Women’s view of politics: how free—or crucial—is their vote?

By Zubeida Mustafa

DURING the last few years women in Pakistanhave emerged asone of the major foci of party campaigns. Althoughthey comprisenearly half the populationand have been enfranchised since the inceptionof Pakistan itself,women have neverfound themselves asmuch the target of election campaigns asthey find themselves today.

Women’s Wings ofpolitical parties havebeen organised and “womenonly” public meetings are being held.This sudden upsurge of interestIn mobilising support of the female population can be attributed to the growth of politicalconsciousness among the women living in the urban areas. The major events which appear tohave contributed to the rise ofsocial and political awareness, although not necessarily interest and involvement  among the womenare the International Women’s

Year in 1975 and a numberof moves by the Government ofPakistan which were directed towards improving the social andeconomic status of women as aclass. The publicity the IWY andthe other measures received, morethan their actual achievements,could be considered responsiblefor infusing an awareness in women of their social and politicalenvironment.In order to assess the level ofpolitical consciousness in women from all walks of life. DAWNconducted a survey amongst across-section of women in Karachi.

The survey was held in earlyFebruary when electioneering hadstarted in real earnest but had not reached the pitch it did afortnight later. Some of the questionsmight be differently answered by some of the women if theywere to be interviewed again today,but this would not radically change our findings.

To cover women from all walksof life, a number of areas wereselected. The localities visited by our investigators were as variedas the Defence Housing Society,Clifton, KDA Scheme No. 1, PECHS, Nazimabad, Liaquatabad,Golimar, FB Area, Korangi,Landhi, Gizri, Tin Hatti and Azam

Basti.The women interviewed weredivided into four income groups,namely. A—the upper class with an income of over Rs3,000; B—the middle class with an income of Rs1,201-3,000; C—the lower middle class with an incomeof Rs501-1,200, and D—thepoorer classes earning less than Rs500.

Of those interviewed 28 per centwere working women who includedthe highly professional ones such as doctors and the low-paidones such as the cleaning women. But the idea of taking note ofthem was to determine generally

if their daily contact with peopleoutside their homes and their socialtraining or education, if any, affect their political attitudes andbehaviour.

Another factor which must benoted is that of literacy. Although69 per cent of those interviewedclaimed to be literate, the disparityamong the various classeswas most marked. Only 16 percent of group D could read ofwhich over half had not evencompleted their schooling. But ingroup A 95 per cent were literateand a third of these had a post graduate degree. In the iriddleincome group literacy rangedfrom 88 per cent for group B to75 per cent for group C.This no doubt affected the levelof awareness among the women.

Within each income group, theliterates were definitely better informedthan their illiteratecounterparts.

The survey was kept strictlynon-partisan and it was madeclear that, we were not interested in party affiliations. Hence noquestion was designed to elicitviews on political orientations.The objective was to test the level of awareness and interest displayedby women in politics. Insteadof asking a woman directly if sheis interested in politics we preferredto ask questions which indirectlybrought out the degree ofher political involvement. For instancethe women were asked ifthey had ever attended a publicmeeting, if they were members of a political party and if in theiropinion it was proper for women to take active pan in politics.The questions most relevant towomen’s interest in the electionpertained to the vote. More thanhalf of them knew for certain that they have been registered asvoters (53 per cent). But 26 percent replied that they do not know if they are registered. It was themiddle class (groups B and C)which showed greatest sense of civic responsibility since 70 percent of women from these groupssaid they are registered as voters.

Only 31 per cent of group D and42 per cent of group A are registeredas voters.

This indifference displayed bythe upper and the lowest classcan of course be attributed to differentreasons. While the upperclass does not feel any social oreconomic compulsion to get involved in politics, the lowest income group is handicapped by its lackof education and social backwardness.But what indicated a relativerise in the desire for participationin the political process on thepart of women was that 53 percent of them plan to vote this time.

Only 47 per cent of thosesurveyed had cast their vote inthe last election in 1970.The. same pattern as indicatedearlier emerged in various groupsin respect of the women’s intention to exercise their franchise.

