Serious thinking needed

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A recent report says that Pakistan is among those countries where 70% women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime by their intimate partners and 93% women experience some form of violence in public places in their lifetime. Such acts of miseries for women will continue till women are the laws regarding women right are not implemented. HR experts say that instead of implementing laws, the government should also do away with bodies like the Council of Islamic Ideology whose versions are becoming quite irreverent in these days. The irony is that instead of fading away into oblivion, the Council of Islamic Ideology has been restored to full strength after remaining non-functional for almost a year following the retirement of its former chairman Maulana Sheerani. On Friday, it acquired 11 new members, of whom Dr Qibla Ayaz was appointed chairman. The CCI is a statutory body with a minimum of eight and maximum of 20 members, including one woman, whose function is to supposedly ‘advise’ parliament on whether laws are in consonance with Islamic injunctions. That in itself makes it a superfluous body, given that the legislature is bound by the Constitution to make laws that are not contrary to the Quran and Sunnah. Moreover, objections to legislation on religious grounds can be referred to the judiciary as a check and balance. A body like the CII has no place in a democracy because it serves as a platform for unelected regressive elements to influence decisions made by parliament. Misinformation and arguments based on flawed reasoning, if cloaked in the garb of religion, can hobble attempts at progressive legislation. Right-wing parties in parliament have time and again used statements by the CII to derail, delay or, at the very least, water down laws meant to empower and protect women. Unfortunately, legislators themselves, even those from ostensibly progressive parties, have by their actions magnified the role of the CII in lawmaking by regularly seeking its input on social issues, especially in the context of women’s rights. One may well ask why they do not do so in other areas such as the economy, given that an understanding of the subject is among the criteria for nomination to the CII. The CII is among several elements of a regressive legacy that continue to bedevil Pakistan. With the Constitution containing the proviso that no law shall be framed contrary to the Quran and Sunnah, a body tasked with assessing whether laws conform to Islamic principles or not, is entirely redundant. The argument that it has only an advisory role is specious, for even in this capacity the CII has derailed or, at the very least, watered down attempts at legislation seeking to empower women. It serves as a platform for representatives from right-wing groups outside parliament to exercise influence over the process of legislation and introduce confusion in the public debate often through misinformation and flawed reasoning. In an environment where violence against women can take the most horrific forms, the CII uses its bully pulpit – not to mention its Rs100m budget – to try and further rob women of their agency. It has denounced a minimum age for marriage as un-Islamic, rejected the use of DNA as primary evidence in rape cases and slammed women’s protection law – and this is only a sampling of its recent ponderings. The CII has been hell bent upon restricting fundamental rights of Pakistani women. It had declared the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act (PPVA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Domestic Violence Bill ‘un-Islamic’ and drafted its own drafts in response. These drafts were prepared without giving any weightage to the recommendations of the council’s only woman member, Samia Raheel Qazi. The CII has made several outrageous suggestions like those pertaining to minimum age limits for marriage, opposition to DNA evidence in rape cases and ban on co-education after primary-level. If our Parliamentarians cannot do the right thing and disband this council, they should at least recognise that the body does not belong to our day and age as it exists at the moment. The CII needs greater diversity not just in terms of more women members but also in terms of more members with differing opinions on religious teachings. Islam is a dynamic religion that has historically been open to multiple context-specific interpretations. It will be beneficial for the council as well as the country if personnel diverse perspectives on religion are included into the council. That may be its only saving grace. The CII is a controversial body whose legitimacy remains under question, considering it was introduced during a military dictatorship. There is hardly any need for such a council. The advisory role can very well be performed by any parliamentary body. Recently, it also opposed the efforts to eliminate the practices of girl marriages. In a country in which religion plays a very important role in determining the outlook of the people, it was expected that the clergy would act in a responsible manner and help Pakistan on its way to becoming a moderate and progressive republic. Unfortunately, the clergy has instead chosen to oppose any progressive measure that has been introduced or mulled in Pakistan, and that has laid bare its misogyny and bigotry.

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