A need to re-invent the veil!
Good fortune has struck again for Pakistan's Prime Minister. He got to rule a country, which has made great strides with the veil! In yet another confusing chain of events, taking place, Prime Minister Imran Khan's ruling party government, in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa made it mandatory for girls in public schools to 'cover themselves up' with a gown, abaya, veil, or chador! Rule of the thumb-modesty must prevail, as the nation's topmost priority.
Ironically, the reason behind the decision seems to have revealed, much more than what was desired. The government, which had circulated its order, in Imran's constituency, a few of days ago, had obviously, been led to believe that the measure would shield the girls, from 'unethical incidents' or immoral, gaze.
Again, Imran Khan government, which is responsible for the safety of young girls and boys in the country, has continued to hide under the realm of 'traditions', supplemented by religious and cultural values-perhaps, in order to pass its responsibility onto the children themselves. Islamabad must seriously believe, that enforcing a regressive practice on schoolgirls, is the safest way to protect them from outside and undesirable, harassment or abuse (?) God help us, if this were true!
With new precedents, often clumsy in projection, a large group of freshly converted liberals have now begun to ask: what is the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf government, if nothing else, but a bag full of surprises? A day after the mandatory order, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan did exactly, what the Imran Khan government had done in the past: down the way, he took a U-turn!
Then again, why not - after all, Imran Khan is just 'glad' that he is called 'a prime minister of U-turns'. Reminds us of his glory cricketing years! He is on record to have remarked: 'Only an idiot doesn't do any U-turns; only a moron� when he comes across a wall� only that stupid idiot keeps banging his head against the brick wall,'
Must the saner elements of Pakistan's forward looking society, consider PM Imran Khan's colleaguesin Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, to be mentally challenged-for possibly seeing the wall (the protests and criticisms that this decision was sure to invite) and still choosing to bang their heads, and issue the circular on what the schoolgirls needed to wear?
Barely hours before Chief Minister Mahmood Khan had ordered to withdraw the government notification, perhaps following severe backlash from children's rights activists, and many others, on social and mainstream media, a confused education adviser Ziaullah Bangash, was found, defending the 'controversial' orders. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government had to clarify a second time, that the order was 'neither necessary nor was there much logic behind this'
In a progressive society, the citizens should be free to decide what they want to wear, and what young girls should wear specially, and not be shamed into taking responsibility for what 'perverted' men continue to do. Pakistani schoolgirls all across the country have a dress code in place already, a uniform that is modest, 'covering' every part of the body. Whether or not they wear an abaya or a hijab is not a decision for the government to make - let alone its excuse, of taking the decision to prevent 'unethical incidents'.
In case the present government thought it was addressing the issue of harassment or abuse, by asking young girls to cover their bodies 'properly', then, it does suggest the young boys do something similar, because in the context of developing social trends in the country-they are even more vulnerable? In 2018, Pakistan had a total of 3,832 cases of child abuse - an increase of 11 per cent from the previous year - reported in the country, according to a report, filed by a respected, child rights advocacy group known as Sahil. Of the total children abused, 2,094 were boys and 1,738 were girls, the report had added.
Pakistani society is obligated to first accept, and then speak up what many inadvertently, end up denying: child abuse is a real problem and it will not simply vanish in thin air, by making children wear a certain piece of clothing. Instead of taking concrete steps that deal with the larger issue of male perversion, the government has turned to measures that only give fodder to the religious Right-which, unfortunately, then brushes the uncomfortable truth about critical 'child-abuse' under the carpet.
A recent example of the cleric Mufti Taqi Usmani, speaks for itself. He had first criticised the government's recall of the abaya order, which he said was 'in accordance with the teachings of Holy Quran and worthy of praise'. And then, he asked Imran Khan to intervene, since the First Lady wears a 'naqab' and the PM himself had advocated for the 'State of Medina', in his political party manifesto.
Rationally speaking, it should be clear to everyone that dress is something quite irrelevant, in times when expressions are fast changing. There are women wearing burqa who are getting harassed; while those covering their head with 'dupattas' (scarf) being catcalled, hijab-wearing girls, being offered lifts by strangers, or those in 'chadars' being molested in public places. The blame doesn't rest on women, and until policymakers realize this, there won't be any further progress, in this direction.
Adopting the practices of putting the blame on the victims, a society prevents the child - boy or girl - from coming forward, and reporting the incident of sexual abuse. Children need to be given the confidence to talk to a trusted adult, who should be bound to report any sign of actual or potential abuse.
We must not forget that Pakistan is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, having signed and ratified it in 1990. So, Pakistan is bound to have tough legislation on these issues. Yet, manufacturing laws alone won't help. These are needed to be implemented as well.
Along with strengthening the implementation of existing laws in the country, the government must also focus on the preventive side: how can these incidents of crime, be avoided? At the same time, relevant laws must ensure children rights activists and experts to educate parents, school teachers and members of local communities, on how best to address such issues.
Remember, the tragic story of six-year-old Zainab Ansari, who was raped and killed in Punjab's Kasur district. This unfortunate event had shaken Pakistani society's conscience. Or, at least that's what it felt like, when the case transformed itself, to become a watershed moment, in Pakistan's civilian activism-thereby, finding global support, and resulting in the rapist-killer getting hanged. But then, what good had this outrage and justice done, for the safety of other children?
Since then, thousands of such cases have been reported, with or without the guidance of this nation's media- or civil society, that had registered their powerful outrage. Last week, police in Kasur had confirmed that three unfortunate boys - aged eight and nine - who were missing for nearly three months-their mortal remains were found, after they had been raped and killed.
The aggrieved families have continued protest. People of all classes have demanded capital punishment for the culprits - and the vicious 'cycle' has continued. Nothing ever really gets done, that would ensure the safety of children in Pakistan. Imagine the continuous messages that are being sent to our little children, who somehow, are still learning, to survive a lifetime of trauma. A child is violated, somewhere, and someone confesses then; our society lets the monsters walk away with hardly a slap on the wrist.
Our children have learned at a young age, that if they were to see justice for the wrongs done, they must find it themselves.
The writer is former educator based in Chicaga