Join LPP
Donate LPP
Two, Three, Many Marathons

Related Articles

By Farooq Sulehria

First things first: hats off to a band of courageous activists that braved all kinds of threats, two weeks ago, to hold a symbolic marathon for civil liberties. A section of the press devoted large spaces on leader pages to demonise the marathon organisers. A leading Urdu columnist detected a US hand behind the marathon -- as if the US hand is that idle -- others lashed out at the "westernised women" and yet others unleashed a campaign against NGOs "working on the US agenda."

To settle scores, a newspaper facing a defamation case filed in the Balochistan High Court by HRCP, published long texts of its defence petition. Minute details of the distance covered by the marathon were commented upon. What was not been discussed was what the marathon was all about: civil liberties.

The smear campaign was reminiscent of a famous anecdote from the 13th century Sufi jester, Mulla Nasruddin. A man found the Mulla searching for something on the ground outside his house. On being asked, Nasruddin replied that he was looking for his key. The man also joined in the search and in due course asked Mulla: ''Where exactly did you drop it?'' Mulla answered: ''In my house.'' ''Then why are you looking here?'' the man asked. ''There is more light here,'' replied Mulla.

Let's go to the spot where the key was dropped. The Lahore Marathon for Civil Liberties on May 14 was a protest in the first place against the Gujranwala incident. The symbolic marathon was an attempt to assert civil liberties including a non-segregated run, and the principle that one has the right to participate in an activity of one's choice, be it a marathon, work place, educational institutions, sports or some cultural pursuit. This is what the marathon was about.

The right-wing vigilantes have attacked marathons (as if mixed marathons are against religion, and attacking unarmed women is an act of piety) not because they are segregation fanatics, but because segregation is a method of oppression they want to employ to oppress different segments of the civil society.

This method has already been successfully applied against Pakistan's religious minorities. Another example is the Punjab University in Lahore. Taliban's Afghanistan, and Khomeni's Iran personify a rule of oppression through segregation where the opposition -- trade union, human rights, political activists - are silenced in the name of implementing segregation. The sacred name of religion is merely a cover for a method of oppression: segregation.

Incongruously, segregation is not a principle for the MMA. When it suits them, Islam is flexible. The MMA leadership, for instance, have not hesitated to allow their women sit in a mixed parliament.

Here, one finds a sinister nexus between the military and the mullas. The GHQ is not ready to tolerate democracy, PPP, PML(N) or the HRCP marathon. But if democracy, PPP (Patriot), PML(Q) or a marathon uphold the colour khaki, the military is flexible.

That was why the first HRCP marathon was brutally broken up by the police with Shabab-e-Milli as reserves. Athletes in shorts (although no women wore this sports gear) did not offend any section of the press, MMA or Shabab-e-Milli when the marathon was organised under the auspices of the Punjab government in January.

The Lahore city administration disrupted the HRCP marathon of May 14 on the plea that the participants were not "properly dressed" -- although all the women were decently clad in shalwar kameez. The city administration did not clarify what dress it deemed proper for a marathon yet the message was clear: only khaki enlightened moderation. Any other enlightened agenda will be met with force.

The second HRCP marathon on May 21 was an attempt to stand up to the mulla-military onslaught that is continually snatching ground from under the feet of civil society. The JAC-HRCP determination not only mobilised hundreds of more activists but also motivated PPP and ANP leadership to show solidarity. A number of small progressive groups, on finding an alternative, also joined to assert that women, youth, and activists are not ready to let armed bands hold civil society hostage at gunpoint.

The marathon was a timely action that should translate into a process of reclaiming civil liberties being encroached upon by the mulla military nexus for almost two decades. The task rather demands more "marathons." Next should be a "marathon for a decent life" guaranteeing job, health care and universal education. Only then will the masses in Pakistan fully enjoy civil liberties. And the struggle for a decent life also demands a defeat for segregation, which is simply a baseless fascination.

Those who promotes segregation as an epitome of our values and religion, has yet to come up with a solution for the seventy percent Pakistanis living in the rural areas. Will they arrange "women only" paddy fields? If yes, will the Basmati rice grown by women at these fields be halal for men?

Says Bulleh Shah:

Mulla tay mashaalchi dohaan ikko chit

Loukan karday chananan, aap anhairae vich

(Mullah and the torch-bearer, both from the same flock

Guiding others; themselves in the dark)

Segregation is a tool for the forces of reaction and must be resisted. Civil society remained silent when we began to persecute minorities in the name of religious segregation. Now, women are the next targets. Today a mixed marathon is attacked. Tomorrow mixed education. Then mixed work places. This is exactly how the Nazis seized control in Germany.

Pastor Martin Niemoeller (1892-1984) summarises the German experience: "First they came for the Communists but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists but I was not one of them, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews but I was not Jewish so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me."

Last but not least. The marathon should also be an eye opener for a section of liberals who, deceived by the talk about Kamal Attaturk, expect Musharraf to undo Zia´s doings. The generals play the pious or the enlightened Muslim as the situation demands. The Afghan jihad needed a pious Muslim: Ziaul Haq. The "war on terrorism" requires an enlightened moderate: Musharraf.

But by denying democracy – the mother of all civil liberties - Musharraf is not helping the liberals who expect GHQ to fight a proxy war for them. To reclaim civil liberties, it will take much more than two, three, or many marathons.

Up Email Print Articles Home  
© Pakistan Labor Party
All rights reserved, any contents provide on this site are sole property of this site web site