The pictures coming out of Islamabad are not good. Not good at all.
Here is yet more evidence – as if we needed more evidence – of a society at war with itself. The hostage-taking by women students from Jamia Hafsa in Islamabad of the residents of a house that they allege is a brothel is not just another act of vigilantism and a breakdown of governance; it is also a manifestation of a nation divided against itself. Coming at a time when the legitimacy of the government is at its lowest after the recent fiasco of the Chief Justice’s removal, the powers in Islamabad seem to have little ability and even less stomach to address the criminality of this act given their own recent actions.
What we are seeing now are the signs of a society without direction, a state without control, a government without legitimacy.The result seems to be laathi raaj; quite literally. If one believes that the violent and coerced imposition of any one view – conservative or liberal; secular or religious – is wrong, then one has to reject all laathis. One has to be as opposed and as appalled at the laathis (sticks) being wielded by the burqa-clad women on Jamia Hafsa as one was a few weeks ago to the laathis wielded by the police at lawyers and media offices a few weeks ago.One assumes that readers of this blog are well aware of the events not just of yesterday but of the last many weeks. If you are not, this video newsreel from BBC gives some background.
To view another perspective, here is a video that seems to have been made by/at Jamia Hafsa itself and presents the views of women leaders from within Jamia Hafsa.
The coverage of major Pakistani newspapers of the story is itself indicative of a divided society, of divided sensibilities, and of divided priorities. Here, for example, is the headline and excerpts from Dawn:
Madressah force on the offensive in Islamabad: Move to impose Talibanisation; three women kidnapped
Signs of Talibanisation appeared quite evident on Wednesday in the heart of the federal capital when hard-line religious leaders and hundreds of men and women activists from the local madressahs challenged the writ of the government for the second time by trying to force their brand of Islamic justice in Islamabad. They first took hostage three women from a house near their stronghold of Lal Masjid for allegedly running a brothel and later forcibly detained two security personnel in protest against detention of their four supporters, two of them women teachers of Madressah Hafsa. The madressah students, mainly women, had been taking rounds of the nearby markets for a few days, threatening video and music shop owners to close down their business. In some way, they had been encouraged by the soft pedalling by the government on their earlier action of occupying a children’s library two months back, which still remained in their control.
The three women were apparently kidnapped two days ago, but the situation took the form of a confrontation on Wednesday when the authorities detained four madressah people on the charge of threatening video-shop owners. The madressah students reacted violently, and within no time two police vans were attacked and two security officials taken hostage. Later, the ulema and local administration reached an agreement under which Qamar Abbas of Islamabad police and Hammad of Punjab police were released with their official vehicles. In return, the two women teachers and two other activists were released by the police. However, the three kidnapped women were still stated to be in the custody of the students of the madressah and negotiations were under way for their release.
Headline and excerpts from the story in Islamabad-based The News:
Police give in to Jamia Hafsa students
Female students of Jamia Hafsa seminary, backed by male students of other Madrassas, prevailed on the Islamabad police after a daylong showdown here on Wednesday. The trouble started when the seminary students and teachers, supported by their patrons in Lal Masjid, decided to take the ‘community correction role’Ã‚? in their hands and kidnapped an old woman, her young daughter and daughter-in-law on Tuesday night blaming them for ‘immoral activities’Ã‚? in the area. The Islamabad police and the district administration started negotiations with the Lal Masjid management to get the three women released. However, the students as well as their patrons refused to cooperate with the authorities. In a ‘tit-for-tat’Ã‚? move the police picked up two female teachers and as many drivers of the Jamia Hafsa seminary who were busy threatening the shopkeepers selling video and audio CDs in a local market at 9.30am on Wednesday. The teachers were identified as Tasleem Bibi and Saeeda Bibi while the drivers were identified as Muhammad Ayub and Zabta Khan.
