Aafia and Mukhtaran Mai

While Pakistan is witnessing a series of protests over the conviction of neuroscientist Dr Aafia Siddiqui for charges related to terrorism, I would like to pause for a second and think: do we really mean to respect our women living on our mercy or is this heat wave because anti-US sentiment sells hot in Pakistan?
Let’s go back a few years and remember what happened to Mukhtaran Mai, the way our society responded to it and then compare it with Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s much-hyped case.

An innocent villager, Mukhtaran Mai, was tortured to the extreme for being a woman; she was violated and exploited by the dominant male society. Just being a woman made her a safe target for the oppressor, but she was brave.

She fought for justice and proved her innocence in court. But those who committed all those crimes against her are still at large. Her innocence and her bid to fight against chauvinism were acknowledged in the US more than in Pakistani society.

I remember I waited for days looking for a front-page statement from our religious leaders, both political and apolitical. No one ever made a statement in her favour. She didn’t apply for US nationality. She was a true Pakistani and married a Pakistani policeman, established a school for poor village girls, and settled in a remote area.

I salute her bravery, truthfulness and honesty. I also want to remind our society that her perpetrators haven’t been punished as yet.

Dr Siddiqui may be an innocent woman too. She might never have had any relations to any extremist group whatsoever, though her certificate of training to use heavy weapons, presented in the US court, is enough to change one’s mind.

But even if we consider her as innocent as Mukhtaran Mai, shouldn’t we be ashamed of our dual standards? On the one hand, those who committed a crime against our own innocent sister or daughter are at large within our own country, within the reach of our own law, within the reach of our police and the Supreme Court.

Yet no one from any of the politico-religious parties ever spoke against them.

But everyone wants to cash in on Dr Siddiqui’s case only, and only because it sells at a much higher price. It wins political mileage.

What happens to our ego when girls are raped under police custody, killed in the name of honour or humiliated on the roads and streets of our country?

However, we are ready to devote ourselves to get justice for Dr Siddiqui because it brings us political benefits. Even the most secular parties have jumped into the same bandwagon.

I believe that every woman who is humiliated in our own country should be given equal attention. We should treat Dr Aafia Siddiqui and Mukhtaran Mai equally and shun hypocrisy.
Published in DAWN on 02-10-2010.