By I.A. Rehman
Murder by Gender
The stifling of a resolution condemning the "honour killing" of women in the Senate revealed the hypocrisy of politicians and the deeply entrenched prejudice of Pakistani society against women.
The brutal murder of Samia Imran at the instance of her parents, to redeem what they thought was the family honour, has brought out the most deeply entrenched prejudices of Pakistans male-driven society against women. A high-point in its all-out war of resistance to womens rights was reached on August 2, 1999, when by stifling an innocuous resolution condemning the killing of women on the pretext of protecting mens honour, the Senate of Pakistan practically sanctioned such barbaric crimes, which are crimes not only against the victims, but crimes against the womenfolk of Pakistan, against the entire Pakistani society and against humanity. Truly, as women activists have declared, August 2, 1999, was a day of national disgrace.
What was done on that day by 20-odd people present in the Senate -- people who claim to represent the women and men of Pakistan, who claim to be informed, mature, liberal, and conscientious, who perhaps have the courage to look into the eyes of women bonded to their families -- was the culmination of a story steeped in mean expediency, double-facedness and barbarism. It is a story that must be told in some detail for it reveals the many layers of the contempt reserved for women in Pakistan.
Soon after Samias murder, women activists gathered outside the Parliament House in Islamabad to protest against the dastardly killing and to demand assurances of effective protection for women from the government and the parliamentarians. The Pakistan Peoples Party Senator, Iqbal Haider, heard them, found their plea to be fair, and promptly tabled a resolution in the Senate, condemning the tribal code of "killing for honour" and extending support to the activists, including Asthma Jahangir and Hina Jilani, who were fighting for womens dignity. With a few exceptions all his fellow Senators put their signatures on the resolution. Among them were ministers Raja Zafrul Haq and Mushahid Husain and senior parliamentarians such as Chaudhry Anwar Bhinder and Dr. Javed Iqbal.
When the resolution first came up before the Senate, discussion on it was opposed by several members who found the text to be too strong to be borne by their sense of manliness. A long-drawn-out process of toning down the resolution then began, largely with a view to helping the NWFP Senators, especially those belonging to the ANP, get over their tribal traditions. After nearly four revisions, the draft was declared acceptable by all major parties, including the PML and ANP. This was ascertained by a group of women activists who had maintained constant contact with the leading Senators. Thus, by August 2 all hurdles to the adoption of the resolution seemed to have disappeared.
But on that day the women of Pakistan were stabbed in the back by all the major political parties and the body of Senators except for four magnificent men who tried to raise their voice against what appeared to be subhuman frenzy. The leader of the house in the Senate, Raja Zafrul Haq, told the women activists that he supported the resolution and would soon repair to the Senate chamber. He did not. Syed Mushahid Husain let it be known that he was busy with a briefing and stayed pigeoned in his private chamber. The ANP wing that had pledged support to the resolution slipped out of the chamber when the time to discuss it came. And the PPP failed to get all their members in. Had they done so the anti-women axis might not have appeared as menacing as it did. It seemed a competition was on to outdo each other in ignominy.
Finally, the resolution was bludgeoned into nothingness. Of all the people, it was a long venerated leader, a poet and a champion of secularism and of the oppressed people, Senator Ajmal Khattak who assumed leadership of the forces of reaction and asked for the resolution to be killed without discussion. While the fulminations of a FATA member were not unexpected, what was unexpected was the freedom allowed to a Senator to use abusive and unparliamentary language against women activists and their institutions, against people who have no possibility to defend themselves on the floor of the Senate. The mover of the resolution was not allowed to speak, the chair deemed it proper to turn Senator Khattaks diatribe into a motion and announce the closure of the proceedings as if the matter was no more important than the batting of a fly. And finally the liberals from the Punjab thumped their desks in glee over having put their name on a medieval standard of pathetic intolerance.
Why did this happen? It may be noted that the parties leading the resistance to womens rights have indulged in fine rhetoric about their pledge to promote womens emancipation and respect for their rights. But their members do not have the sense and the courage to stand up for what they say in party manifestos or in private company. If it is argued that they cannot ignore the retrogressive views of their electors then they must concede that instead of leading their constituents towards social progress they are led by the most backward elements in their following. This is especially true in the case of Senator Ajmal Khattak who forgot everything that his party and he himself had upheld for decades. Above all, politics betrayed the ugliest form of tribalisation, Talibanisation perhaps. That is the only explanation for PMLs opposing the resolution , because they identified the movers face as one from a rival tribe.
But the Samia Imran case has revealed much else that is rotten in the state of Pakistan. The legal system has been exposed as a tool in the hands of the rich and the powerful. Four months have passed since Samias murder and the investigating agency refuses to file the challan in a court. During this period, the Punjab police and the administration have bent backwards to favour the culprits and pillory the complainants, who were in fact victims of absolute terrorism. Goaded by lucre and the most powerful state agency today, they have tampered with evidence on a scale that is mind-boggling, obliging the complainant (Hina Jilani) to secure bail before arrest and Asthma Jahangir to file a detailed protest with the Punjab Chief Minister.
The way servants of the state have tried to twist the Samia murder case to the advantage of the culprits has brought into focus two things. Firstly, if the police can illegally manipulate a widely publicised case, to which some outstanding lawyers are a party, what they could do in other cases of honour killing, involving ordinary victims, who have neither a voice of their own nor the support of doughty lawyers, can well be imagined.
Secondly, it has become obvious that the theory of judicial non-interference in police investigations, scrupulously upheld by the superior courts, needs to be reviewed. This view was formed at a time when investigating agencies abided by the law. It cannot be valid now when an honest and lawful investigation of a crime has become an exception to the general rule. Go anywhere in the country and all you will hear are stories of corruption in investigations and the amenability of investigators to the whims of political upstarts or their factions. Cases are made or undone in the investigation stage and if the judiciary does not see how challan are being met, it will be obliged to adjudicate matters on the basis of records that obstruct justice instead of facilitating it.
The lesson from the Samia Imran case also is that the freer a hand the police are given the less and less justice there will be left in Pakistan. And the worst sufferers will be women whose killings by their blood-thirsty male guardians has now been sanctioned as a virtuous deed by men holy and pious and occupants of representative positions. Verily, mans capacity to degrade himself, to wallow in a state of Khusr (loss), has no limit. And the price must be paid by woman.
Originally Published in the August Issue of Newsline