MQM chief Altaf Hussain, in his hour-long address to women and children who had flocked to the Mazar-i-Quaid grounds for the rally, paid a verbose tribute to the women in attendance. “Through this historical public gathering, we have sent out a message to our political opponents that only our women are strong enough to compete with them,” he said.
Altaf claimed that no other political party had managed to organise such a huge event even when men and women were in attendance. “Over one million women of Pakistan are in attendance in this rally.”
The MQM, he said, has the honour of being the first party to include women in its political movement. “We organised a similar rally on July 16, 1988. When, in 1987, I was in jail and most party leaders were forced into hiding, it was the party’s women who stepped up and brought MQM victory in the general elections that year.”
In 1992-93, he said, the women were left to take over the party’s affairs when thousands of male workers were arrested and taken into state torture cells. “They [the women] opened Nine Zero, they buried the bodies of their kin,” he said, also paying tribute to the mothers who had given birth to sons who sacrificed their lives for the MQM’s cause.
Moving on to address women who were campaigning for Baloch missing persons, Altaf claimed that 28 MQM members were still missing from the 1992-93 army operation against the party. “We empathise with you. We feel your pain,” he told them.
Altaf also thanked women from the Bengali community who he said were present in huge numbers at the rally.
Violence against women
Altaf’s speech touched all the right notes. He mentioned honour killing, Karo Kari, acid crimes and domestic violence and even brought up topics like dowry and gender discrimination which are considered the social norm.
“The perpetrators of Karo Kari and acid crime should be hanged,” Hussain said passionately to women who listened with rapt attention. “Women in Pakistan are subjected to treatment meted out to second- or third-class citizens. Worse yet, they are treated like animals. Crimes like honour killing, wani and marriage to the Quran are rampant under the veil of tradition.”
The MQM, he said, wanted to create a Pakistan which was free from discrimination against women and where women had the freedom to make their own decisions. “We support not only strong legislation [for women’s rights] but also proper implementation of it. The MQM has raised its voice on every parliamentary forum like no other political party has. We want women to have the status in society that they truly deserve.”
As evidence of MQM’s commitment to protecting women from violence, he mentioned the cases of Shaista Almani, whose family was hunting to kill her for marrying of her own will, and Dr Shazia, who survived rape at the hands of doctors at Karachi’s Jinnah Hospital. “MQM protected Shaista Almani and Dr Shazia and ensured that they and their husbands are safely sent abroad.”
Dedicating a portion of his speech to the burning Balochistan issue, Altaf said that due to wrong policies and use of force to stifle voices for Baloch rights, the province is now standing at the point of secession from Pakistan. “We are still not willing to accept that robbing people of their rights intensifies feelings of depravation in people which can then not be solved through mere assurances.”
He said he had continuously raised his voice against the situation in Balochistan, the operation in the province and the enforced disappearances.
“Baloch people have lost confidence in Pakistani leaders. We will now have to take brave decisions and give them all their justified rights,” Altaf said, adding that a roundtable conference will have little impact on solving the problem.