November Issue 2003

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 16 years ago

A young couple, who have married of their own free will, are hunted down, tortured brutally and shot dead in broad daylight near a police station in Sanghar. And of the hundreds of villagers listening to the heart-wrenching cries of the couple being brutalised inside a house, a solitary woman who dares to intervene, is punished for her “insolence” by having her head shaved.

This, in the 21st century, in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, in the constituency of a spiritual pir cum kingmaker in Sindh’s politics, with the active involvement of his disciples and the connivance of the local police. And it goes by the name of honour-killing.

What manner of redeeming one’s honour is this that condones murder, that crosses all norms of civility, that deems a murder a matter of pride, that bestows on the killer the exalted status of an “honourable” man?

And yet the medieval tribal custom of honour-killings or karo kari continues to be practiced with impunity in several parts of the country. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported 290 honour-killings in the last nine months. Of these, the majority, 176, were women.

Every once in a while, the country’s politicians and religious leaders spout reams on the venerable status given to women by Islam. And yet it is the Muslim woman, who has been subjected to the worst form of tyranny and oppression in the name of religion.

In the Jalozai refugee camp in Peshawar for instance, reportedly 10 Afghan women and 32 newborn children have died since August 30 this year, because the NWFP government has banned male doctors and technicians from attending to female patients. The ban effectively deprives all women from undertaking certain crucial medical examinations such as ECGs or ultrasounds, because there are no women to execute the job. To quote the MMA’s provincial general secretary, “The ruling was in line with Islamic teachings,” and “we think, men could derive sexual ecstacy from women’s bodies while conducting ECGs or ultrasounds. Similarly, some women could lure men under the cover of an ECG or ultrasound.”

The mullah’s magnificent obsession with women, and their sex lives, has obviously not ended.

The controversial Hudood Ordinances, introduced by General Zia with the support of the clergy, still remain on the statute books, despite the near unanimous verdict of several review commissions appointed by various governments, that the Ordinances are flawed and need to be amended or repealed. They are expected to come up for review in Parliament once again and the MMA has vowed to resist any attempts to repeal them. As expected, MMA’s women legislators refuse to shed their blinkers. They are supporting their male colleagues, without even bothering to consider the consequences of the Ordinances’ repeal to the hundreds of women languishing in jail under these discriminatory laws. Ironically, even the party of the woman legislator who plans to table the bill in parliament doesn’t quite seem to have made up its mind on the issue. Or why else would they issue statements like, “She is presenting it in her own individual capacity.” The point is, will the PPP support the bill or not?

MMA attitude aside, even the councillors representing the supposedly progressive parties are not exactly supportive of their female colleagues, who form one-third of the local bodies. And the female councillors are full of stories on the chauvinism of their male colleagues, who are intimidating them to edge them out of the public sphere.

The political set-up may have changed to include more women in the business of governance, but the mind-set has not.

When the speaker of the Sindh Assembly scuttles a female legislator’s protests against a provincial minister’s statement justifying karo kari, there can be little hope for the Shazia Khaskhelis of Sindh.

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