While 60 per cent of the womenfrom the middle class said theywould cast their vote, only 42 per cent of group D and 51 per centof group A said they would vote.

The discrepancy in groups Aand D in the numbers of thoseregistered and those who plan tovote stems from two factors.First, a large number of women(38 per cent in group A and 21per cent in group D) said theydid not know whether they hadbeen registered as voters. Theyreplied in the affirmative to thequestion on the assumption that they might have been registered.Secondly, in group D, womenshowed a gross ignorance of thepolitical process when a numberof them said they had not beenregistered as voters, yet theywould cast their vote! In thisrespect the working women displayedgreater interest than the house wives in the elections since55 per cent of them said they planned to vote.

We were rather surprised whenonly 51 per cent of the womensurveyed could name the candidates in their constituency. Butthis figure might be higher todayas the electioneering gains momentum.

Whereas only 24 per centin group D and 51 per cent ingroup A knew the names of theircandidates, groups B and C were better informed with 65 per cent aware of the candidates. Again, the relative lack of knowledge in in the top and lowest income groups  can be attributed to lack of interest and education, respectively.

As political consciousness among women is emerging on the scene now it is interesting as well as important to determine whether women have their own independent opinions or they simply reflect the political attitudes of the male members of their family. About 29 per cent of the women 1surveyed answered that their choice of the candidate would be influenced by their husbands/ fathers. But again the disparity among the classes was most marked. As anticipated, 58 per cent of the lowest income group womenreplied that their husbands or other male members of the family would determine their choice of acandidate”.

From the middle classes 20 per cent replied in the affirmative to this question and only 16 per cent from the highest incomegroup.

It must be borne in mind thatdue to their lack of education andtradition-bound way of life the women in group D have no othersource of information about whatis going on outside their homes except their menfolk. Hence theycannot be expected to formulatetheir opinions independently especially in a male dominated society. This also confirmed thetrend that as their economic condition improves women tend to become more and more independent  in their thinking. Thus only  six per  cent of the  women said they would vote as their husbands voted.

Among the factors which lnfluence women in formulating politicalopinion, newspapers were first on the list (26 per cent). Nextcame the family (21 per cent) andthen ihe radio and television (17 per cent). But as expected thedisparity within each group was pronounced and can be attributed to the socio-cultural factors mentioned earlier. While the familyinfluenced the views of 44 per centof the women from group D, newspapers received the first priorityin all the other classes. Books andjournals figured very low on the list in all the groups. About 33per cent of the working womensaid they were influenced by theircolleagues.

A striking feature of politicallife in most Afro-Asian countries is that the personality of the candidates rather than their partvmanifestos and programmes determinethe decision of the voters. This trend was confirmed by oursurvey. While 39 per cent of thewomen surveyed opted for a candidate’spersonality rather thanhis party, 26 per cent were undecided.Thirtyfive per cent werepositively in favour of party programmes.

While many women showedmore interest in the candidate’spersonality, they generally did not attach much importance to thesex factor. Only 23 per cent repliedthat they would vote for afemale candidate irrespective ofher ability because being a womanshe would understand theirproblems and represent them better.

But there was a marked differencebetw^een group D and theothers. In this group 46 per centcame out in favour of a womancandidate (38 per cent were undecided)but in the other groupsas many as 83 per cent (group B),66 per cent (group C) and 73 percent (group A) were emphaticthat they would not support afemale candidate only because shewas a woman. Working womenwere also not inclined to vote fora woman only on the baste of hersex.

Seventynine per cent of themclearly said so. This should dispelthe impression that has gainedcurrency that women want to berepresented by women alone whateverbe then calibre. The lowestincome group’s answer in favour of women representatives can beattributed to their social inhibitionswhich preclude free communication between the sexes.Another finding which shouldinterest women libbers is that when they were asked if they would vote for a candidate whostands for social change and theemancipation of women, 51 per cent of the women surveyed gavepriority to other considerations.

Actually it was the upper classwhich displayed greatest interestin the emancipation of women (60 per cent). Although 39 percent of women in group D saidthey would support a candidate who stood for social chanee. 36per cent opted for other considerationsand 25 per cent were undecided.

