Every year on 8 March women who belong to different social classes and various age groups from the city of Lahore hold noisy protests to celebrate the International Women’s Day and traditionally they always gather outside the Lahore press club at the Shimla Pahari roundabout, writes Pakistani human rights activist Anila Gulzar.
Women representing their respective non-governmental organizations carrying placards
displaying their logos and a catchy slogan, female workers from the informal sector
marching behind a red banner spread across the front row and with feminist and slogans
printed on them wearing shalwar qameez that are bought specially for the occasion, middle
class women wearing branded clothes and an army of press photographers busy taking
snapshots of women raising slogans with their fists waving in the air parading in circles and
a heavy contingent of lady police parked at the green belt in full riot gear are all part of the
At some point, during the liveliest of the protests one would ever see in Lahore, a group of
middle class NGO women, charged with emotion, would rush ahead and take over the
whole width of the road disrupting the passing traffic and bringing it to a standstill.
This would normally herald the climax of the day. Minor skirmishes between the protesting
women and the lady police would let loose the anger, frustration and humiliation these
women endure all year long. Police women and protesting women both throwing punches
and pulling each other’s hair, shouting abuse and dragging one another to the ground are
the hallmark of the day.
This is when both the victim and the assailant are compelled by circumstance and
transformed into Roman gladiators performing in an arena of patriarchy. Finally, the
protesting women would retreat and gradually disperse. And until the next year they would
return to living their lives according to the rules and social dictates set by the male head of
the family, the mullah and the patriarch state.
Violence against women in Pakistan is on the rise. According to a report published by
European Union on March 12, 2020, Pakistan is ranked the sixth most dangerous country in
the world and second worst in the world (ranked 148th) in terms of gender equality.(1)
White Ribbon Pakistan reported that during 2004 and 2016, 47034 women faced sexual
violence, over 15000 cases of honour crimes and more than 1800 cases of domestic violence
were registered plus over 5500 women were kidnapped. Since it is very hard to collect data
regarding violence against women in Pakistan and so many cases go unreported it is not possible to determine the extent or the wide-spread injustices that our women suffer on a
day to day basis.(2)
According to the International Labour Organisation the gap between male and female
workers is the widest in the world. Hence, on average women in Pakistan earn 34% less than
Women in Pakistan also face sexual harassment at work place, on the street and in
the family by male family members. Women who belong to religious minorities such as
Christian, Hindu or Sikh are faced with abduction, forced conversion to Islam and forced
marriage to her abductor. According to UN report at least 1000 women from minorities are (2)
abducted and forced in Islamic marriages in Pakistan each year.
With an estimated 2,000 deaths per year, dowry death is another avenue in which Pakistan
has been reported to have the highest rate. Married women are murdered or driven to
commit suicide by their in-laws through continuous harassment and torture over disputes
related to dowry.
Recently, Pakistani women have been traded in China as sex workers. Chinese men marry
young girls from poor families in Pakistan, and once they go to China, Pakistani bride is
either sold off to the highest bidder or kept as a sex slave and domestic servant. According
to Associated Press 629 girls from Pakistan were sold as bride to China. (4) (7 December,
China’s track record regarding gender equality has not been impressive either. On 6 March
this year Mandy Zuo in her article published in South China Morning Post reports that
gender discrimination in China against women jobseekers is rife. According to the experts,
that Zuo quoted, nearly 85% of Chinese female graduates had encountered at least one
form of gender discrimination while job hunting and reports of domestic violence has increased by at least 50% in the past one year alone. (5)
A main issue concerning women repression in China is hegemonic masculinity which is rife at
the work place. Women in both Pakistan and China suffer from gross violation of human rights. In both countries, domestic violence is on the rise and rape has become a tool of oppression. In
Pakistan Islam is used to suppress the right of women to social emancipation and economic
freedom and in China a totalitarian ideology that stems from sadistic repressed desires and
rigid masculinity curtails the civic rights of the Chinese female population.
Anila Gulzar is a Pakistani human rights activist based in London. She is the CEO of Justice for Minorities in Pakistan.
Pakistan should offer formal apology to people of Bangladesh, says scholar
Referring to the general elections of 1970 in the-then Pakistan and the Pakistan military, internationally renowned scholar from Pakistan now living in the United States Husain Haqqani, who served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2011, said: “The military’s reaction in the form of imprisoning Sheikh Mujib and initiating genocide against the Bengalis ...To this day, no apology has been forthcoming and I think the people of Pakistan should urge the government of Pakistan to offer a formal apology to the people of Bangladesh for all the atrocities that were committed in 1971 ... an apology is the most courteous thing ...”. He made these remarks in a virtual talk on ‘Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman: An Iconic Leader of People’s Struggle for Freedom’ organized by the Embassy of Bangladesh to Belgium and Luxembourg, and Mission to the European Union in Brussels on 29 March, writes Mahbub Hassan Saleh.
Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, Dr. A K Abdul Momen, MP, joined the event as Chief Guest while Bangladesh Ambassador in Brussels, Mahbub Hassan Saleh, moderated the event.
Ambassador Husain Haqqani, currently a Senior Fellow and Director for South and Central Asia at Hudson Institute, a top think tank in Washington, D.C., United States, said that Bangabandhu is not only the greatest Bengali of all time, he is one of the greatest leaders emerging out of South Asia and a great leader in the history of the world, and an iconic figure of struggle for freedom that the world has seen throughout the 20th century. He said that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is in the same league of great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.
Ambassador Haqqani divided the struggle of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s into five distinct phases: 01) struggle of the young Sheikh Mujib against the British colonialism; 02) post-1947 protest against the imposition of Urdu as the only state language of Pakistan and movement to establish Bangla as one of two the state languages and then the electoral victory of ‘Jukto Front’ in 1954; 03) Dissolution of the ‘Jukto Front’ Government and Bangabandhu’s continued struggle for secular and inclusive approach on the part of the state; 04) Imposition of martial law by Pakistani rulers and Army Chief Ayub Khan taking the control in 1958; 05) Genocide committed by Pakistan military from 25 March 1971 and Bangabandhu’s image, ideas and words were inspiring the Bengali people to fight the War of Liberation. He said that Bangabandhu had created the sense of freedom among the Bengali nation during his long struggle for independence and gave all the directives to his people to prepare for a war in his historic speech on 07 March 1971 in Dhaka.
He added that the then East Pakistan was the ‘Golden Goose’ to the Pakistani ruling elites as most of the foreign exchange was earned from the eastern part (Bangladesh). He also said that the feudal Pakistan rulers never considered Bengalis as equals and were not ready to hand over the power to the elected representatives of then East Pakistan after the electoral victory of Bangabandhu’s party, Awami League, in the national elections of 1970.
Ambassador Haqqani said that now Bangladesh is one of the fastest growing countries in the world and the most successful country in South Asia. Today’s prosperous Bangladesh is the contribution of Bangabandhu and his able daughter, the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Foreign Minister Momen said it was expected that Pakistan would apologize formally for the Genocide committed by its military in 1971 on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee - the 50th Anniversary of Independence of Bangladesh this year. Though Prime Minister of Pakistan sent a message at the last minute on the occasion but unfortunately, he did not apologize for the Genocide committed by Pakistan military on the unarmed Bengali civilians of Bangladesh in 1971. He highlighted that Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Shiekh Mujibur Rahman was a peace-lover during his entire struggle for freedom and Independence, and even today Bangladesh is promoting the culture of peace in every aspect all around the world under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina including introducing a resolution on “Culture of Peace” every year in the United Nations General Assembly, which is adopted by all the members states.
Dr. Momen expressed his hope that Bangladesh would realize the dream of Father of the Nation - the 'Golden Bengal', a prosperous, happy and non-communal Bangladesh, a developed Bangladesh by 2041.
Ambassador Saleh said that 2021 is a momentous year in the history of Bangladesh as the country is celebrating the Birth Centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and the Golden Jubilee - the 50th Anniversary of Independence of Bangladesh. He added that the words of Ambassador Haqqani would help the friends in the international community, academics and researchers to understand better the struggle for freedom of Bangabandhu.
The event was organized at a virtual platform (Zoom webinar) following the local Covid-19 local guidelines. The virtual event was live-streamed on the Facebook page of the Embassy. A large number of participants from Europe and different corners of the world joined the virtual event. The event will remain available on the Facebook page of the Embassy.
Pakistan urged to 'take responsibility' for 'genocide'
A group of activists who demonstrated in Brussels want Pakistan to be held to account for the violent events of over five decades ago which, it is claimed, have so far gone unpunished, writes Martin Banks.
On 26 March 1971, Pakistani troops entered east Pakistan in order to put down a growing movement for Bangladeshi independence. A nine-month war of Independence followed, ending with Pakistan’s defeat and surrender on 16 December.
The level of casualties inflicted on the Bengali civilian population, and the issuing of a Fatwah by Pakistan encouraging their soldiers to treat Bengali women as “booty” of war, was such that as many as 3 million prople were killed, and up to 400,000 women, and young girls, suffered rape.
The events of 1971 are widely considered as genocide.
This week the Bengali community in Belgium came together with human rights activists to call on the European Union to recognise this fact.
Speaking at a gathering outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, President of European Association for the Defence of Minorities Dr. Manel Mselmi spoke to this website.
Dr Mselmi said: “The Bangledeshi Genocide reminds us that we are all human beings, and that we should respect each other’s cultural heritage, language and religion.
“Conflict based on linguistic and religious levels can never be solved by violence, war, persecution and torture, because at the end the oppressed people always seek to find freedom and dignity even though they lose their families and lands, they will always defend their values and identity.”
