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Entrenched prejudice

Publication Date : 12-06-2012


Pakistan, India and Bangladesh share more than just a common history. All three countries are also battling entrenched discrimination for different reasons against certain sections of the population. In some areas, we’re in the fight together since the social issues and mindsets in question overlap.

Where Pakistan has serious abuses of women’s rights that are defended by some on the basis of "tradition", Bangladesh is fighting the scourge of underage marriage and India discrimination on the basis of caste. Yet crimes committed in this regard continue to occur. Recently in the north Indian state of Bihar a village strongman was accused of beating to death an "untouchable" neighbour who used the local hand pump, and in doing so broke strict

caste-based rules — although caste-based discrimination is illegal. Pakistan has had similar experiences where acts that have been criminalised, such as acid attacks and "honour" killings, continue to be committed. And while the legal age for marriage in Bangladesh is 18, 20 per cent of the country’s girls become wives at under 15 years of age.

The world has known discrimination on the basis of class, caste, race, ethnicity, gender and many other factors. Many countries have attempted to curb entrenched prejudices through legislation, yet the presence on the books of societal laws constitutes only the first — though essential — step towards turning the face of the polity in the direction of a more civilised stance.

The effective implementation of the laws can go a long way towards changing practices, especially with successful prosecution and prohibitive sentencing. Nevertheless, effectively changing people’s mindsets requires increased levels of awareness, education and years — if not decades — of an environment that discourages inequality.

The task is harder in societies that are more conservative, and therefore requires prioritisation and funds to back that. Pakistan, at least, could do better on that count.


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