This week, the Federal Shariat Court declared the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act which was passed by Pakistan’s Parliament in 2018, as illegal. This development does not come as a surprise for many, keeping in view the history of regressive institutes like the Federal Shariat Court, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and course, the notorious Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), which have made it their responsibility to make sure that marginalized communities and women get no rights in this so-called land of purity.
It is also not the first time that this has happened. In 2021, when the domestic violence bill was passed by then minister Shireen Mazari, a few months later, under pressure and criticism from religious parties and the Islamic Ulema Council, Babar Awan, who was an advisor to the PM referred the Bill to the Council of Islamic Ideology, the very same council which back in 2016, had proposed a bill that allowed a husband to “lightly” beat his wife “if needed” and prohibited mixing of the genders in schools, hospitals and offices. CII halted the promulgation of the domestic violence bill as law, citing its unislamic nature in its ruling, and the bill went down the dark hole of dead and disappeared government bills.
The same tragedy happened in October 2021 with the anti-forced conversion bill, when the Ministry of Religious Affairs opposed it, and following their opposition, the parliamentary committee at that time responsible for the bill also rejected the anti-forced conversion bill. The bill was labelled unislamic without giving any logical reasoning, moreover Senator Mushtaq from Jamaat-e-Islami denied that Pakistan, a country where more than 1000 girls a year are forcefully converted to Islam, does not face the issue of forced conversion, and that this is all propaganda against Muslims.
All of this is a classic example of DARVO, the three-step method of twisting accountability. It is when the perpetrator or offender may deny the behaviour, attack the individual doing the confronting, and reverse the roles of victim and offender, such that the perpetrator assumes the victim. And this is what has been happening pretty much for the past few years. These rigid obsolete bodies not only declare policies protecting minorities and women repugnant, but twist words in such a way that it portrays them as victims and everything as a threat to the sovereignty of the country and religion.
In a country like Pakistan where rampant inflation, the absence of rule of law and state brutality and over all misery have made life very difficult especially for the middle and working class, rulings like these further deteriorates the quality of people’s lives. People like designer turned religious fanatic Maria B or Youtuber and youth religious influencers like Raja Zia-ul-Haq, and politicians like Senator Mushtaq may not realise this, but the overturning of these protective acts and laws has real world implications. For them, this all may be some personal vendetta or clout chasing hidden under this veil of religiosity and performative piety, but for others, it is their life which comes under significant duress.
These Acts and Bills sought to guarantee rights to already marginalized people. The domestic violence bill declared that physical violence would not be counted as violence only, and broadened its definition to invasion of privacy, harassment, stalking and character assassination, among other things that are very common in our country. This law would have given women greater control over their lives and the right to bring their wrong doers to accountability, had it not been scratched. Likewise, the anti-conversion bill, if passed, would have saved the lives of thousands of young girls from religious minority groups who are forcefully converted, married to men twice their age and separated from their families.
Similarly, the Transgender Protection act was a beacon of hope for many transgender individuals. The law prohibited discrimination against transgender people in schools, workplaces and public spaces, as well as ensured their right to vote, inherit property and run for public office. Only last week, Reem Sharif became the first transgender person to hold a directorate position in the human rights ministry. With the Transgender Act having been thrown out the window, this may now become an impossible thing in the future.
This single decision has delegitimized one of the most progressive laws in the world. Many who are rejoicing over this fail to recognize that striking off the rights of any person or community like this has no financial, security or social gains for them personally or to our society, rather it imperils their own lives. If today it’s the transgender community, tomorrow it could be them, because injustice against one person is an injustice against everyone.
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