– The ‘forced fasting’ of Zia’s time, like many other such laws, was never reversed by the PPP despite its third time in power. The reason could be that during Zia’s years, the fundamentalists became so powerful that they were now the masters of the country’s fate
Recently, a police SHO barged into Nairang Gallery located on Jail Road, Lahore, which is an art gallery-cum-rendezvous spot for the city’s social and cultural elite, intelligentsia and artistic and bohemian classes, and harassed the staff as well as visitors and customers present for violating the ‘holiness’ of Ramzan. According to him, food and beverages were being served there during fasting hours. He also objected to the attire of the female staff and customers there, calling it revealing and thus un-Islamic, and against the sacredness of Ramzan. He did not like both genders mixing freely either. He misbehaved with and even manhandled the female curator of the gallery. This incident has stirred a wave of condemnation and protest from civil society and the cultured classes.
This kind of forced ‘sanctification’ of Ramzan is a routine matter in small cities and towns in Pakistan. Such highhandedness by the authorities in small places is seldom reported in the media. For instance, the following incident, which, somehow, did get reported in a leading daily may give a faint idea as to what kind of thrusting of one’s values on others is prevalent in our society.
On September 16, 2009, during the month of Ramzan, about two dozen people were made to parade semi-naked in a market place in Mianwali, with their hands tied by the clothes stripped off their bodies, on the orders of a deputy district officer before they were put into the lockup. The guilt of those subjected to this humiliation was that they were caught sipping tea at some tea stalls at the railway station and bus stands during fasting timings.
This act of disgracing human beings reminds one of the black days of General Zia when ‘Ramzan violators’ were given similar treatment by the authorities, by painting their faces black or shaving their heads in public. But the irony of the matter is that this practice continues even during the government of a supposedly secular and moderate political party. However, with events like the one that took place in Mianwali, one fails to find the difference between the present regime and that of Zia.
According to the present laws, the administration grants special permission to some eateries to serve food and tea to patients, travellers, etc, during the fast. The above action against alleged Ramzan violators by the local administration of Mianwali raises two questions. First, how did the police establish that the alleged Ramzan violators were not patients or travellers? Second, how would a patient or a traveller know that the eatery serving food and beverages during fasting timings does not have such permission from the administration? Obviously, a customer would presume that such an eatery has permission. He would not demand to see the license first before ordering any eatables. The customer could be an uneducated person who may not even be able to read such a paper issued by the administration to the eatery. Then why were those citizens of Pakistan punished by the authorities?
Before the black year of 1977 — when Zia took over Pakistan — all restaurants here served food and beverages during fasting hours in Ramzan. The only difference was that during Ramzan, the doors and windows of the eateries were covered with thick curtains so that those who were fasting and passing by the restaurant were not tempted by the eating and drinking activities going on inside the eatery.
Since the inception of Pakistan till the government of the PPP before Zia’s coup, the above-mentioned norm remained in practice. After the PPP’s regaining of power in 1988, many draconian laws and practices from Zia’s regime were undone. Unfortunately, however, the ‘forced fasting’ of Zia’s time, like many other such laws, was never reversed by the PPP despite its third time in power. The reason could be that during Zia’s years, the fundamentalists became so powerful that they were now the masters of the country’s fate.
In any civilised society, it is considered an individual’s prerogative to follow a certain religious practice or not. Many people in the cities of Pakistan live forced bachelor lives away from their native towns. Even living in their home towns, many people have their work places situated far away from their homes. The only source of food and beverage for such people is the eateries. Many from amongst them suffer various medical conditions that force them to eat and drink regularly. For instance, a diabetic person has to eat at regular intervals to maintain his blood sugar level. A kidney patient has to take a lot of liquids to flush his kidneys. A person suffering from low blood pressure can faint without sufficient salt intake. There are so many other instances where the old, sick and weak have to indulge in a normal food and beverage intake to live. Where would such people go if they are not even allowed to drink water outside their homes? Thirst and hunger can be felt at any time whether one is in the concealment of a house or moving out in the open.
If fasting is a religious duty then so is offering prayers. In the ‘model’ police state of Saudi Arabia, clergymen called mutawas go about the streets and market places with sticks in their hands during prayer times and harass and even beat up people to join prayer offerings in the nearby mosque. Why is Pakistan this one step behind Saudi Arabia? If laws here force people to follow one religious duty, why do they not make them follow the other one too?
What is a Taliban mindset? It is to impose one’s religious values on others. The laws of Pakistan overlap with Taliban laws. Let us admit that we are living in a semi-Taliban state, which may become a full Taliban state one day.
Courtesy: → Daily Times