Ban in Ramazan
As the holy month of Ramazan starts, a decades old ban, introduced during the Zia regime, is imposed on eating in public and every citizen has no choice except to follow this law. Despite their personal adherence to fasting, most restaurant owners do not agree with closing down their businesses during daytime in Ramazan. They would rather prefer to serve the people and stay open but they reckon the risk runs too high. They are scared that even when the law allows them to operate behind the curtains, religious vigilantes would not allow that to happen.
Can any society afford to be so fearful about protecting the lawful right of the majority of its people? According to demographic surveys, out of 200 million people, 35 to 40 percent are children less than 15 years of age. About five percent is more than 65 and approximately 55 percent of the population lies between the ages of 15 and 65. This central 55 percent, under Islamic law, is the one most likely fast in Ramazan. Children and older folks, because of health reasons, do not share the same compulsion to stay hungry for a long time. Islam has provided them enough of a cushion to take care of their health first.
Among those who can fast, half of them are females of which some are pregnant and others are nursing while many are on their period, and some are just too sick to fast. In a similar fashion, young, otherwise eligible men suffering from medical illnesses or those who are travelling can be exempted from such an obligation.
Then there are people who although have no lawful excuse, the nature of their job makes it difficult for them to stay thirsty or hungry all day. This includes farmers, labourers, motor mechanics, masons, plumbers, painters, electricians and even the travelling salesman. So less than 40 percent of them in reality fast. Now let us also add the three to five percent minority population of Pakistan too who, by virtue of their faith, are free to eat and drink during Ramazan.
So such a big majority has to suffer because of the government’s rules and restrictions but most of it is because of the street power of the religious right. No one can dare to stand up to them even when they are breaking the law themselves. People are so afraid that there is no place outside one’s own home where one can eat, not even on major highways.
During Ramadan it is important to show our respect to those people who are fasting. Sure, we have to avoid eating in front of them. Eating in front of them may show a trend in society that lacks compassion and empathy. But imposing an outright ban is not justified. There should be secured spaces where those persons who are unable to fast, can take some food to keep themselves healthy. Society has the same obligation to empathise with them as well, as it has towards the people who fast.