By Warisha Farasat
30 October, 2006
painted trucks in hues of orange, red and green whiz past. Confusing
mazes of concrete interspersed with green fields’ line the highway.
Momentarily shaken out of a nap, I forget where I am. Borders dissolve.
This could have been a drive on an Indian highway. The semblance is
astounding. The sophistication of the Daewoo bus complete with a beautiful
hostess makes one realize that it is a highway in Pakistan and not India.
Clichés of the partition come to mind: ‘two nation theory,
one people, two nations, at the stroke of midnight…..’ No,
this is not a trip of a peace activist or someone involved in any track
diplomacy. It’s a humble effort to confront the veneers of Pakistan
that shadow our Indian psyche.
Old fashioned brick lined
houses, billboards with the latest fashion trends, and gizmos, its all
there. The orderliness of Islamabad is complimented by the chaos of
Rawalapindi. The history of Lahore is built on by the modernity of Karachi.
Much has been written about the historical and cultural richness inherited
by Pakistan post partition. The magnificent Badshahi Masjid (mosque)
or Anarkali Bazar in Lahore epitomizes the sense of nostalgia that grips
most Indian visitors to Pakistan, especially the Dilliwallas. What with
their Jama Masjid and Chandi Chowk.
Other than the historical
on both sides, the Indo Pak peace process is widely discussed and finds
generous mention in editorial spaces in the Indian newspapers and magazines.
More recently, General Musharraf’s memoir, “In the Line
of Fire”, is occupying the imagination of the Indian public. And
as always, Kashmir. What is often left out of this mainstream discourse
obsessed with peace is an understanding of movements within Pakistan,
both old and new.
In a dusty office with paint
peeling off the ceiling is situated a group called People’s Rights
Movement (PRM) which was formed in January 2002. They identify themselves
as a group engaging in political activism. In an atmosphere where civil
society movements have facilitated increasing depoliticization of the
Pakistani state and society, they are conscious of the challenges. Strengthening
various people’s movement in Pakistan and attempts at bridging
the gap between activism and the need and aspirations of the working
classes are some facets of this movement. The dilapidated walls of the
office are explained by the refusal to seek foreign funding by the group.
PRM supported a recent uprising
by the peasants in Okara in Southern Punjab against the army. The tenants
were being coerced to discard the existing tenancy system and switch
to the contract system. The army was illegally occupying land and unfairly
demanding a share of the produce. When the army attempted to crush the
resistance by arresting and imprisoning the men, the women of the community
effectively mobilized and carried the struggle forward. Eventually the
army relented and could not takeover the vast tracts of fertile land.
Gauging the success of the movement on various counts, it is obvious
that it helped create spaces for women within existing patriarchal structures.
This is a rare success story of well-organized mobilization in modern
Women’s rights movement
which started with the formation of Women’s Action Forum (WAF)
against the repressive laws of General Zia stands at a crucial juncture.
One of the most significant battles they fought was against the Hudood
Ordinance, originally promulgated in 1979 during Zia’s regime.
The women’s movement is infuriated that after two decades of opposition
to the controversial Ordinance, the present military government has
conceded merely to amend and not repeal the law. The first amended version
of the Hudood laws was acceptable to most women’s rights activist,
the subsequent watered down versions continue to be misogynist. The
progressive amendments to the law have been constantly opposed by the
political and religious incumbents.
Though groups with wider
mass bases such as the Sindhian Tehreek (the women’s wing of Awami
Tehreek) joined the WAF, it has largely remained the bastion of the
upper class woman. Aware of the shortcomings of the movement in its
restricted mobilization of upper class women over the years, a senior
member speaks with admirable honesty, “As urban middle class women,
we failed to connect with the masses and the trade unionists. Two reasons
for this failure were the lack of democratization of Pakistan and the
fact that only the rich could afford to indulge in advocacy, the poor
had other priorities, and crucial issues of survival.” Though
professional lobbying at policy making level effectuated changes, it
did not translate into advocacy at the mass level.
The movements challenging
the absolutism of the Pakistani state have emerged both from agrarian
and coastal areas. When in 1996, the fishing area was increased by 200
nautical miles as part of the Exclusive Economic Zone declaration; the
beneficiaries were not the traditional fisherfolk of Sindh and Balochistan,
but the deep sea trawlers. The environmental and livelihood issues surrounding
the coastal areas are similar to those in India involving: senseless
corporatization of the fisheries sector, destroying the livelihood of
local communities and tremendous environmental costs. Pakistan Fisherfolk
Forum formed in 1998 is a collective of fisherfolk from the coastal
areas, activists, academicians and local politicians. Since its foundation
in 1998, it has organized mobilizations, outreach and grassroots action
on various issues of livelihood and sustainable development.
Indians pride themselves
on the vibrancy of civil society and democratic movements within the
country. However, we fail to acknowledge the culture of resistance that
has developed in neighboring Pakistan. They are still popularly perceived
as ‘long bearded, short salwar wearing and fanatical.’ But
like us they are a community that has struggled between conservatism
and liberalism, women’s rights and patriarchy, radicalization
and Sufism. As the flight takes off from Lahore for Delhi, I feel queasy.
Whether or not I will be able to return (given the stringent visa procedures)
is not as important because I leave the country with an immense sense
of optimism. Pakistan is much more than just a US ally in the war against
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