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Of feisty women MPs and sex-crossed lovers

Maheen Pracha writes on protests by the loyal Tehmina Daultana of the Pakistan Muslim League's Nawaz Sharif faction (PML-N) and the much-highlighted issue on same-sex marriage.

world Updated: Jun 25, 2007 03:29 IST
Maheen Pracha

There is something decidedly dull about fiscal budgets. Perhaps it is because they are usually so predictable in our country: defence budgets go triumphantly up, social sector spending slides resignedly down, and opposition members who have nothing better to do that day hiss and boo half-heartedly before staging a walkout just in time to catch the lunch trolley down at the Parliament cafeteria.

The announcement of fiscal year 2007-08's budget in mid June was, however, marked by something a little more diverting. In a fiercely loyal if eccentric move, Tehmina Daultana of the Pakistan Muslim League's Nawaz Sharif faction (PML-N) strode across the floor and planted a poster of her party leader in the chair normally occupied by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. Naturally, this gave rise to quite a bit of hoo-ha, eclipsing entirely the dreary facts being revealed by the budget — such as, say, that annual food subsidies had risen by the grand sum of two rupees.

Nonetheless, everyone likes a good show, and after Daultana had thrown down the gauntlet by announcing that "Nawaz Sharif [was] still the legal and constitutional Prime Minister," two other women MPs (one, the minister of state for health) from the ruling-and therefore distinctly annoyed-faction of the PML also dived for the picture. Confusion reigned while the flummoxed speaker of the National Assembly stuttered in horror at such unladylike behaviour.

Gender bender

As an uncle pointed out with a degree of perspicacity, however politically incorrect the question may be, it needs to be asked: was the unfortunate Shumail Raj sent to a men's prison or to a women's? Much discussion last week centred around Raj and his partner, Shahzina Tariq-the hapless couple initially accused of trying to get away with a same-sex marriage and now jailed, not for the marriage, which is now deemed never to have taken place, but for "lying" about Shumail's sex. The Lahore High Court has sentenced them to three years' imprisonment and fined them 10,000 Pakistani rupees for perjury.

The sentence was passed after the courts ruled that Shumail was, in fact, a woman, despite two sex-change surgeries.

The couple's defence counsel has used every argument to justify the wedding rituals they went through from calling them "just friends" to saying they "did it out of (heterosexual) love" to claiming they "did it to save the bride from an arranged marriage".

Evidence provided to show that Shumail had undergone two sex-change surgeries has, however, been treated as the odd-man-out, so to speak-the bit no one is quite sure where to put. The doctor concerned has been hauled up for apparently botching up the surgeries.

(The writer is Assistant Editor with the South Asia Journal, based in Lahore).

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