Women moot condemns '71 military action

Dawn, Monday 26 March 2001, 30 Zilhaj 1422

LAHORE, March 25: The second Trans-disciplinary Conference on Women's Studies—A making of meaning—condemned on Sunday the military action in the then eastern part of the country 30 years ago.

A resolution adopted on the second day of the five-day conference, arranged by the ASR Resource Centre, said: “This day marks the 30th anniversary of the Pakistan army action in 1971 against the people of what is now Bangladesh and beginnings of their struggle for liberation. On this day, we, the participants honour our sisters in Bangladesh for their courage and resistance to tyranny in those traumatic times and we condemn the use of rape and violence against women as a deliberate strategy of war.

“The military action against its own citizens and the use of rape as an instrument of dominance is a matter of national shame.

“The women's movement in Pakistan has acknowledged and apologized for the rapes in Bangladesh and has repeatedly called upon the government of Pakistan to do the same. The movement in Pakistan reiterates its demand that the government must acknowledge and take responsibility for the crimes it has committed and offer an unqualified apology to the people and government of Bangladesh.

“Although an apology and reparations do not, in any way, compensate for the violence against a people, nonetheless we demand that these gestures be made in the interests of our own humanity,” the resolution said.

Earlier, Amena Mohsin from Bangladesh read her paper on “Woman constructed, woman reconstructed”. She questioned the structure of modern states in South Asia.

She challenged the ideology of nationalism where women were looked upon as cultural and biological bearers of nation. She said nation had to be pure and during war times women were raped in an attempt to damage the enemy. The tragedy, she said, was that women's own nation would not want to discuss this particular issue.

She said rape was the ultimate sacrifice that a woman was ‘forced to make’. She referred to 1971 war, where Bengali women were raped and how later on Bangladeshi government silenced their voices. She said a woman continues to suffer first by the enemies and later by her own people.

She said the whole state structure was masculine and gave privileges to men. Therefore, she said, the need was for a different kind of state structure, based on people's hopes and aspirations.

Prof Dr Zoya Hassan, head of the political science department of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, said in her paper that recently the issue of reservation of women seats in parliament generated a lively debate in the polity and women's movement.

She said the polity was divided over the issue.

She said before the bill reserving 33 per cent seats for women in parliament was introduced, all the political parties were supporting it. Even the reservation of seats was in their manifestoes. But after it was introduced the bill triggered a wide spread opposition. Currently it was in limbo.

Dr Zoya said that the political parties and legislators earlier supporting the reserved quota of seats for women, had now posed a gendered resistance.

She was of the opinion that women should not aloof themselves but work in the political institutions to bring in a change.

Huma Haq pointed out a ‘major flaw’ in the health policy of Pakistan regarding women. She said that the health policy took the women as a mother. All the health budget fixed for women started with pre-pregnancy to post-pregnancy and mal-nutrition. Maternal and infant mortality and mal-nutrition was discussed.

She said that women were human beings and could suffer from any disease. She demanded that the health policy should be made gender friendly and radical feminists be included while framing it.

Hina Jilani said the women movement had raised debates which were not in Pakistan. They took up the issues which were complex. These issues had effected the social, political and institutional thinking in Pakistan. She called upon the feminists to work together with other social, civil and political movements.

She said Pakistan was not a homogeneous society. She said that homogeneity could not be created and diversity could not be ignored. She said that the state priorities were not in cohesion with the needs of the people of Pakistan.

She said that if the state continued with the Jehadi movements, it was not going to effect the women and non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan but could have serious repercussions on the economy.