Pakistani religious groups angered by new law to protect women

  • Imtiaz Ahmad, Hindustan Times, Islamabad
  • Updated: Mar 17, 2016 21:10 IST
A new law enacted by Pakistan’s Punjab to protect women from stalking, cyber crimes, sexual violence and emotional abuse was welcomed by many, but it also angered right wing groups. (Reuters file)

A law enacted by Pakistan’s largest province of Punjab to protect women from stalking, cyber crimes, sexual violence and emotional abuse has angered right wing groups, which have threatened nationwide protests if it isn’t withdrawn.

This week, religious parties warned the PML-N government to repeal the Punjab Protection Of Women Against Violence Act by the end of the month.

The law, passed by the Punjab assembly in February, makes physical violence, abusive language, stalking, sexual violence, and psychological and emotional abuse of women cognizable offences.

Many quarters welcomed the law. “This is the best legislation I have seen passed in several years,” said women’s rights activist Fouzia Saeed.

The act includes remedies for victims of violence, criminalises all forms of violence against women and provides them with special centres that remove bureaucratic hurdles which complicate access to justice.

A toll-free number to receive complaints, district protection committees to investigate complaints and centres for reconciliation and resolution of disputes are also part of the law.

But the religious lobby is furious. A declaration issued after a conference held by religious parties said statements by government officials on the law and the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin of former Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, were against the Shariah, the ideology of Pakistan and the Constitution.

Representatives of more than 35 religious parties huddled at Mansoora in Lahore for the All-Pakistan Ulema Conference organised by the Jamaat-e-Islami. Describing the act as “un-Islamic” at the conference in Lahore, the religious groups decided to meet again in Islamabad on April 2 to decide their course of action.

Raheela Khadim, chairperson of the Punjab Assembly’s standing committee on gender mainstreaming, believes not just the law but the women supporting it are facing criticism.

“Women are usually snubbed in society and this attitude is present even in the upper echelons of the society. An example would be the criticism being faced publicly by women supporting the law,” she said.

One of the women lawmakers behind the law, Uzma Bukhari, said the act is in no danger despite the growing opposition.

“There are so many contradictions in the concerns raised. There is no answer over which clause of the law is un-Islamic,” said Bukhari, also chairperson of the standing committee on law and parliamentary affairs.

What is significant is that the law will protect aggrieved women from being forced out of their homes. Instead, the defendant can be made to leave the house for two days.

The law states anyone offering resistance to protection officers will be punished with a prison term of up to six months and a fine of up to Rs 500,000. Once a complaint is received, it will be included a database.

Filing a false complaint or levelling false accusations can be punished with up to three months in jail or a fine.

Shelter homes will be built for the protection of aggrieved women, and they will provide board and lodging to the victim and her children.

Religious leaders said it is “degrading” that defendants can be cuffed with GPS tracking bracelets on the orders of a court. Those attempting to remove or tamper with the bracelets will be jailed for up to a year and fined between Rs 50, 000 to Rs 200, 000.

Also, defendants will not be allowed to apply for an arms license or procure weapons, whereas weapons already registered in their name will have to be surrendered to court.

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