Letting Farzana die

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An issue of conscience, a problem of wrongly practised traditions

 ArticleYAA

Farzana did not die on 27th May, 2014, as claimed, for marrying a man of her choice and allegedly being stoned to death outside the Lahore High Court by her family. She has died over and over again. Farzana survived an attempted attack on her when her father, brother and some family members shot her, stuffed her in a sack and threw her in a canal near Hafizabad. Only she was called Saba Maqsood then. An 18-year-old whose crime was that she wanted to marry a man she loved.

An Asian Human Rights Commission Report states, “In Pakistan, each year hundreds of women and girls are killed because of alleged relations with males, or for refusing to abide by their parents’ choice of husbands. In September 2003, a human rights organisation in Pakistan reported that at least 631 women and six girls died in ‘honour killing’ cases perpetrated by their own relatives during the first eight months of 2003. These figures were based only on newspaper reports, which fall far short of the total number of actual killings which are likely to be many times more. The male relatives who usually commit the murders are rarely sanctioned within their communities. It appears that any action by a female that is deemed to compromise the family reputation, whether real or merely suspected, is considered a valid reason to commit murder.”

Each time a Farzana dies, the mindset that associates violation of family honour with the right of a woman to take a legally conscious decision of choosing a life partner, allowed to her by Islam, becomes stronger, either by direct action of male members of the family or by a jirga. “In Sindh province the jirga system is particularly strong, so even where the families of victims lodge complaints with the police and motivate them to investigate cases, these cases do not usually end up in court due to high costs and long delays in getting justice. Therefore, victims’ families resort to the jirga, where the cases are mostly settled within a few days, usually by way of compensation and without any possibility of punishment for the perpetrators, under the Ordinance of Qisas (law of retribution) and Diyat (law of compensation). Under this Ordinance, if the guardian of the victim forgives the offender and the offender provides compensation, the offender can be released without any punishment. For this reason too, in many killings of women that are not actually ‘honour killings’, the perpetrators claim that the woman was an adulterer or otherwise, in order to avoid criminal proceedings and have a jirga decide the matter.

On 23 April, 2004, in a significant decision, Justice Rehmat Hussain Jaffery of the Sukkur Bench, High Court of Sindh, outlawed tribal jirgas as contrary to the Constitution. He also strictly banned efforts to organise or arrange any type of jirga, and bound law enforcement agencies to take several steps against them. In his judgement, Justice Jaffery stated that:

“…Private persons have no authority to execute the decision of jirgas nor do the jirgas have the authority to execute their own decisions through their own sources. If such decisions are carried out and executed by killing persons, then the offence of murder will be committed and they will be liable for action as per the law… the jirgas have also usurped the powers of the executing authorities which are not permissible under the Constitution or the law.” (Asian Human Rights Commission)

In an article updated by Max Fisher on June 2, 2014, “Take the case, from 2007, of a 13-year-old Pakistani girl who was gang-raped and then formally condemned by village elders for having sex outside of wedlock. Her family was pressured to murder her in an honour killing but refused, instead asking police to arrest her rapists. The police refused and the community members attacked the family for failing to take her life. Her family’s legal battle for justice for her rapists made her case a national symbol of the fight over honour killings.”

Marrying of choice and free will is the basic right of every Muslim woman and man. Yet women are targeted for ‘violating a family’s honour’. Pakistan however is not the only country in the world that has a high rate of honour killings. Other countries practicing this are India, Alabania and also Brazil. South Asia and Middle East are most ‘afflicted’ by the honour killings. Rothna Begum, Middle East and North Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW), says, “Honour crimes tend to happen in places where there are inflexible and discriminatory attitudes about women’s roles, especially around their sexuality, and these are often applicable to women but not exclusively so, because sometimes men are targeted for honour crimes as well.”

According to a report by Radio Free Europe“Experts say that honour killings are linked to patriarchal societies and the earliest historical evidence of them dates back to Babylon. They arise from the notion that women are the vessels of a family’s honour and are closely tied to values placed on marriage with virgin brides. Under this concept of honour, a family’s inability to guarantee a daughter’s virginity prior to marriage is a cause for shame and for ostracism by neighbours.

But there are also economic factors at work.

Thibault says that in societies that practice arranged marriages, unions are as much about ensuring the common interests of the two families as those of the betrothed.

“These are marriages between families much more than between a man and a woman and marriages between families are to obtain a better economic situation, to get more farmland, to have a better social standing,” says Thibault. “If the marriage is threatened or broken off, the family no longer attains what it hoped for in terms of better social or economic status.” (Published June 07, 2014)

Since most crimes of this nature are confined within the four walls of the house, governments and human rights organisations have no correct estimates of the ‘honour killings’ committed. For every one reported, there are so many that go unreported. Nothing will change unless peoples’ attitude towards such issues changes. Women need to be accepted as equal to men. Equality in terms of making choices, equality in terms of rights, and equality in terms of living lives freely. Education plays a huge role in changing attitudes. Education leads to enlightenment.

International organisations like the United Nations too have not been successful in enforcing curbs on such human rights violations. They lack the mechanism, sources and infrastructure to place effective curbs upon such happenings. The UN can place sanctions against the violating countries but this in turn ends up hurting people of the very country UN ironically tries to protect.

Under Islamic law, punishment for crimes like murder and/or inflicting bodily injury takes two forms i.e., qisas, an equal punishment as inflicted, or diyat, which is basically paying to the legal heirs compensation for life lost or/and bodily injury inflicted. Generally speaking in a situation with two parties involved – one rich and well-connected and usually on the giving end, and the other neither rich nor well-connected and usually the one at the receiving end – it is easy to influence upon the weaker party to accept the offer by the stronger party. External factors that usually favour the stronger party generally prevail. Victims of a crime ‘forgive’ the accused under this law. This Ordinance is also misused to allow culprits of ‘honour killings’ go free by applying the same standards.

There are two approaches to address the misuse of the law. The first supports the idea that murder and/or bodily hurt must be treated as a state offence and not as a private offence for the heirs to forgive. The other approach is to correct the loopholes in the justice system, not the ordinance itself.

Till such time honour killings are effectively stopped from the land of the pure, every day Farzanas continue to die. No one knows their graves and no one cares.

Twitter ID @yasmeen_9

Cross post: http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2014/06/09/comment/letting-farzana-die/

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