Aurat March organisers in Sukkur are expecting to face off against religious parties on Sunday as women across Pakistan prepare to march against patriarchy on the International Women’s Day.
The Aurat March is being held in difference cities for the past two years. It brings together women, men and children who walk together along a route and chant slogans against patriarchy. In Sukkur, the march participants will start marching at 2pm from Lab-e-Mehran to the press club.
Dr Arfana Mallah, a leader of the Women Action Forum, said that the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (JUP), Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadees (JAH), and Jamat-e-Islami among other religious groups are united in efforts to stop the march in Sukkur. The JUI-F has even submitted an application to the SSP office in Sukkur to stop the Aurat March, she shared.
This time, the slogan of ‘Mera Jism Meri Marzi [My Body, My Rules]’ has riled up the march detractors who claim that the event is “against the values of Islam” and seeks to “promote Western agenda”.
JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, during his speech in Karachi on February 27, said that his party workers will not tolerate the Aurat March and “its vulgar slogans in the name of freedom”. He instructed his followers to stop the march if they see any “unethical” posters/placards in the hands of the march participants.
Rashid Mehmood Somroo, another JUI-F leader, in a conference in Larkana gave a clear message that his party will stop the Aurat March by force in Sukkur and will not tolerate any vulgarity on the land of Sufi saints, said Dr Mallah.
“We may face a clash situation on during the March,” she remarked, adding that they have informed the police and Sindh government about threats they have been getting.
“Freedom is the basic right of women in any Islamic state,” she said.
Women who have been campaigning for the march have been stopped and threatened by the members of religious groups too. “Our women activists have been facing threats from different religious groups in Kashmore, Saleh Pitt, Jacobabad, Larkana and Ghotki,” said Shaista Khoso, an organiser of Aurat March.
She said that they want to highlight key issues such as karo kari, forced conversions, violence against women during the march.
Our workers are feeling threatened but this will not break our spirits, remarked activist Amar Sindhu. “Our power show in Sukkur will prove to be successful,” she added.
Sukkur SSP Irfan Samo assured that the police will provide security to the marchers. The police won’t let anyone take the law in their hands, he said.
Peaceful protest is the right of every citizen, said Samo.
What the JUI-F is saying
JUI-F Sindh Deputy Information Secretary Moulana Sami Swati told SAMAA Digital that his party is not against Aurat March “but we are against controversial slogans such as Mera Jism Meri Marzi”. It is an unethical slogan, which was used last year and even majority of women criticised this slogan of Aurat March, he added.
JUI-F, JUP, JI and other religious parties have made strategy to combat these “unethical slogans,” said Swati. Secular forces are targeting religious parties and spreading propaganda against religious groups, he claimed.
To counter the Aurat March in Sukkur and Karachi, the religious parties and Pakistan Tahafuz Qaumi Movement have announced a Hayyah March for women.
Women in hijabs will participate in the Hayyah March to show their Islamic culture and values.
PPP extends support to the Aurat March
Major political parties, including the PPP, PTI and other nationalists and rights groups are fully supporting the Aurat March in Sukkur, according to Sindhu.
The Pakistan People’s Party has rejected the threats to the march and termed them as “unwarranted, uncalled for and totally unacceptable”.
PPP leader Farhatullah Babar stated that the Constitution guarantees freedom of association and freedom of assembly to every citizen and these fundamental rights could not be curtailed by any one.
It is unfortunate that those who claimed to uphold the supremacy of the Constitution are talking about using force to deny the right to women to assemble peacefully, he claimed.
Sindh Information Minister Syed Nasir Hussain Shah said that the provincial government will support the Aurat March and other celebrations in Sindh.
The writer is a journalist based in Karachi. He can be reached on email@example.com. He tweets @Zafar_Khan.