prosecute him for the crime he has proudly confessed to. When the religious right brings out thousands on the road and civil society responds by sending out thousands of emails (the majority of which involve fighting with each other over semantics and ownership of documents!) you have to escape to another place in your head where those leading the charge against intolerant are not busy being intolerant and dismissive of each other.

I’ve thought about writing some brilliantly eloquent response on one of these email lists but then I’ve never found the words to criticize those who have done much more for this cause in their own way than I ever have. What social contribution do I have to give my words the legitimacy they need when lashing out against those who have come out on the streets when I have stayed at home.

Coward? Sure.

I’m not the only one. There are hordes of us lurking about in the op-ed pages of English dailies. Our pens (or keyboards) churning out clever little eulogies for the country lost, preaching sermons of realism,  hiding our cowardice under the garb of “reality,” or taking refuge behind facebook profiles and pages. Some of us have been to the odd protest or two for a more “tolerant” Pakistan. But it was little more than a Sunday afternoon schmooze with friends and statements to the TV. But that’s all we’ve done.

But what more could we have done in the face of such violent opposition? I don’t know. We can’t bring out thousands onto the streets. We can’t take up arms. But maybe we could have found one lawyer to represent the Taseer family. One man or woman to stand up for the Rule of Law in a country that just experienced a great movement in its name should not have to be such a tough ask.

Sad? Infinitely.

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Bring Back the New Nikah Nama – But Not All of It!

21 Jul

A Pakistani Bride Waiting to Sign on the Dotted Line

Recently Punjab decided to reform the laws governing marriage and made critical changes to the nikahnama, the marriage contract between two Muslim adults. Good idea! There are many things wrong with the institution of marriage in Pakistan and marriages are often used as a tool of coercion and extortion.  Heard of dowry deaths or the pressure faced by parents of the girl to provide certain “essentials” which can range from a gold watch (usually mandatory) to a house or a car or a cow?

I hoped that the Punjab government would have fixed this problem given their earlier efforts at curbing the expenses incurred at weddings by mandating people serve only one dish at the ceremony. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Instead, they thought it best to enshrine it in the law and decided to put a column for dowry in the new version of the marriage contract, the nikahnama.

They also thought it would be appropriate to make it mandatory for the parents of the bride and groom to sign the nikahnama; defying all laws of religion and logic which allow two consenting adults to be married in the presence of witnesses. And those witnesses don’t have to be mommy and daddy. Personally, I wouldn’t have had an issue with this clause because at the ripe old age of 26, my parents would gladly sign any form to get me married to anyone. But then, there are thousands of men and women in Pakistan, who are forced into marriages against their will and this absurd requirement, would only have strengthened the hands of those who coerce their children into marriages for their own convenience. This ludicrous requirement infringed on one of the essential freedoms granted to women by Islam and the state – the right to choose a life partner.

But amidst all these clauses that would make any rational person cringe, was one actually good requirement – it would be required of all married couples to get a medical checkup, including blood tests, prior to the marriage. This was an excellent idea. Unfortunately, it got thrown out with the unfortunate ones.

I am profoundly thankful to the government of Punjab for seeing sense and withdrawing the amendments to the nikahnama. However, I would urge them to reconsider reinserting the requirements for medical checkups before marriage. This would prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and alert parents to any potential health threats their future children could face based on their genetic makeup. Basically, this would have allowed both adults and families to make informed and healthy decisions.

Potentially fatal diseases such as sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis and hemophilia can be inherited from parents even if the parents do not have or exhibit visible signs of the disease.  If two people getting married, both carry gene mutations for serious genetic diseases and defects and so the likelihood of their child being born with them becomes much higher. Such couples should be made aware of this risk prior to marriage. Raising a sick child is a heart wrenching and emotionally and physically taxing exercise. Couples should be made aware of the risks and challenges allowing them to make the best decisions for themselves and their children. In Pakistan, generations of cousin marriages have already compromised the gene pool and led to genetic diseases and defects being passed down with increasing frequency.

But in a country where more than half the population cannot even read and does not have access to basic healthcare, asking for comprehensive medical exams and blood tests is not only unfair but impractical. So first, I would humbly suggest, that the government of Punjab work to improve access to healthcare; then they should make such medical checkups mandatory.

And while they are in the process of making that change to the nikahnama, maybe they could think about putting a ban on dowry instead of sanctioning it. And maybe they could even tackle the issue of dowry before the medical one; because addressing it does not require investing in expensive medical infrastructure and training healthcare providers. Tackling the toxic issue of dowry will be cheaper for the government and it will make millions of Pakistani girls of marriageable age and their parents very happy and grateful.

Sehar Tariq is a Masters student at Princeton University who thinks if someone gives you their daughter, you shouldn’t expect anything more from them. She blogs at www.sehartariq.wordpress.com

Published: on the Dawn Blog, Wednesday July 21, 2010

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