Curbs on women in militancy-hit areas spreading to Quetta
By Malik Siraj Akbar
QUETTA: An increasing number of restaurants in Quetta have stopped serving women apparently after being pressured by religious elements, and the practice is being seen as a spill-over of the Swat problem to the rest of Pakistan.
Swat has been making headlines in the media recently due to the brazen destruction of girls’ schools by the Taliban. Residents of Quetta told Daily Times the religious right believes that a man and a woman socialise only for ‘immoral activities’ and shops and restaurants that women visit become a target of their moral policing. Since the pressure from the religious right is immense, the restaurant owners do not talk to the media about the reasons for closing their businesses for women.
Certain popular restaurants have now begun to display boards saying, “For gentlemen only. Women not allowed.” As the self-proclaimed champions of Islam believe eating outside along with one’s family is un-Islamic, they have been pressuring the owners of these restaurants to permanently shut down the sections of the restaurants which were formerly exclusively for women and families.
Located on the city’s most crowded Jinnah Road, Baig Snack Bar has been one of the most popular eating places in Quetta. Keeping in view its popularity among women and children, the bar had dedicated a separate room to women and families. But the restaurant has recently succumbed to pressure from the conservative religious elements after allegations that it was being used as a ‘dating spot’ for young boys and girls.
The section reserved for women and family has now been converted into a ‘gents only’ eating room and several boards have been displayed announcing that women are not allowed entry into the restaurant.
“This is sheer discrimination. No restaurant has the right to treat women like animals. Is this what Islam teaches about women?” asked a girl student of the Bolan Medical College. She said she and her college friends visited the restaurant frequently.
Zafar Baloch, a student of the Mass Communication Department at the University of Balochistan, says most restaurants in Quetta do not welcome women. “The handful of remaining popular restaurants are also being forced to stop serving women,” he said.
Senior journalist Shahzad Shah Mir told Daily Times that Taliban and their supporters had been penetrating into Quetta and its suburbs. They enjoy overwhelming support of some sections of the population, including many ministers of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl that is a part of the provincial coalition government.
“Recently, video and CD shops and Internet cafes have been attacked by extremists with bombs, and threats have been given to those deemed to promote obscenity and shamelessness in the society,” said Shahzad. According to him, if these activities are not checked at once, Quetta could become the next Swat. “What message do we want to give to the world? It’s restaurants today, and tomorrow it will be girls’ schools and colleges,” he said.