Saturday, November 5, 2011

Shahnaz Bukhari: an Adorable Women’s Activist

November 5, 2011

By Saeed Qureshi

Shahnaz Bukhari is in Dallas this week. Those who have not met this renowned and illustrious lady are indeed less fortunate. Her name is associated with the epic struggle that she has been valiantly waging for the rights and rehabilitation of the abused and oppressed women of Pakistan. She founded Progressive Women’s Association for alleviation of women’s sufferings and for their rights as equal and dignified members of society.

She founded the PWA at a time when merely asking for the rights of women was labeled as sinful by the ignorant custodian of religious dogmas. Women in Pakistan have been discriminated and traumatized under the Sharia laws distorted, improvised and misinterpreted by a wide section of ignorant and intolerant Muslim clerics.

Contrary to what Islam ordains and extols honors of the females in a Muslim society, these bigots with a tongue sharper than razor and keeping saber under their arms preach to treat Women as they were the meanest among the humans and were slave concubines of the men.

Overly male dominated as many Islamic societies and polities are, the women are not only lesser equals but are treated as scum of the earth by the uneducated and narrow minded people brainwashed from the pulpit. Their behavior towards women is patently in complete and callous disregard of how the last prophet of Islam treated her own wives and gave women respect in the society.

Here are a few examples as to how the women in Pakistan in generally are mal-treated and exposed to unbearable conditions while living with their husbands or generally in the society.

Rape, the most heinous crime in any civilized society, is rampant in Pakistan. Ironically in the last 14 centuries of Islam’s existence, there is not one instance of a single rapist ever punished for this most despicable offence against the chastity of woman. The reason is that the victimized woman has to provide evidence that she was raped by so and so. But the matter does not end here. The burden of such a proof is utterly impossible to produce.

A defenseless and frail woman captured by a physically strong predator cannot produce witnesses to convince the court of the perfidious crime committed against here. First of all for fear of shame and calumny, she would not dare tell anyone that she has gone through a harrowing trauma. Secondly would a rapist commit his crime in the public as if a circus was going on?

But what boggles the mind is not one male individual that is needed as a witness but minimum four who should be pious and of credible good character and must have seen one by one the entire loathsome act to which the poor victim was being subjected to.

It is not written anywhere in the Sharia injunctions that these onlookers should also make an effort to rescue the helpless creature from the clutches of the depraved perpetrator. As such the religiously needed evidence can never be solicited and the rapists have free hand to commit such a crime. Is this not a license for rape without any punishment?

The evidence that is needed in the court in legal matters is yet another aspect of a cultural milieu in which two females are treated equal to one male. In simpler words it means that in matter of evidence one woman is not trustworthy unless there are two.
So while man enjoys full right as a witness, a woman has half of the rights of a man. This is a blatant inequality between the genders that is quoted by the religious interpreters as an important injunction of Sharia laws.

Thirdly, the wedding dowry that means the provision of household things from a bed to a car is the responsibility of the bride or her parents. Now countless women have remained without marriage because either due to poverty they could not arrange dowry or it was insufficient or was rejected by the groom’s side.

Thus the marriage would abort or end in separation or in murder of the bride. If she survives she has to live in an atmosphere of domestic violence and torture for the rest of her life from a greedy or low-minded husband.

In case of rape, or under the allegation of that, a woman is sent to jail and if a child is born from that rape she is treated as the mother of an illegitimate child and thus remains in jail for years together. The male is seldom reprimanded in such brazen crime because he is not known.

She remains vulnerable to the lust and sexual urges of the jail staff and even rotated between the affluent jail inmates through the pimps and touts mostly the jail staff. Thus the life of a chaste and innocent woman is destroyed forever.

If a man wants to get rid of the wife for monetary reasons or for second marriage or because of small dowry, he burns her or kills her, in many instances with the tacit approval and active connivance of her family members.

If someone visits the section in Pakistan’s hospitals reserved for the burnt cases, he will find there mostly the women patients. The flimsy excuses such as exploding of cooking stoves are concocted to prove the case as an accident.

