Broken consciences: The Pakistani woman

Published: June 3, 2014
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and studied law at Lincoln’s Inn and the London School of Economics. He tweets @AsadRahim

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and studied law at Lincoln’s Inn and the London School of Economics. He tweets @AsadRahim

It’s not stoning to death. Not exactly, if we’re to follow the police’s line. A woman wasn’t stoned to death in broad daylight, by a mob of blood relations. She was beaten to death with bricks.

In a sick society, the means of mutilation is all that’s in dispute. There are 10 different versions of this story, but what’s common in all of them is that a pregnant woman was murdered in the daytime, and a crowd gathered to watch.

This is what falling apart at the seams sounds like.

There’s the other sounds too: the candlelight vigil with the same six or seven brave souls we call civil society. The fury from women’s rights groups. The silence of the right, so quick to condemn everything from Bosnia to Burma. The executive snoring and stirring, then snoring again.

And the inevitable editorials asking ‘how could this happen?’, or alternatively ‘what happened to us?’

Nothing, if we were to concern ourselves with the truth. Soul-searching tends to fall by the wayside when one considers the relevant police officer’s answer: ‘It is a routine murder case like other murder cases, and has to be seen in the context of Pakistani society.’ In the context of Pakistani society, he said.

The truth is, he’s absolutely right. If society is a set of norms, this set of norms is bent on breaking its women, then debasing them after the fact.

Take the state, which supposedly holds the system together. Number of women in positions of real influence: not any, unless they’re wives or daughters (score 1 for the Pakistan Peoples Party). Expect underpasses to outweigh women’s rights four more years.

We then move to the fruit of governance: policy. Here, the apathy of the government gives way to the obsession of its high priests. The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) can advise the centre on anything from cleanliness drives to interest-free banking — but this crew of cavemen has eyes for little other than ladies.

The CII holds forth on all matters womanly, from deeming DNA evidence inadmissible in rape cases to permitting child marriage. For a country deep in darkness, these men are meant to spread the light.

But that doesn’t begin to touch on the justice system, which is why we’re here in the first place. Those numbed by Farzana Parveen’s public execution were once as stunned by the case of Safia Bibi, a blind girl raped by her employer and his son, bearing a child that would die in hospital. She was still in physical shock when the police lodged a case of fornication against her.

A judge called Chaudhry Muhammad Aslam held Safia’s testimony inadmissible. He sentenced a blind 20-year-old girl to three years in prison and 15 lashes on the grounds that there wasn’t evidence she complained early enough. Horror followed, and the Federal Shariat Court dove in to acquit Safia. Her rapists walk free today.

This should have been the watershed; when even the Pakistani male would realise this country was becoming no place for the girls he was raising. He didn’t, and we now desperately look to Farzana Parveen as the possible turning point.

A family of ghairatmand men conspired to murder a 25-year-old woman and her unborn child, and people stopped to stare. Five years from now, it’ll be another dirty FIR with byzantine twists and dead relatives — one of the millions that litter our thaanas.

Murder will remain privatised: a crime against the individual, where forgiveness is transacted for blood money. The kind that allowed Farzana’s husband to strangle his first wife, and the kind that will allow his in-laws to have murdered his second. With laws like these, justice is a joke.

And yet neither the law nor the state is the tragedy in all this. We are. Because it was already clear that the social health and betterment of Pakistan’s women — this country’s one lifeline — isn’t on the agenda. But what’s clearer is how averse this land is becoming to such an agenda if it ever were.

Pakistan’s founding was led by a woman, a polity that elected a woman as prime minister twice, and a society driven more by its mothers than its sons. Yet that same society, through years and years of tolerating what was done to its women, has brought us to this: a place that creates a Farzana Parveen every day.

We didn’t see it when the great Iqbal Haider tabled a bill against honour killings, and just four parliamentarians pledged support.

We didn’t see it when General Musharraf — who otherwise pushed through the Women’s Protection Bill to his credit — said, “A lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped.”

And we didn’t see it when Jamshed Dasti, our own romantic Robin Hood, called the Mukhtaran Mai case ‘a conspiracy against Islam’, and held her rapists’ acquittals to have wiped the ‘dhabba’ from Muzaffargarh. With hometown heroes like Dasti, Muzaffargarh may need all the cleaning up it can get.

