A feminist in Pakistan dared to break the silence around oppression and unequal relationships between men and women that allows women to be forced into marriages, be raped and gang raped and get killed in the name of family honour.
For now, Pakistan has managed to silence Gulalai Ismail — forcing her to literally run for her life in her own country.
The charge against Ismail is that she is inciting rebellion.
As men force women into subversion in the name of culture, honour and religion, Ismail is being hounded for trying to create some awareness about women's need to find their voices and speak out.
Incredibly brave: Gulalai Ismail has been missing since May. (Photo: Facebook)
According to a report in The New York Times, for about two months, no one has seen Ismail.
"Pakistan's security services, known as among this region's most cunning and brutal, cannot find her," the report says.
Ismail's family members have no clue about her. Despite this, members of the security services have raided her house several times. Worse, they have abducted and tortured family friends to extract information.
In a country where terrorists, who have killed human beings by the thousands, roam free and are often honoured official guests, this hounding of a woman fighting for women's rights is a statement on priorities.
The NYT wrote, "Her associates said Ismail, 33, is leading a phantom-like existence, shifting from house to house, timing her movements carefully, stepping out only with a scarf over her face and relying on an underground network of fellow feminists across Pakistan's cities who are risking everything to hide her."
By silencing Ismail, Pakistan wants to brush under the carpet its abysmal record on women's rights and keep the religious fundamentalists in good humour — even as it is staging a crackdown on terrorists to hoodwink the world, only to avoid being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
According to civil society estimates, about four women get raped everyday in the country and conviction rates are next to zero.
Many rape cases are settled out of court and courts provide these settlements legal sanctity. It is pertinent to note that the victim may not necessarily be a party to such a settlement.
Ismail is a voice for them.
Forced marriages are an ugly reality of the neighbouring country. In the most recent of such cases, Pakistan saw 13-year-old Raveena and 15-year-old Reena, both Hindu girls, being forcibly converted to Islam and married to Muslim men.
The matter came to light only after the father of the girls sat on a protest outside a police station, the video of him pleading that his daughters be returned to him, going viral on social media.
Father of Raveena and Reena Hindu girls who held protest at police station.“You can kill me, I had the patience, but now I won’t leave.”I spoke to his son Shaman who said that “Madam - we are not citizen of Pakistan.” “The police kept changing statements.” pic.twitter.com/ODWfIalnyJ— Veengas (@VeengasJ) March 23, 2019
Ismail is a voice for such girls and their fathers, who cannot take on the combined might of Pakistan's mullahs and the puppet governments that shudder when the religious fanatics feel uncomfortable with progress and change.
Pakistan's feminism itself is thus a combination of two strands of women rights — one that seeks rights within the preaching of the Quran, the other which talks about feminism as an extension of human rights.
Attempts are on to silence both.
No country can claim to have achieved equality or equity when it comes to women's rights. But women in every country are demanding equitable treatment. They are organising themselves in groups to make their voices heard.
The project underway in Pakistan, however, is different — it is trying to brutally silence the voices demanding justice and an end to centuries-old oppression.
Ismail is missing. No one knows exactly where she is. Knowing the way Pakistan's security services — known as The Establishment — operate, the worst is indeed possible.