The State of the Sindhi Woman.
By Dr Meher Zaidi.
By Dr Meher Zaidi.
Sindh is a major province in Pakistan and comprises cities like Karachi (a port city), Hyderabad, Sukkur, Nawabshah, and smaller towns like Larkana, Thatta, Hala etc. There are large rural/agricultural areas spread over Mirprkhas and all area along which the river Indus flows. My inclusion into the definition of the Sindhi woman will be for this purpose the women residing in all towns of Sindh except Karachi. Due to the complex socio-cultural milieu and the relatively cosmopolitan makeup of Karachi, many issues have a slightly better and different projection.
The most devastating picture emerges as that of Hafeezan Bhutto, a 30 year old BA pass, woman who made a dramatic entry into our lives when she was shown on Sindh TV with her husband Hajjan Bhutto and brother Zahid Bhutto, apparently well dressed young men, pulling her by her hair, beating her and pushing her for drowning into the Larkana Rice Canal. Due to the timely response of people and police she was saved from being killed ruthlessly. Her story is typical of what is happening to the innocent and beautiful Sindhi woman everyday. She is declared a “Kari”, an adultress and then killed in cold blood by various means such as guns, poisoning, throwing in canals and rivers, suffocating, burning or strangulation. This maybe done with collusion of police or the powerful “Wadera” of the area. Often a “jirga” a communal court of sorts grants the death wish. In this case it was the sheer cruel, blatant disregard for all norms of civilized behavior and the utmost macho-male worship status of husband or brother in the “Sindhi” family that showed this horrible injustice to us thanks to the media. Hafeezan Bhutto rises like a brave goddess, in her sheer desperation to defy death she jumped out of a moving car and called for help. This is not her story alone. In my work, I come across several young , educated Sindhi women who are working and contributing both to the family and the country but are totally at the disposal of the males in their families. They can be declared “Kari” anytime and killed. They cannot choose life partners. The marriages outside biradaris, caste or even for love are totally out of bounds. In this day and age , the Sindhi woman is kept like cattle or an asset. She dare not exercise her right or use her wisdom in choice of matters such as marriage, choice of way of life etc. The perpetrators of violence in her case were her husband who is allegedly in police and her brother who is also young. She has now requested the minister of Women development, Ms. Tauqeer Fatima Bhutto who rang to help her, to get her employment in the police department This will be good as such people who have suffered become more sensitive to women’s issues and help other persons. The question asked by similar victims many a times is “when will I be able to freely chose my life on the basis of education?”, “when will my parents accept me as a human being with a mind?”, “when will I be able to laugh and enjoy life freely as a daughter, a mother, a wife?”. These questions are asked several times and every time I have no real answer. I dream of a day when our Sindhi daughters will be loved for the sheer presence of their selves. I dream of a day when no Sindhi woman will be declared a Kari and killed. When all girls will be freely educated in Sindh and go to their jobs. I dream of a day when the Sindhi woman will be accepted and cherished for her education and wisdom.
As usual the government functionaries have promised some help like lawyers for her to obtain divorce and fight the case against the violent perpetrators and protection to Ms.Hafeezan on an adhoc basis. This maybe some consolation but this is not the permanent solution. It is high time that the women ministers and other political men and women of Sindh push towards egalitarian judicial mechanisms in place. The whole mindset of the Sindhi man has to be changed. For this mass campaigns of awareness raising like the issue of child marriage being a cognizable offence, Karo-kari deaths being declared murders, freedom to choose life partner for adult women need to be undertaken. If this kind of social injustice is allowed to flourish in Sindh, there will be no progress, no development. A very large Sindhi population is of women. In rural areas they are contributing a good percentage of income to the economy. They should be given their due rights as agricultural workers.
Lack of education, lack of entry into job markets by the Sindhi man has resulted in this vicious cycle of un-natural dominance by power and force as was the epitome of “Wadera” power. Lack of devolution to the tiller also resulted in the strength and dominance of the “Wadera” mentality. This vested interest has protected its growth and dominance even at political level. The mechanism of adult franchise has not resulted in true representation of Sindhi man or woman as her economic dependence on unequal and unjust social class dominates the scene. The Sindhi woman is not free in rural and urban Sindh because she is not economically independent. The repressive customs of her bounding by the males of the family, her subjugation to decisions of “jirga” will keep her bound for life.
The socio-economic conditions will only improve with more education and complete capping on corruption. The department of education is the most corrupt department in the entire country. Its complete overhauling with the goals of free, demand oriented education to all is the need of the times. This has to be undertaken on a war-footing. When education is free and compulsory to all boys and girls, gradually a shift in mindset will also occur. The crises centers that the present government is undertaking should be increased to cover all towns and villages in Sindh. These facilities should be made self sufficient with vocational and other educational training facilities. There should be scholarships available to all deserving students at all levels. The practice of granting scholarships only to the well endowed and influential should be at once abolished. All educational scholarships and endowments should be advertised for all. As has been seen in the matriculation and Inter results girls take more scores and pass in greater numbers. Maybe the good change in Sindh will come through the Sindhi woman as she is more likely to be fair and just, more likely to be un-corrupt. The primary education should be improved and all basic subjects except mathematics should be taught in Sindhi if needed by choice. The books and syllabi should be made up to date and in line with the education policy.
Only through these basic reforms can the plight of the Sindhi woman addressed. Only through empowerment can the fate and direction of Sindh change.
The Karo-kari program by the Sindh police with the help of USAID had given a phone line help number. Where is it? The media should advertise it frequently for the benefit of the women .Next time a woman should be able to pick up a phone and call for help, before being assaulted or killed.