Visit our new British Pakistani Christians website

Visit our new British Pakistani Christians website
This site will no longer publish new material. Please join our new website

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Message from Sukhwant Dhaliwal from Women Against Fundametalism

Demonstration organised by the British Pakistani Christian Association
Saturday 19th December

Women Against Fundamentalism condemns the persecution of Christian and other religious minorities in Pakistan and particularly the use of the blasphemy law to incite and pursue their harassment and victimisation. It joins in support of others that call for the blasphemy law in Pakistan and elsewhere, including Britain, to be repealed. Blasphemy and incitement to religious hatred offences are used to harass and intimidate and ultimately silence the voices of women and other groups such as gays and lesbians within these communities. This sort of legislation creates a climate of fear and self-censorship. Here in Britain the author of the play Behzti which was set in a Sikh temple and dealt with issues of rape and abuse of power was subjected to threats and intimidation and the Birmingham Rep theatre was attacked by Sikh extremists but even some Sikh moderates argued that the author had crossed the line by setting the play in a place that Sikhs regarded as sacred. We believe in the right of people to have religious beliefs or to not have any at all, to interpret religious texts as they see fit without recriminations. We condemn the political use of religion to attack minorities wherever these may be including Muslims in India, Hindus in Bangladesh, Christians or Ahmaddis in Pakistan. What is important for women against fundamentalism is not the lack of accuracy around the claims that Christians in Gojra defiled the Quran but that it is their right to have a different set of beliefs, to question, to dissent or to not believe in the existence of a god at all if they so wish.

Human Rights Watch calculated that between the years 2000 and 2005, 350 Ahmaddis were charged under the blasphemy legislation. This is a means of excluding Ahmaddis from mainstream discussions and representation which bears echoes in Britain where religious leaders that have the ear of the British state are successfully marginalising those with different and divergent religious interpretations. The elimination of diversity and the institutionalisation of homogenous notions of religious groups bears echoes here in the government's own faith agenda where local Sikh gurdwaras for instance are involved in deciding who is Sikh in order to control entry into newly established state funded Sikh schools. Such assertions are particularly parochial when it comes to women in terms of how they ought to dress and behave and often meted out in the application of restrictive marriage rules intended to cement clear boundaries between cultural, religious and ethnic groups.

As is clear from the communal violence between Sikhs and Muslims during partition right up to the genocide instigated by Hindu nationalists against Muslims in Gujarat, women often bear the brunt of communal rage. For Women Against Fundamentalism challenging communalism is equally about protecting the rights of minorities within minorities and of less powerful sections such as women and children subjected to the overbearing power of religious leaders.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan have suggested that claims that Christians defiled the Quran arose from rumours spread by particular clerics. Subsequent violence also revolved around rumours that churches were desecrating the Quran. The fact that seemingly mundane acts - such as property deals, or building walls, or asking someone to sing more quietly - can give rise to such violence overnight tells us that such expressions of intolerance are never a sudden irrational burst but rather the reflection of an instilling of views mobilised by religious political groups over time. It is important to look closely at how a combination of state practices, state actors and civil society actors and mobilisation has created the conditions for such violence to take place.

Human Rights Watch have noted that women and girls in Pakistan confront astounding levels of violence, with hundreds of women and girls murdered each year in the name of family honour. The question of honour is inextricably linked to right wing religious mobilisation and a growing conservatism where women are viewed as the vessels and symbols of communal and religious purity, their behaviour is closely monitored and subject to severe reprimand when norms are thought to have been contravened. Again what appear to be everyday mundane acts are viewed as acts of opprobrium. Women's bodies are further violated during outbursts of communal violence where religious nationalism, communalism and fundamentalism is displayed through rape, abduction and horrific acts of gender mutilation. The right of people to dissent is also the right of women to exist. The two are very closely aligned. Women Against Fundamentalism calls for the repeal of blasphemy legislation and the protection of minorities and marginalised voices.

No comments:

Post a Comment