In the middle incomegroups the disinterestedness insocial change was quite marked.

In group B. 57 per cent went infor other considerations and ingroup C, 75 per cent were for other factors. This confirms thatas yet the attitudes of womenthemselves towards a change in their own social and economicstatus has not been reorientedsubstantially. The middle classhardly seems to be upset by thepresent social order and wouldopt for the status quo.

In fact for the women who expressedthemselves in favour ofother considerations, the major issues were promotion of nationalinterest (47per cent) and improvementof living conditions through provision of civic amenitiesand economic reforms (30 per cent). But the priorities variedaccording to the income group.Thus the lower class spoke moreabout regularisation of their colonies,improvement in water supply and so on. The middle class expresseditself in favour of a candidatewho stood for national interest.

Local problems naturallydid not figure in the replies ofwomen from group A. since they have no such problems

One of the most revealing questionswas if they had attended apublic meeting and if not, why not? It was found that 76 per cent of the women surveyed had not attended a public meeting. The highest number of those who had attended was from groups C and D, 31 per cent of whom had been to a public meeting. Workingwomen showed even lesser interestin that respect and only 24per cent said that they had attendeda public meeting. Amongst

the reasons cited for not attendingthe major ones were lack oftime (36 per cent), lack of interest (17 per cent), disapproval ofmale members of female participation in political process (13 percent) and fear of violence (9 per cent). But within each group thepriorities changed. In group D disapprovalof menfolk figured on top followed by lack of time. Aswe moved up the scale, lack oftime was the major reason cited by the middle class. For group A.lack of interest took first priorityfollowed by lack of time.

The greatest paradox emergedin the questions whether womenshould take active part in politics and whether they were membersof a political party. Nearly 74 percent said ‘yes’ to the first question (although only 52 per centfrom group D agreed) but whentt came to active involvement the result was quite disappointing.While many womenshowed more interesti inthe candidate’s personality, they generally did notattach much importanceto the sex factor.Only 7 per cent were members of a political party. No one from theupper class was a party member.Only 6 per cent of the middleclass had joined a party and 15per cent of the lowest class were ,party members. Three per cent ofworking women were affiliated with a party.

Two trends broadly emergedfrom the survey. In the first placea close relationship exists between literacv and political awareness.Secondly, there is no similar correlationbetween political awareness and participation in politicallife. Due to the absence of homogeneityin their cultural patternsand the prevalence of illiteracyin the lowest group, the various classes showed a pronounced disparityin their replies. Moreoverthe percentage of women who repliedthat they were “undecided”or “did not know” was generally highest in group D. This can beattributed, as mentioned earlier,to their lack of education and their cultural norms which preventcontact with external socialinfluences. But while women from the middle classes and to alesser extent those from the upperclasses are better informed and aware of the political processesand issues being debated, theydo not manifest a desire to be actively involved in politics. Thus they were ofthe view that womenshould participate in politics but they themselves display a markedtendency to remain uninvolved bynot attending public meetings or enrolling as party members. Thereason most commonly cited isthat they have no time. The upper class which has relativelymore time is simply not interested.

However it is significant thatthe lowest class which was leastinformed showed relatively more involvement. A number of themhad attended public meetings.This could be because such rallies provide them with a recreationaldiversion from the monotony oftheir daily chores and party workers can persuade them moreeasily to go to a public meetingeven though their ignorance and apathy towards public issues andnational problems are appalling.But this gives rise to hope thatthe participation of the lowestclass in such meetings mightinitiate a process of political educationfor them which will draw them into the political mainstreampaving the way for ahealthy growth of democratic processes.

Obaidullah Sindhi: A fascinating figure

Reviewed by Zuhair Siddiqi

MAULANA OBAIDULLAH SINDHI, HALAAT-1-ZINDGI, Taaleemat, aur siyasi afkaar by Mohammad Sarwar. Fifth edition, Published by Sind Saagar Academy, Lahore. pp. 440; price Rs. 16.00.

geust-contMaulana Obaidullah Sindhi is one of the many fascinating, but now nearly forgotten, figures in the recent cultural and political history of Muslim India. For nearly a third of his life he remained in exile, and when he returned home early in 1939, the political atmosphere was not at all congenial for a man of ideas. No Muslim intellectual who did not carry a Muslim League flag could then expect a patient hearing in his own community. On the other hand, the Maulana’s aversion to Gandhian obscurantism ruled out an active association with the Congress in spite of his general sympathy with its objectives. He continued to preach his religious and political ideas independently, and died in 1944.