But though we see nothing, we speak the opposite: acid victims are prostitutes. Rape victims are black marks. Murdering your child is killing for honour. Even burying your daughter alive can pass for ‘centuries-old tradition’, according to Israrullah Zehri, a man who makes our laws.

What’s frustrating is that solutions are everywhere: remaking murder a crime against the state, reforming the evidence collection system that allowed Mukhtaran Mai’s assailants to go free, repealing a host of malicious laws, and perhaps actually telling our children that generations are judged by the way they treat their women.

As for the depraved among us, France’s ‘non-assistance à personne en danger’ sounds the right remedy. The French law criminalises deliberately failing to assist a person in danger, which is exactly what Farzana Parveen’s onlookers were: criminals.

Yes, solutions abound. The problem is where to start. Because in a land like this, even honour can mean a deep and enduring shame.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 3rd, 2014.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • Kolsat
    Jun 3, 2014 - 5:27AM

    It is one thing to arrest Farzana’s father and brothers but will they ever be punished? The law of exchanging money for someone’s life gives a free hand to murderers and rapists. Till this law of Deyat is repealed honor killings will continue to occur.


  • Jun 3, 2014 - 6:45AM

    This train has reached the end of the line. It’s not going anywhere,..further.
    Time to get off and find your way to whichever destination you started for.
    The State is not taking you there. Because they don’t know how. The train’s
    engineer Jinnah died in 1947. And the conductor Liaquat was shot dead a
    few years later. Since then it has been running uncontrolled. No driver.
    All gone. End of journey.


  • Kanwal
    Jun 3, 2014 - 8:55AM

    All the silent onlookers are complicit in every murder here. Be it Farzana Shaheen or the minorities killed everyday. The whole silent majority is downright complicit.


  • 1947
    Jun 3, 2014 - 11:09AM

    Read an article titled “Jinnah made a mistake and I’m ashamed to be Pakistani”. Just google it


  • fatimah amin
    Jun 3, 2014 - 2:13PM

    an Islamic state upholds woman’s rights..but Pakistan is not that in the true sense, the society is not basically like that.Incidents like these are the fruits of a society sown by Muslim suppression by the Hindus before partition.Though as a society physically separated from the Hindus, we are still culturally very deeply influenced by them.This incident made it to daylight but there are many which are never reported and are not even deemed worth reporting such as the domestic suppression of wives/daughter in laws by their husbands/in-laws!! How a woman herself can bear and up bring a son who would torture another woman?! Rather than the society it’s the role women themselves have to play for their own selves to honor their species and teach their sons to do the same!!


  • Avtar
    Jun 3, 2014 - 4:15PM

    @fatimah Undivided India was ruled by the British, not Hindus as you allege. It was fear of Hindu domination that lead the Muslim League (not all Muslims) to seek independence. Prior to Muslim invasions of Ghori and Ghazni, women in India were free to choose. Arab writers described India as having sexual freedom. Suppression of women I believe is an Arabic influence – honour killing is still the norm in the Middle Eastern countries.
    In India the wrong doers get punished, sometimes belatedly. Even for gang-rape incidents masses are mobilized and politicians are being held to account. And in Pakistan…! And despite Islamic studies being part of school curriculum…nothing happens.


  • GCSE-Wala!
    Jun 3, 2014 - 4:17PM

    @fatimah amin <- looks like a typical product of our desi educational system; blame everything on the Hindus. Make everything about how and why we wanted to part from Hindus.
    What would you call an Islamic state? Saudi Arabia? Women face oppression of all kinds there and the law supports it.


  • 3rdRockFromTheSun
    Jun 3, 2014 - 5:45PM

    Each day, I get up in the morning and thank Jinnah for the Partition!

    I am an Indian.


  • ModiFied
    Jun 3, 2014 - 6:31PM

    When it comes to woman’s honor, we Indians are not far behind. Recent hanging of raped girls’ bodies is a blot on the face of India. Let us accept it, India is worst than Pakistan when it comes to dealing with woman. I am sorry to say, ill treatment of woman can be traced to Ramayana and Mahabharat period. We all know how Draupdi and Sita were treated. Nothing than radical surgical treatment will address this deep rooted problem.


