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KARACHI CHRONICLE: Indeed a profoundly shocking moral crisis

Five female foetuses, two in jars and three in plastic bags, were found in Manzoor Colony on a garbage dump. This act was shocking, unethical, inhuman. Who could have done such callous thing? It is simply incredible that anyone in this city could just throw away unformed bodies of babies in the same way they throw away refuse from the kitchen or dead rats and stray cats.

This is Karachi, not some godforsaken wilderness. It is a city which means life and livelihood. It has embraced the destitute and wretched who come here knowing there are many people who care. Karachi has welfare organisation with nation-wide network. It cares for unwanted children. Edhi's cradles all over the city appeal to people not to kill babies and give the unwanted child to him. There are SOS villages where homeless children are brought up in a home-like set up. There are countless women's organisations which champion the rights of women and children. It is a city with humane values. But those discarded foetuses show that Karachi's heart and soul is dead.

The dumping of foetuses on a garbage pile ought not to be seen as a rare case of heartlessness. It is an indicator that Karachi is no longer a compassionate city. Riots, protests, murder and false piety define the character of Karachiites now. The only dead human beings who wring our soul with shock and sorrow are the political type who are called Shaheed.

The cruel and mean act of discarding those female foetuses on a garbage dump was followed three days later by the discovery of the body of a newborn girl on an empty plot in Korangi. According to an official of the Edhi Foundation, six foetuses, also in jars, were found along Massan Road in Keamari four years ago. These are just the recorded cases of unethical disposal of foetuses and newborn babies. Given the thousands of cases of induced abortions, mostly carried out illegally, it means there are thousands of foetuses that a disposed like garbage.

Abortion is allowed legally and religiously under certain conditions, but the ordinary, illiterate population, and even doctors, do not know this. Therefore, abortions are done secretly in some dark unhygienic place, by midwives. The assumption that all abortions are illegal, combined with the so-called moral concept that abortions take place only to get rid of a sinful conception, is responsible for the secretive abortions and disposal of the foetuses.

The majority of Pakistani women seeking abortion are not trying to get rid of evidence of sin. There are some 890,000 induced abortions carried out every year in the country. Most of the patients are married women who already have several children and do not want to bear yet another child. Just how deep the taboo runs on the use of contraceptives has never been analysed. In fact the authorities seem to support the taboo. This I realised while talking to some Lady Health Workers from Umarkot who I met in a Labour welfare organisation's resthouse in Hyderabad. This was about three years ago. The lady health workers told me they are forbidden to initiate discussion on family planning with their pregnant patients. They do not carry any kind of contraceptive in their medical bag. Whether Umarkot or Karachi, the same taboos prevail. Birth control is a total failure in Pakistan.

At the public meeting of women supporters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) last Sunday, Altaf Bhai focused on issues of women and said the key to progress was the empowerment of women. But what has the MQM or any other political party or government department or welfare organisation or the numerous kinds of information broadcasters, including the media and the personalised electronic gadgets like mobile phone messaging, facebook, twitter and what-have-you done except to make pleasing speeches, talk and chat? That is just a whole lot of air signifying nothing. On any issue about women, we focus on the emotion content.

No one seems to realise the key to women's progress is to change her status. She is not cattle to be bought and sold, forced into unhappy marriages. She has no right over her own body. She is forced to bear endless number of children, especially if she gives birth to girls, she is denied the right to birth control, denied the right to use contraceptives. I do not know how far it is true, but I was told by a colleague from Sindh interior that a girl can be suspected to be sinful and become kari just because she innocently asks for information on contraceptives.

We are the three Chinese monkies on the issue of abortion. We see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Evil in this case stands for abortion. It is seen as an evil practice. The West has added a fourth monkey which says: do no evil, with its hands covering the crotch. Our way of handling any issue that disturbs us emotionally or morally or socially is to turn our backs to it , pretend it does not exists.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2012