A man in the Indian state of Bihar’s Nawada district, who is accused of raping a five-year-old girl, was recently caught on camera performing five sit-ups as a form of punishment for “taking a toddler to a secluded spot.” Even though it was determined that the man had not committed rape, the local Panchayat (Jirga) still imposed this punishment on the offender. The victims of these antiquated and obscene beliefs and practises continue to experience what backwardness feels like, while this is what backwardness looks like. Unrestrained patriarchy and antiquated traditions are a problem in some areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and neighbouring India.
Vanni, dandh, swara, kaaro-kaari, child marriages, Quranic marriages, forced marriages, domestic violence, acid throwing, marital rape, honour killing, etc are just a few examples of the villains that show how South Asia, and in our case Pakistan, still has a backward society.
Similarly, in Afghanistan, this week, we saw that 14 people including three women were flogged publicly in a football stadium for ‘moral crimes’ by the Faculty of Sharia under the Taliban administration. Even if we do consider that the three women who were publicly flogged were involved in acts of crime, let alone some social wrongs, it is still hypocritical on the part of the Taliban administration that stands for such pompous ideals like ‘honour’, to publicly parade these daughters of Eve in order to establish fear among the governed.
While societies in parts of the erstwhile Subcontinent continue to kowtow to these antediluvian ideas and practices, simultaneously in Canada this past week, we saw that the Supreme Court ruled that “luring pedophiles through fake online advertisements is not entrapment”. This shows the resolve of the state institutions in the developed world to fight evils and earnestly embrace true modernity while the developing world, particularly the aforementioned societies, are still stuck in the vicious cycle of extremism, patriarchy, violence, and poverty.
Whether its violence against women (in any and all circumstances) or child abuse as a social issue, they are the by-products of patriarchy in a society. And due to its pervasive nature, patriarchy’s hegemony is felt in all aspects of individual as well as community life. This is thus a case against unequal gender relations. This is because violence is committed at the hands of man; and at the behest of the patriarch; against the weaker gender (generally). Even when the victim is a male, for instance, as per ‘Saahil’, an Islamabad based NGO that works against child abuse, as much as 45% of the child abuse cases in Pakistan that are reported annually, the victims were male children. One can still argue that this is due to unfettered patriarchy as the perpetrators and facilitators are always men.
In a country like Pakistan, in the words of feminist writer Nazish Brohi, there is a gendered social contract. Thus, the relationship of state with individual depends on the gender of that individual. Brohi argues that for women in the less developed world and particularly for poor women living in rural areas, there lie visible cleavages within the geographical boundaries of a country. Meaning thereby, there are clear gendered peripheries within a nation-state. This exists due to the lack of an internal consensus between sub-national groups and the state. She posits that a gendered social contract allows domestic political consensus and allots legitimacy to the ruling patriarch. Moreover, it allows for impunity to violence within the private sphere, where the state has the right to violence in the public sphere. Thus, patriarchy is perpetuated across the sub-national cleavages via the state-citizen relationship.
She then attempts to explain why development initiatives in Pakistan generate only marginal results. Initiatives like the National Plans of Action, MDGs and CEDAW have failed to achieve minimum level of gender equality indicators. She finds that the inequities vis-à-vis the women question is inherently related to the state and the society via a social contract that ties women to peripheries of citizenship. She therefore proposes a reconfiguration of the social contract.