June Issue 2014

By | Editorial | Published 10 years ago

It’s only when CNN or BBC or The New York Times reports on a horrific incident in Pakistan that the government of the day springs into action.

Ostensibly, it is the fear of international censure that shakes and wakes them up.  Cases in point: Nawabpur, Mukhtaran Mai, Malala Yousafzai.

And so it was with Farzana Iqbal.  It was only when news of the 25-year-old pregnant woman, who was bludgeoned to death by her family members outside the Lahore High Court, in the presence of police, lawyers and scores of people, made international headlines, that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother woke up to the brutality of it and ordered a report in “24 hours” and action within “48 hours.”

‘Honour killing’ is not new to this country. Just in the last one year, at least 900 women have been killed in the name of honour, says a Human Rights Commission of Pakistan report.

This, despite the existence of the Honour Killings Act 2004.  Unfortunately, this Act suffers from a major flaw.  By making ‘honour killing’ a compoundable offence, it allows the accused to be pardoned under the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance 1990 — often by paying compensation to the victim’s family/heirs.

The shocking murder of Samia Sarwar, daughter of an influential industrialist from the Frontier, who was killed in lawyer Hina Jilani’s office by her own uncle, at her family’s behest, for wanting to marry a man of her choice, presents a classic example of this injustice.  Despite the presence of several witnesses and the lawyer’s best efforts to secure a conviction, the family invoked the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance  to save the uncle from punishment.

And it will most certainly be used in Farzana’s case.  Ironically, Farzana’s spouse, who had killed his first wife to marry her, had earlier used the same law and paid off his son from the first wife to secure pardon for himself.

There are strong suggestions from various quarters that the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance be reviewed.  However, there is the fear that, as in the case of the Blasphemy Law, the ghairat brigade will challenge any amendments to these laws on religious grounds.  The maulanas of the Council for Islamic Ideology, who were vociferous when it came to overturning the Family Laws Ordinance and the Child Marriages Restraint Act, will not hear of it. In any case, when have they ever raised a voice against the injustices perpetrated against women?

It’s the parliamentary women’s caucus that will have to band together across the political divide to present their case in the National Assembly. There will be major obstacles in the way: parliamentarians, who have presided over jirgas sanctioning Vani and Swara, and even justified the burying alive of women on grounds of custom and tradition — the Zehris, the Bijaranis and the Mahars, among other women-baiters.

Not so long ago, a resolution against Samia Sarwar’s murder and one against the lashing of a girl in Swat were scuttled in the assemblies.

While it is also true that a few laws have been passed by the previous assemblies to provide relief to women, unless these are implemented in letter and spirit, they are not worth the paper they are written on.

As for the Honour Killings Act 2004, unless the offence is made non-compoundable, murderers will go scot-free, and many other Farzanas will continue to be bludgeoned to death.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.