Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Punjab's Chief Minister

By Yasser Latif Hamdani
Thanks to the three on average traffic jams caused by the Punjab government that an average person encounters on the way back from office, one has endless time on one’s hands with nothing to do. I like to pass the time by observing motorcyclists making their way between cars, in flagrant disregard of all traffic laws. Now I do not wish to sit in judgment on our bi-wheelers as many laws are broken by almost all kinds of vehicle. A profound lack of respect for authority and law is what characterises us as a nation.

There is, however, one facet of our collective national behaviour, the physical manifestation of which you can see only by observing motorcycles; it is the way female passengers ride on them. Pakistani women tend to ride motorcycles sidesaddle to preserve their modesty instead of riding them the most logical way: astride, legs straddling the motorcycle. Quite often, one sees them fall off and get seriously injured. It would be funny had it not been so tragic. Interestingly, the only woman I have ever seen riding a motorcycle astride was wearing a Pashtun shuttlecock burqa, making me wonder if this modesty business is perhaps limited to iron pants maidens of Punjab. Not having gotten an opportunity to observe motorcycles in Karachi, I cannot comment on whether this extends to the south of the country as well. Regardless, Punjab being the largest province in terms of population is representative of a broad and exclusively Pakistani trend, especially when one considers that a few miles to the east in Amritsar women not only ride motorcycles astride as passengers but also ride all kinds of two-wheelers on their own.

To this writer’s mind this idiocy and false sense of modesty, which is enforced in women from childhood, has to do with the superfluity of our so-called cultural traditions that are a consequence of excessive conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone, which may also cause male pattern baldness. There are two mental preoccupations of a Punjabi Muslim male, i.e. religion and women’s modesty and for both of these a Punjabi Muslim male is likely to resort to violence at the drop of a hat. Anything and everything is likely to endanger both, even a dead freedom fighter who was hanged by the British in 1931. It makes sense, therefore, that naming a chowk after Bhagat Singh is a no-no. The name itself seems to outrage the modesty of every woman riding sidesaddle from Shadman chowk to Shah Jamal chowk. It is, therefore, logical for Shadman traders to be so riled up about it. It has outraged them at a very basic level.

Accordingly, legal and fundamental rights that the constitution guarantees to the citizens of Pakistan have to be interpreted differently. A woman riding astride a motorcycle is an assault on the fundamental human right of every Muslim man worth his salt. In Pakistani jurisprudence, especially as it is crystallised after the world renowned judgment of the honourable Supreme Court in Zaheeruddin v. the State 1993 SCMR 1718, the right to religious freedom would cover the right of an upstanding Muslim citizen to kill, say, an Ahmadi for practising his religion, converting a church into a mosque or abducting a Hindu woman. Any attempt by the state to stop a Muslim man from exercising these inalienable rights is, therefore, a clear violation of the religious freedom clause under Pakistani law. It, therefore, makes sense not just for women to continue to ride sidesaddle on a motorcycle but also why the name of Sir Ganga Ram Hospital must be changed to honour someone like Majeed Nizami, who alone has served Islam and Pakistan with distinction. The continuing failure of the Punjab government to change the name of the hospital thus under law is a violation of the constitutional rights of every Muslim in Pakistan and to suggest that anyone other than Muslims can have fundamental rights in Pakistan is an affront to the Nazaria-e-Pakistan.

We are afraid of Bhagat Singh because in the process we may discover something about our past dreams and ourselves. We may discover that those gentlemen who we claim to seek inspiration from for Nazaria-e-Pakistan, from Iqbal to Jinnah, had supported Bhagat Singh in the name of humanity and freedom. Besides, if we recognise Bhagat Singh today, tomorrow we may have to recognize Zafrullah Khan or Abdus Salam and that would mean accepting that ‘non-Muslims’, even forced ones like Ahmadis, can be citizens and patriots of Pakistan. Thus, we must not honour Bhagat Singh under any circumstances because to do so might mean shattering of more myths than would be acceptable to the average Muslim man on the street. It would be like a woman straddling a motorcycle, plainly obscene and outrageous. Unacceptable!

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Jinnah; Myth and Reality. He can be contacted via twitter @therealylh and through his email address yasser.hamdani@gmail 

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