The activists called on the government of Pakistan to acknowledge and to take responsibility for its past actions. A letter, hand-delivered by Belgian human rights activist Andy Vermaut of the Alliance internationale pour la défense des droits et des libertés AIDL, addressed to European External Action Service High Representative Josep Borrell, called upon the European Commission “to utilize its considerable political leverage to pressure the government of Pakistan to acknowledge its responsibility for this genocidal atrocity”.
Report reminds Europe to be wary of re-emergence of Khalistani militant groups
Canada’s leading think-tank, the Macdonald Laurier Institute, has just published a major new report entitled Khalistan: A project of Pakistan. For the first time, it acknowledged that the Khalistani separatist movement, based in Canada, is a ‘geopolitical project’ of Pakistan which not only threatens the security of India but of Canada as well, writes Martin Banks.
The report comes almost 35 years since the bombing of Air India Flight 182, commonly known as the 'Kanishka Bombing' by a Khalistani militant organisation.
Amid a possible fundamental shift in Canada’s Khalistan policy, the key question now is whether there are lessons from Canada that Europe can learn to avert such a threat.
For a long time, the world refused to accept the invisible hands of a malevolent ‘state’ pulling the strings, “from behind the curtain”, in orchestrating and fanning the proliferation of both Kashmiri and Khalistani separatist movements.
However, there are signs now of a renewed push by Pakistan to whip up the Khalistani separatist movement issue by using Europe’s ultra-liberal ecosystem as its breeding ground. It means time is running out for Europe to act.
The fact that the first Khalistani flag was raised in Birmingham way back in 1970s shows how long Europe has been centre stage of the separatist movement. While the movement lost much of its momentum over the ensuing decades after a violent spate of militant activities in India by Pakistan-backed Khalistani militant groups, it has been given a fresh impetus over the last few years. This, it is argued, is funded and fuelled by Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, and has triggered a renewed militant separatist mind set among the Sikh diaspora youth.
This should be of real concern for Europe.
In July this year, the Union Home Ministry of Government of India published a list of nine individuals designated as Khalistani terrorists who are accused of spreading terrorism in India from overseas. Two of these are based in Germany and one in the UK. Over the years, there have been plenty of indications of Pakistan using the Khalistani separatist organisations to ferment anti-India protests in key parts of Europe. For example on August 15, 2019, while a section of the Indian diaspora was peacefully celebrating India’s Independence Day outside the Indian High Commission in London, they were violently confronted by a group of British Pakistanis and members of Khalistani separatist organisations. London Mayor Sadiq Khan was criticised online for a perceived lack of security arrangements that led to Indian diaspora being abused.
It is also alleged that two UK based Sikh organisations (Sikh Network and Sikh Federation) have sympathies towards the Khalistani issue.
European countries,and especially the likes of UK, need to take a cue from the report by the Macdonald Laurier Institute and Canada’s bitterly learnt lessons on supporting the Khalistani movement.
To add to such concerns,Sikh separatist activities in the UK appear to be getting support from British politicians.
Take for example, a reported tweet of August 12, 2018 by Nazir Ahmed, a member of UK’s House of Lords and originally hailing from Mirpur, Pakistan. In the tweet he reportedly conveyed his support for the Khalistan movement.
There is evidence that Pakistan-backed Khalistani militant groups are on the rise in Italy too.
Over the years, Pakistan’s alleged funding of Islamist terrorism in Kashmir and elsewhere in India has failed to trigger any substantial return. Instead, it has only helped spark a proliferation of nationalistic fervour in India and increase global pressure on Pakistan for harbouring Islamist terrorism.
This has perhaps why Pakistan now seems to be changing gears and whipping up the Khalistani separatist issue once again by fermenting a new wave of unrest and militancy in India.
Interestingly, the map of Khalistani organisations allegedly backed by ISI deliberately does not include Pakistan’s Punjab region even though the original Sikh kingdom had West Punjab as a critical stronghold and hub of its administration.
This could be seen as a sign of how both Pakistan and Khalistani organisations have reached an agreement on not infringing on the territorial integrity of Pakistan in return of Pakistan’s support for the movement.
The silence of Khalistani organisations on this issue is staggering. Or, is it just a small price for them to pay in lieu of ISI’s institutional backing for the movement?
The bigger issue at stake is whether major European nations currently understand the gravity of what is going on.
EU member states would do well to grasp the changing dimensions of ‘hybrid warfare’ and where exactly a line should be drawn between ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘dissent.’
Referendum 2020 on whether Punjab should become an independent country is a test-case for EU countries as to whether they have matured as democratic liberal nations - or just reduced to “breeding grounds” for separatist movements from across the world.
The 1985 tragedy of Air India Flight 182, which killed 329 people – still the worst terrorist attack in Canadian history - should act a stark reminder to Europe that, like ISIS fighters returning from Syria, they may be harbouring “another Frankenstein” in their backyard.
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