The insecure women of Balochistan
By Malik Siraj Akbar
Women become the first and the safest targets of many fanatical religious movements. Be it a revolution on the name of religion or a movement to “purify” a society from “evils”, the leaders of such so-called reformist initiatives first of all enforce all their “wonderful ideas” on women. They begin with dictating women how to dress, how to behave and how to spend their individual lives. Ironically, all these decisions are made (for women) by the men.
Two classic examples of inhuman curbs on the rights of women were seen in Afghanistan under the Taliban rule and the rise of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in Khabir Pashtunkhawa province. The conservative Taliban discouraged women’s socialization by forcing them to observe strict Islamic hijjab. They were barred from attending schools and colleges. In the same manner, hundreds of girls’ schools were destroyed in Swat by the supporters of Taliban.
The same thereat now knocks at our doors. Welcome to Quetta! A girl’s high school with a total enrollment of 1500 female students in Quetta’s Killi Shiekhan locality has finally decided to shut down. This painful decision had to be taken by the school administration after cogitating over threats issued by an underground organization Tahreek-e-Taliban Balochistan. The brave female principal of the school stood bravely against the threat deciding never to let the closure of the school. She was equally backed by the parents of the girls who said they would not stop sending their daughters in spite of all kinds of threats issued to the school. This is an impressive display of bravery and commitment by the school administration and girls’ parents towards education. It is not the people of Balochistan who are opposed to women’s education. It is a handful of people who want to take this whole society hostage.
Why did the Killi Shiekhan School decide to shut down one month after the issuance of threats? Disappointingly, this decision had to be taken as the last available option after the provincial government’s pointblank refusal to provide protection to the threatened school.
“It is not our responsibility to provide security to these schools,” was the brazen reply Balochistan’s education minister, Tahir Mehmood, had to offer to Karachi-based Express Tribune when asked what his ministry was doing to guard the girls’ educational institutions, “our job is to impart education and improve its quality.” So else, if not the education minister, is responsible for guarding the girls’ schools in Balochistan? Anybody there? So far, we have people who take responsibility for providing education, quality education but on one is ready to provide security to the public schools. Could a so-called people’s government fall morally so low? No, indeed.
What seems to have scared the administrator and the students of the girl’s school is the reference in the threatening letters about the presence of “female Taliban spies” in the ranks of the students who keep informing their male colleagues about the girls bearing a “morally loose” character. The senders of the mail have demanded that the students and teachers enrolled at the school should observer proper Islamic code of dressing and stop promoting ‘obscenity”. In case of noncompliance, they would be targeted and killed.
No one knows what the Balochistan government is thinking right now in response to this threat. On thing is clear: It is doing nothing in this regard at the moment. The government has not responded encouragingly to the ugly episode of attacking five girls in two different incidents of acid-throwing in Dalbandin and Kalat respectively. Even female ministers and advisors in the provincial government have not proactively responded to the newly developed situation. The government in Quetta seems to be devoid of willingness to move forward to guard the girls’ schools and colleges. Attack on girls with acid and now threats to the girls’ schools cannot be a mere coincident. These two types of anti-women developments are surely a part of a well-thought plan to radicalize the society in Balochistan. Elements in both these crimes seem to be connected with each other.
It is totally absurd to threaten school students to refrain from promoting “obscenity”. What is the possible level of obscenity children at school level can promote? It is all madness when schools shut down on the charges of promoting immorality in a society where a little girl fails to do her home works throughout the evening if her brother forgets or declines to buy her a pencil (which shows her total dependence on her brothers and male members of the family). Obscenity is cannot surely be the biggest challenge of a society where teenage girls still fully depend on their parents and elder brothers to buy them a mobile card or a pencil sharpener.
Thus, it is the responsibility of the provincial government to boldly thwart the threats to girls’ schools. All the girls’ schools shut in the wake of recent threats should immediately be reopened. The government should provide complete security to all educational institutions and take the threat to females’ education as the harbinger of a larger integrated threat to Balochistan.