Although he was a Punjabi by birth and lived in Sind for many long years, we have read scarcely anything about him in Pakistan except in the writings of his ardent devotee,

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar. The work under review, which appeared in 1943, was first published in Pakistan in 1967. Together with a complement volume entitled Ifadat-o-Malfoozat, it forms a comprehensive study of the life, thought and works of that remarkable man.

Born posthumously in a Sikh family in a Sialkot village, Obaidullah fell under the spell of Islam while still a boy, abandoned his home and family, and embraced the faith of his choice at the hands of a Muslim divine in Sind. At the age of twenty-five, he went for higher religious education to the famous school at Deoband, where he was taught by Maulana Mahmud-ul-Hasan and mastered the traditional Islamic disciplines. After graduation, he returned to Sind, taught for several years, and also established a madrassah where he used to bear the students’ expenses and maintain the teachers. After a few years he went back to Deoband, at the instance of Maulana Mahmud-ul-Hasan, and undertook to organise the old students of the Dar-ul-Uloom. But his mind was too independent to accept the rigid conformism of the Deoband school and he fell out with a section of its ulema, who denounced him as a heretic. He later moved to Delhi and devoted himself to the propagation of his own views on the reconstruction of Muslim society. He took his stand firmly on the Quran and attacked the conventional beliefs and doctrines that he found repugnant to the spirit and essence of the Book.

Advocate of modernism

During the Great War, he was caught in the current of the prevailing pro-Turkish sentiment in Muslim India, and at the instance of Maulana Mahmud-ul-Hasan, went to Kabul to persuade the Afghan ruler to attack the British. He failed, but stayed on in Kabul during the rest of the war years. After the end of the war he became the president of the first branch of the Indian National Congress in Kabul. In 1922, he left Afghanistan for the Soviet Union, where he lived for nearly a year. In the following year he moved to Turkey to witness her rebirth and transformation under Mustafa Kemal. A few years later he went to the Hejaz, where he devoted himself to study and teaching for over a decade.

It was during this long stay in Arabia that Obaidullah embarked upon an exhaustive study of the works of the eminent Muslim thinker and divine of the eighteenth century, Shah Waliullah. He became an ardent follower, and the thoughts and teachings of the Shah dominated his ideas and activities during the rest of his life.

The Maulana did not know any Western language, but he had an open mind and a keen observation, and during his long stay abroad he responded favourably to the currents of radical and revolutionary ideas then sweeping the world around him. He became a strong advocate of socio-economic reform and modernisation in the Muslim world, and pleaded for an ungrudging acceptance of nationalism as a determining factor in its future political organisation.

Federal nationalism

The author has explained Obaidullah Sindhi’s religious and political ideas clearly and concisely, and devoted a whole chapter to the political movement associated with Shah Waliullah. The work is, however, dominated by a reverential spirit which seems to rule out a critical approach. Maulana Obaidullah was as much a hero to Mr. Sarwar as Shah Waliullah was to the Maulana, and neither of them has subjected his hero’s ideas to a really critical examination. The doctrine of wahdat-ul-wujud, as interpreted by the Shah in the eighteenth century, is no doubt noble and sublime; but its utility as a basis for national integration in India was doubtful even at that time, and it had clearly become irrelevant when Maulana Obaidullah sought to preach it two hundred years later.