This complicated the situation as the male and female students retaliated by kidnapping two police officials and confiscating two official police vehicles Ã¢â‚¬?one belonging to the Punjab police and the other to the Islamabad police at 12.30 pm on Wednesday. The male students belonging to different Madrassas blocked roads to protest the police action. The Islamabad police high-ups, it was reliably learnt, ordered the Station House Officer (SHO) of the Aabpara police station to take action and get the policemen.Ã¢â‚¬? Constable Kaamal Abbas (Islamabad police) and Hamad Raza (Punjab police) released from the custody of the students who had taken the men and vehicles inside Jamia Hafsa. However, the SHO showed reluctance because he did not have enough force to deal with any untoward situation. Subsequently the SHO was suspended, it was learnt. It was also learnt that the government came under immense pressure from unknown quarters that the federal interior secretary, in a top-level meeting, ordered release of the teachers and drivers ‘unconditionally’Ã‚? expecting the Jamia Hafsa administration would reciprocate the ‘peace gesture’Ã‚?. The Islamabad police released the two female teachers and the drivers who had been taken into custody for creating disturbances in a busy city market. The detainees were released from the Aabpara police station around 7.30pm. The seminary students released the two police constables, along with their vehicles at 9.30pm, who were kidnapped earlier in the day. However, the three women, who were kidnapped by the students of different Madrassas of Islamabad on Tuesday night from a thickly populated locality of sector G-6/1, were still not released.
Finally, headline and excerpts from The Nation:
Jamia Hafsa students raid brothel; Government gets cops released after accepting demands
Students of Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa challenged the writ of the government by making hostage two police constables and three alleged prostitutes and brought the government down to its knees by getting released the Jamia’s teachers arrested by the police here Wednesday. However, behind-the-scene lengthy dialogue between the Lal Masjid administration and the government authorities led to the release of the two teachers, their driver and a servant, and the police cops along with their vehicles. Ghazi Abdul Rasheed, Vice Principal of the Jamia, while talking to the media claimed that the three women had been captured for running a prostitution den and would not be released until and unless they renounce their “illegitimate business” or they would be punished under the Islamic laws…
Ghazi also announced that the operation against the brothel houses would continue and in this regard the Lal Masjid administration had established a complaint cell. Ghazi had earlier declared at a press conference that the hostages would not be released until the authorities did not free the detained teachers of Jamia Hafsa and Khalid Khwaja, a human rights activist. Ghazi said that according to the agreement between the authorities and Lal Masjid, Khalid Khawaja and remaining five students of Lal Masjid would be released within next 15 days. He also said that the captured women would be handed over to the authorities only after they were assured registration of a case against them. Ghazi told the media that the girl students of Jamia Hafsa, had launched a campaign against obscenity and video shops in the city. He said one of the owners of a video shop informed the students that Aunti Shamim was running a brothel in the G-6 Sector. According to him, the girl students went to the house of Shamim to advise her to stop this illegitimate business, however, she shouted at them and used abusive language. During investigation, some of the locals also complained about her illegal business…
Meanwhile, the residents of Sector G-6, near to Lal Masjid, also conducted a press conference in the premises of the mosque and demanded of the authorities concerned to take stern action against the accused Aunti Shamim for allegedly running a brothel here in the federal Capital. The residents of the area have also formed a community Federation to resolve issues as ownership rights are with the government. President of the Federation, Chaudhry Shaukat and the federation member, Asif Jamal, flanked by a number of inhabitants were present in a crowded press conference along with Vice Principal of the Jamia Hafsa, Maulana Abdul Rashid. They accused Aunti Shamim for running the brothel in the locality and added that they had complained so many times to the authorities concerned over the increasing unethical activities in the locality but the authorities concerned did not take any action as she was influential. They justified the action taken by female students of the Jamia Hafsa who on Tuesday night raided the residence of the accused and taken her hostage in Jamia Hafsa along with her daughter and daughter-in-law. It is a good action taken by the female students,the authorities concerned possibly could not takeÃ‚?, said Ch Shaukat.
While we have only given selected passages from the three stories, we urge readers to follow the links given to read the three stories in full, and to also read Urdu newspapers. What you will see is that it is not only the headlines that show the societal divisions but also what each story choses to cover, and how.