As long as killers know they can get away with murder, they will commit it. That’s stating the obvious, but the obvious is often disregarded by officialdom.
Reportage in the international media suggests that honour killing and blood-money payoffs are Muslim practices, but if it’s any consolation, early history shows otherwise. Men have always battled over women, honourably or not, to assuage their egos or to assert their dominance over opponents. The fact remains that blood money pre-dates Islam to ancient times.
Revenge for murder often extended to slaughtering the killer’s entire clan, and blood-money was later devised as a way to protect innocent family members — sometimes the killer too, if the killing was unintentional.
The increasing abuse of blood money deals was not lost on societies, and distinction was finally made between pre-meditated murder and accidental killing. The difference today is that the West has abandoned blood-money practices. But everybody hasn’t. Regressive elements have found political opportunity to uphold them.
Today, in most countries, deliberate killing is no longer allowed to be settled by families involved but is subject to the laws of the land including capital punishment or life imprisonment for the offender.
What we have today in Pakistan is abuse of the law that was meant to find a way to protect and compensate the innocent. How else could an entire gang have the confidence to commit murder in public, with dozens of onlookers?
The status of women in a country reflects the dominant male mentality in social and economic life. It is similarly reflected in the police.
As long as the police system is not independent and not sufficiently subject to an independent judiciary rather than a politicized executive, existing mainly to assert the authority of those in power, undesirable customs will continue to be passed off as part of governance.
As long as the police are merely used to enforce law and order selectively without extending equal protection to the public at large, the country will remain a hunting ground conducive for crime to thrive and grow in.
As long as police are ‘purchasable’ and given a long rope to compensate for their low pay in other ways, they will remain a parallel or supporting party to crime.
A decade or two ago the government attempted police reform, and a fortune was spent on calling in Scotland Yard to overhaul and update the police system. Had there been implementation to the letter, it would have meant a power shift of sorts, some balancing, and the public more empowered. But relinquishing even an iota was too much for the powers-that-be to stomach.
And as long as there is an extreme class system, as evinced by feudalism, whereby the money and power of the wealthiest determines most decision-making and maintains the culture of women’s subjugation, while claiming hereditary spiritual leadership to dictate politics, it is no different from a caste system that has institutionalized the oppression of those at the lowest socio-economic levels by those at the highest who set ugly examples.
It is well known that slavery — dubbed ‘bonded labour’ — exists, and rape of women and young girls among them by their owners and overseers is routine, as is indiscriminate killing. But no one can prove it as no one dares to bear witness. So there’s no furor or action to eliminate the evil – although it could be wiped out more easily than terrorists in Karachi. Out of sight is out of mind.
As long as the state condones killing on payment of blood money, pre-meditated murder will remain an incentive for the more powerful to settle scores, exact revenge, and compel voiceless subordinates to kill on their behalf. The laws providing this escape route were a unilateral imposition and not a democratic decision. Yet parliament isn’t pushed. Getting self-congratulatory bills passed on paper sans implementation isn’t enough.
As long as women can be killed at will, no questions asked – whether in an attempt to replace her, to grab her inheritance or personal wealth, or out of sheer animosity – any murder can be conveniently passed off as a kinsmen-approved honour killing.
Already, the blood-chilling gang murder of a woman in broad daylight is fading from political and official minds as the media moves on to other horror stories of which there’s no dearth.
Whether or not the police were present when Farzana was attacked, the fact remains that police have often been silent witnesses to murder, unmoved into action. Remember the two minority teenage boys who were brutalized and beaten to death while police watched the spectacle from the front row? Were those cops ever penalized, dismissed from service as unfit to fight crime or protect the innocent? Or did they undergo the routine ‘transfer’ and kept out of sight until the incident was forgotten?
Whatever else the Farzana case may have been, it had nothing to do with perceived ‘honour’. Each of the men involved – the supposedly ‘aggrieved’ fiancé, the father, and the man she married – had a dishonourable role, varying only in degree. As the inside story unfolded in segments, each more bizarre than the last, it’s uncertain if it’s complete, or how much is real and how much spur-of-the-moment fabrications.
The various male personae all seem to be birds of a feather. First the father surrenders himself to the police without trying to run away. Do men who kill as a matter of ‘honour’ generally give themselves up to the police? Seems unlikely for a man selling his own daughter, but perhaps he thought he could get off with blood money.
Next the man that Farzana married, a father of five, reveals himself as having murdered his first wife, but got off by paying blood money after spending a few years in jail. How lightly the court took this murder, speaks volumes.
The latest bombshell, according to Farzana’s sister, is that their father himself had earlier murdered another sister of theirs. Killing seems to run in the family, but various claims conflict with one another. It was enough to confound the activists.
One can only speculate about the state of Farzana’s mind. Her choices were very limited. — It was either one violent man or another. Her sister further states that it was Farzana’s husband who forced her to marry him against her will instead of the man she was engaged to. If her fiancé couldn’t have her, the family decided, neither could the husband.
Irrespective of who she married eventually, she would have probably come to the same end through revengeful murder by either side. Whichever man’s supposed ‘rights’ prevailed over the other’s, she would pay the price.
Many are certain that the previous Chief Justice would have taken immediate notice and action. But the rudest shock was the lack of response from the Prime Minister – until belatedly, asking for the usual report within a week. Not even from the President, although he has all the time in the world.
Facing too many battles on too many fronts — some of their own making and others aggravated by an inept government — the issue of violence against women is relegated to the bottom of the priority list. Under the current government at least, the status quo of gender inequality and injustice is maintained.
The writer is a former journalist and currently director of The Green Economic Initiative at Shirkat Gah, a rights and advocacy group.