  • Rex Minor
    Jun 3, 2014 - 6:51PM

    @fatimah amin:

    You have said it madam and to the point, never mind the denial of avatar and the wala, This was the main reason why mr Jinnah and his comrades made a historic decision to separate from the Hindutwa culture. Millions and millions were either massacred or made to leave their property and were forced to migrate to Pakistan. India today is accused of killing millions of unborn children because of no cultural constraints and in Pakistan there are apparently no legislations to protect the libe and the honour of women! The author describes the women situation in Pakistan, not few but more women need to come forward to take up the responsibility for women. This is not very different in Europe, it were women who had to struggle for their rights, only in 70’s they had the voting rights in Switzerland.

    Rex Minor


  • Rex Minor
    Jun 3, 2014 - 11:18PM

    ET mod, this was lost in transit unless……….
    The author lawyer has now given the 11th version of the story, in a more simpler and precise manner, even outlining the well known remedies.The one small detail he missed out about Farzana’s husband is that after killing hiis first wife for the love of Farzana, he obrtained forgiveness from his son whose mother he had strangled. This man is not a simple murderer but is a serial killer to satisfy his sexual desires. He must be put away in a Psychiatric clinic, and pronto..
    His narrative should remind the readers that the State of Pakistan did actualy regress instead of progress during the prolonged period of rule by the military who use their bacbones and not their brains(Albert Einstein), by periodicaly introducing tribal cultures neutralising the very limited laws which organised States practice . Forgiveness of murder and compensation payment is used in remote tribal communities, which are not meant to provide any excuse or relief for the State from its responsibilities.

    Rex Minor


  • lol
    Jun 4, 2014 - 12:39AM

    @ModiFied: true but that happened in a remote place… and this in pakistan’s most cosmopolitan city and that too just in front of courts…..imagine what is happening to pakistani women in remote areas…..those areas far from civilization where even police fear to go….


  • lol
    Jun 4, 2014 - 12:41AM

    @ModiFied: also there are hardly any protests by pakis against those incidents ….apart from tiny civil society…. even the urdu papers wont condemn it….. only liberal papers like express tribune regularly publish articles condemning it…….


  • fatimah amin
    Jun 4, 2014 - 1:38PM

    @ avtar case in point is not about what happens in INDIA, women are suppressed all over the world no matter how modern a state is….! and if you talk about India , tell me about the treatment met to a widowed woman ?? and no contradiction with the fact that it is our fault that Muslims in Pakistan are still culturally influenced by the Hindus.Many of our domestic norms like dowry and stuff are taken from the neighboring country! So its about looking into venues to resolve these issues and for that i suggested that it’s the woman who has to take a step first!
    and @GCSE-wala come on…don’t you see what Indian media does ?? and i talked about an Islamic state in the true sense not Saudi arabia !


  • Faraz
    Jun 4, 2014 - 11:15PM

    @fatimah amin:
    qisas and diyat are NOT borrowed from “HINDU” culture. Kindly address the issue at hand. i.e. The “MURDER BY BRICKBAT” of a pregnant woman in “PLAIN VIEW of THE GUARDIANS AND UPHOLDERS OF LAW” by HER family. This while her husband “STRANGULATED” his first wife and “GOT AWAY SCOT FREE” as a consequence of idiotic laws that allowed him to pay “BLOOD MONEY” to his own son.

    DId Hindus invent Qisas and Diyat?
    Did Hindus invent and foster the absolute misogyny that prevails in the land of the pure allowing people to commit murder most foul and use religious law to escape punishment (and dare I say, the noose)?
    Did hindus condition our cultural behaviour so as to enable onlookers to calmly countenance the MURDER of a defenceless woman?
    Did hindus condition our minds so as to allow parents and kin to murder their own ?

    Please STOP evading the important questions raised in the article.
    You and your ilk want to justify your tribal mindset and your antediluvian instincts by tilting at windmills. STOP before your world crumbles to dust.


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