In spite of his nationalist leanings, Maulana Obaidullah, did not stand for a total national integration in India and envisaged for the Muslims a measure of autonomy far beyond that permissible in a normal federation. This is explained, at least partly, by his aversion to the infiltration of Hindu spiritualism , into Congress politics; in any event, it is significant that the “political manifesto” issued by him as far back as 1924, from Istanbul, envisaged a three-tier system very similar to that proposed under the Cabinet Mission scheme in 1946. Even otherwise, Mr. Sarwar has made it clear that the Maulana’s vision of a free India was not that of an integrated national State; he rather believed in a multinational State based on autonomous linguistic units. It is not clear, however, how he proposed to reconcile the linguistic principle with the claims of Muslim separatism.

Perhaps, the most remarkable aspect of the Maulana’s thought and politics is his ungrudging acceptance of the economic and social consequences of the industrial revolution and his passion for an equitable economic order free from the exploitation of man by man. He urged the Muslims to realize that the industrial revolution and the sweeping social and economic changes that had overtaken the West had not only transformed the methods of production but shaken the very basis of the social and juristic systems under the old order. He wanted the world of Islam to open its eyes and respond to the winds of change rather than continue to coddle itself in revivalist dreams incapable of being realized.

Source: Viewpoint  February 25, 1977




What kind of state did the Quaid envisage?

By Zuhair Siddiqi

geust-cont“MR. JINNAH is direct and blunt”, wrote R. G. Casey, the war-time Governor of Bengal, “and no one has any doubt what he means when he speaks”.This is a tribute which even the severest critic of the Quaid-i-Azam would not question; but in the State that he founded, and among his professed devotees, there has never been a dearth of people who would not hesitate to distort even the clearest of his pronouncements to suit their own ends and purposes. Take, for instance, his historic presidential address to the Constituent Assembly on the eve of the birth of Pakistan, which Mr. Bhutto rightly described some time ago as “one of the texts of our nationhood”. That speech, which includes the most emphatic enunciation conceivable of the ideal of a secular, single-nation State, has been a headache for obscurantists all these years. They have tried to explain away, distort, and even press, its sharpest and most significant parts. Continue reading “What kind of state did the Quaid envisage?”

Mian Iftekhar-ud-Din – A man of courage

By Zuhair Siddiqi , Viewpoint, June 11, 1976

geust-contThis article was received too late for inclusion in our issue of June 6, which marked the fourteenth death anniversary of Mian Iftikhar­ud-Din.

On April 18, 1959, a half-educated military dictator, ad­vised and assisted by a clique of underlings, scribes of easy vir­tue, and elevated college passmen, seized the direction and control of the Progressive Papers —the publishers of The Pakis­tan Times, Imroze and Lail-o­-Nahar. A little over three years later—on June 6, 1962—the man who had founded the institution and been its moving spirit for over a decade, died.

Two days earlier, Mian Iftikhar­ud-Din and his political associates had been branded as enemies of the nation in a columnful of editorial gibberish on the front page of The Pakistan Times. When he died, somebody sarcas­tically remarked that that com­bination of political perversity and atrocious English had given the last blow to Mian Sahib’s ailing, lacerated heart.

It was the heyday of Ayub’s despotism, and the mourning for one of its chief victims was, understandably, a muted affair:

Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note—

A crowd of relatives, friends, admirers and old colleagues quietly laid him down in the family graveyard at Baghbanpura. Some dear and near ones cried quietly to themselves. Some newspapers carried perfunctory obituary notices, the most insi­pid ones being those of the news­papers that he had established and nurtured. Continue reading “Mian Iftekhar-ud-Din – A man of courage”

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan – the end of an era

By Zuhair Siddiqi

guest-contributor“In these dark and threatening times we have to rediscover the vital truths, those great patterns of thought and behaviour, those great moral and spiritual values, the oneness of God and the bro­therhood of man, which are asso­ciated with Islam. Unfortunately, in the course of centuries these central truths are obscured, and rites and rituals, creeds and dog­mas, have covered up the simplicity of the message of Islam. It is the duty of thinkers in each generation to recapture the origi­nal purity and dynamic vigour of the ancient message and re-express it in the idiom of their age”.

Whose voice is this? Not Iq­bal’s. Nor that of any Muslim. It is the voice of Sarvepalli Radha­krishnan, the Indian philosopher and statesman, who passed away last week at the ripe old age of 87. Continue reading “Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan – the end of an era”