IT is a sign of the growing anarchy in the country that the murder of a woman journalist, Arooj Iqbal, in Lahore in November 2019 should have become controversial. Reporters without Borders (RSF), a highly rated watchdog, insists that she was killed because she was going to start her own newspaper while the accused challenged this version and got away by paying compensation to the bereaved family.

A week ago, RSF claimed that Arooj Iqbal was killed to prevent her from publishing her own newspaper and that the matter was hushed up because of collusion between the accused and the police. This version has been rejected by the Pakistan Press Foundation.

The facts of the case briefly are: Arooj Iqbal started working for a newspaper Anti-Crime published by one Dilawar. After she had been at this job for 18 months Dilawar married her. The marriage broke down allegedly because of Dilawar’s violent behaviour towards her. She completed preparations for bringing out her own newspaper, Choice. One day before this paper was to start coming out, Arooj was shot dead.

The FIR filed by Arooj’s brother accused Dilawar, who was not arrested because he was out of the country at the time of the murder. However, an agreement was reached at a panchayat managed by his friends and he paid the bereaved family one million rupees in compensation. Legal opinion will endorse the RSF’s repudiation of the settlement under the Qisas and Diyat law as any such proceedings could be valid only if they had been held in a court of law. When Dilawar paid diyat he accepted responsibility for the murder and the law should have taken its course. The obvious conclusion is that the state, through the government of Punjab, has a duty to reopen the case.

This case is an extreme example of the threats to women journalists pointed out in a joint statement by about 30 of them. The allegations of attacks on women journalists on social media are specific and grave. The most significant part of the statement was that the women journalists were being prevented from exercising their right to free speech and their right to participate in public discourse. The statement had accused members of the ruling party as being their persistent denigrators.

The human rights minister has taken notice of the complaint on social media as well as during a parliamentary body meeting with a delegation of the aggrieved journalists on Tuesday. Unless some meaningful action is taken against the culprits who have been tormenting women journalists, Shireen Mazari’s gesture might not even wash the tears of the victims of harassment.

The government’s apathy towards women journalists aggravates the plight of all women across the country. These journalists understand the suffering of womenfolk much better than their male counterparts. The government does not take women journalists’ grievances seriously, perhaps because it has convinced itself that like other ‘riff-raff’, women journalists too will get tired of shouting and things will return to normal without any effort on its part. The establishment ignores the fact that unmitigated public grievances accumulate in the minds of people and fuel their alienation not only from the current custodians of power but from the state itself. It seems the government’s contempt for women journalists has its roots in its lack of a forward-looking vision for the women of Pakistan.

The same lack of vision characterised the official part of the celebration of Independence Day. The only positive activity was the adoption of a resolution by the National Assembly to the effect that the Quaid-i-Azam’s speech of Aug 11, 1947, may be included in the country’s educational curriculum. This had been repeatedly demanded by the defenders of the Quaid’s legacy. All those who have been delighted at the passage of the resolution will have to exert pressure on the establishment because the strong lobby that wishes that the Quaid had never made this speech will do everything to obstruct the implementation of the resolution.

What shocked many people was the fact that they saw little of the Quaid-i-Azam on TV channels. They saw again and again Christopher Lee of Dracula fame strutting across the stage. One is not comfortable with the idea that Pakistan’s children should identify Jinnah with the face of Christopher Lee. Live coverage of the Quaid’s activities is available with the information ministry. If it was necessary to use filmed material on the Quaid, much could be obtained from the several documentaries made on the Pakistan movement. The prime minister spoke of a march to realise Jinnah’s Pakistan having begun. Even a layman knows that the foundations of Jinnah’s Pakistan lie in citizenship-based membership of a single nation in which all citizens, regardless of caste, creed or colour, are equal members.

Tailpiece: One of our federal ministers’ main duties is to discover in the prime minister the qualities of head and heart and of leadership which neither he nor anyone else has suspected him of possessing. Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari was right up to a point in declaring that the prime minister was the sole author of the Kashmir narrative. So far no harm done. But Ms Mazari went on to unburden her spleen against the Foreign Office to an extent that the worst critics of our foreign policy would not like to do. The real target of her outburst was Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and a broadside fired in his direction would have been in order. But she targeted the professionals at the Foreign Office and thus violated a good convention that forbids attacks on professional civil servants who cannot return the compliment. Let everybody try not to extinguish the few of the hallowed conventions that have survived in the state of anarchy that exists in this country.

Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2020

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