In Sindh and Punjab provinces the women who do not submit to the sexual desires of local feudal lords or the demand of her husband to marry another woman, is charged for infidelity and is killed with no questions asked.

This is the odious culture prevailing in various parts of Pakistan and is reported in the press from time to time. Even a male is tagged with her and both are put to death in the darkness of night.

Now the physical beating of a woman is one religious injunction that is clearly and emphatically allowed to the males. Although the permissible beating is not as harsh but it so happens that cruel husbands maim and cripple their wives and invariably beat them almost on daily basis without a whimper of any protest or retaliation from the persecuted female.

And in case of marriage a male enjoys a dominent status. He can, if he wants, marry as many as four women subject to certain conditions such an s good financial standing to feed all of them and equal treatment meted out to them.

But equal treatment is a charade in case of violent, lecherous, greedy and overbearing husbands. And there is no mechanism to ascertain that the person concerned has been fulfilling the underlying conditions or not.

It goes without saying that in the male dominated societies like Pakistan, women cannot be treated equal to men. Why the women are not allowed to marry more than one man if the man can? It clearly gives an upper edge to a male in satisfying his wild sexual urges.

In the western societies a male can marry any number of times he want to but can keep only wife at one time. He has to divorce the first wife and then go for the second or subsequent marriages. But in doing so he has to give enough money to his divorced wife and for the children for their ensured and comfortable living.

Why can’t we have such system in Pakistan and in the Islamic societies, which is more humane? Unfortunately in societies like Pakistan a cleric or religious rabble rouser is more powerful than politicians or a judge?

Now the case of a Christian woman Asia Noreen is instructive who has been charged with blasphemy of Prophet Muhammad. Now the Christians and other religious minorities have none or perfunctory knowledge of even their own religion because they are backward, mostly uneducated, are working men or women, domestic servants or farm laborers in the villages.

They remain afraid of the local Muslim religious preachers. So the blasphemy is a word simple alien to them. But she is in jail for years together for a crime that she does not know she ever committed. But the entire legion of religious bigots and fire spitting orators are moving earth and heaven to get her the death punishment. No amount of any logic and reasoning can dissuade them from their farcical obduracy about interpreting Islam the way they like.

Now these are the suffocating, oppressive, diabolic, inhuman, fiendish conditions and atmosphere of utter intolerance and distortion of religious teachings that Shahnaz Bukhari has been working in for decades for equality, dignity and honorable treatment for the women of Pakistan.

A thousand threats were hurled at her life. Vicious smears and vilifications were attributed to her character from fanatical religious demogogues in Pakistan. An inexorable character assassination blitz was whipped up against her for a cause that was so sublime and divine.

Her mission is so lofty and noble as to entitle her to a grand reward, national recognition and meritorious decoration. She has been active without fear from the religious zealots in providing legal, financial, moral and social support to the abused women folks of Pakistan languishing in jails or putting up in families that treat them like maid servants or slave woman to be recipients of all the indignities and horrifying torture.

It is this speechless, unprotected and forlorn segment of Pakistanis society that remains on the receiving end of barbarities and religious persecutions and cultural taboos. These are the tender, fragrant, sophisticated and delicate creation of God, whom the “Poet of the East” Allama Iqbal paid tributes in the following immortal couplet:

“The universe is colorful and attractive because of the existence of women. She is like an instrument that gives birth to life’s inner sublimity and lyricism.”

Shahnaz was unbearably harassed by the narrow minded tormentors and ignorant religious persecutors. Her life was endangered to the extent that ultimately she had to leave Pakistan. She is living in Florida Miami. She is still in the forefront of advancing her exalted mission for the cause of the suffering women in Pakistan.

Her current focus is on providing wheel chairs to the women crippled and physically disabled in Pakistan by their ferocious husbands or the incorrigibile and revengeful ideoilogical hounds or the rogue elements in the society. Anyone who may offer her any support in this regard can contact her email on her email: website of Progressive Women Association is: He telephone is: 3057931344

Also you may visit Wikipedia to know more about Shahnaz Bukhari’s sterling profile, her phenomenal achievements, her incessant crusade for women’s equality and rights that she fought for under extremely trying and unbearable conditions.

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