Subject: ALL: Zafran Bibi Case : Urgent advice against DNA testing
Date:     Mon, 27 May 2002 00:25:28 -0400

EDITOR”S NOTE: We thank our Member Najma Sadeque for her contribution to the ongoing discussion of the Zafran Bibi case (She is arguing against DNA testing in this case). Projects with elite writing will be available at The search system will help you find the examples you need.

In a more enlightened society, DNA testing might have served a purpose, but in the context of the Zafran Bibi case, it can not only prove most counter- productive, it will help the government  to divert public and international opinion against it (which is exactly what it is seeking) and create a long-drawn out drama over DNA testing for which there are little or no facilities in this country (the first time DNA use was even taken up was in the recent journalist's David Pearl murder case). 

Please understand that the paternity of the father is NOT the issue. Rape -- officially viewed as adultery between a married woman and someone not her husband -- is the issue. And the fact is that even the Federal Shariat Court has laid down that once has woman has stated that she had been raped, she cannot be prosecuted or penalised anything else. 

The case has to be seen in the context of the environment where the incident took place and in the type of court where the trial took clase. The area is a poorly developed one and one of the most backward places in the country. It is not like the urban areas of Pakistan; it is not even like the rest of the rural areas of Pakistan which has linkages to some modernisation. It is as mediaeval as ever with virtually little change even after Pakistan was created. Women are considered commodities, and therefore sub-human if at all that. The murder of a woman does not always become a police case if a husband or other relative has committed a so-called honour killing. Women have no say whatsoever. They have to do as they are told, keep silent unless spoken to, and say what they are told to say by their male guardians, even if it is a lie. They have no one to turn to, not even the courts, and shelters don't exist for victims of abuse. It's worse in the villages where women may as well be one of the family livestock.

Please understand the following. -- Zafran's husband has been in jail for some years for murder. Finding the opportunity, her brother-in-law raped her more than once. These are things a woman in her society cannot even report to anyone, not the family not the police. They just have to allow events to take over and determine their fate. When her pregnancy could no longer be hidden, her father-in-law had to do something to save face. It would be worse for people to know that his daughter-in-law was raped by his other son. But with the woman's husband in jail, there was no way to explain it. He himself was a man with a bad reputation, known for blackmail and extortion (although that does not divest a man in his society of 'intrinsic' honour that must be upheld at all costs). So he devised a means of killing two birds with one stone. He made a false accusation against another man to whom he owed money !!! That way he felt he would free of his debt, and cover up for his rapist son. 

He took Zafran to the police station where he did not allow her then (or any other time thereafter) to do her own talking. Whatever he told the police, she was merely made to put her thumb impression to. The falsely accused man was able to disprove the charge and got off. But that put the pregnant Zafran in a more difficult position. The judge chose to believe that the false accusation was made to cover up adultery with someone else. Which was why her husband lied, claiming that his wife visited him in jail in private although it was against the rules (suggesting bribing of jail guards). If anyone believed that, a case would have had to be registered against jail personnel, but it was not.

As fate would have it, Zafran's father-in-law then died of natural causes (this is not a recent case, but much more than a year old). It was only then that, freed of her oppressor, Zafran was able to speak out in court. It was the final hearing and the case had been pursued on the basis of manufactured statements. When the judge asked her to make her statement, the whole story came out. A man with a true sense of justice, knowing the conditions of women in that area which is far worse than elsewhere in Pakistan, especially for a desperately poor and abused woman like Zafran (very common), would have made a very different decision. But his attitude towards women was no different from that of the unlettered men living by cruel customs with which they confused religion. He decided she was lying and covering up. 

In fact, what the judge did was wrong because he was acting against clear rules laid down by the Federal Shariat Court. Having stated her case, and having explained  why she could not come out with the truth before (which is routine in this area), he did not have the authority to sentence her to death, let alone by stoning. But the government is not going to make an issue over the competence and bias of judges because then all hell would break loose. They are not willing to offend the fundamentalists because they want them on their side for other reasons. The politics are as complex as they are unsavoury.

We expect that Zafran Bibi will be eventually freed (the government cannot afford to allow this scandal to go further) -- but her misery will not end although her life might. Such is the stigma, she will be ostracised by society and will have nowhere to turn unless some good Samaritans help to
rehabilitate her somewhere far away and safeThis would have to be done immediately on her release, because everyone expects her to be killed by her husband who is soon to be released from jail soon (he has earned remission for good behaviour). He is already a murderer; and in any case men here have no compunctions about killing a 'tarnished' woman. That is what they are expected to do. So why did he lie to save his wife by saying she used to visit him privately in jail, you may ask? -- For two reasons: (1) to earn points, being in jail, by showing he is a suppotrive husband, and (2) more, importantly, so that he can kill her with his own hands, not the court's executioners.

The issues that have been taken up by the women's movement, on whose behalf I'm writing, are (1) that the Hudood Ordinance be repealed in its entirety (not just amended -- it was after all passed not by a democratic government, but arbitrarily by the inhuman military dictator, Ziaul Haq); and (2) that Zafran has stated she was a rape victim, and under the law she is not an accused but a victim, and must be freed. 

Punishing the accused is not good enough if he is punished as an adulterer (DNA testing cannot prove whether it was rape or adultery); and that would still condemn Zafran. The issue is that she is a rape victim and she has been denied being acknowledged as such under the government's own laws !

What we need is an international campaign (including letters to the Pakistani President), especially from Muslims from all over, demanding the repeal of the Zina ordinance. Zafran Bibi's case is not, and has not been, the only one of this kind. There are scores of others, and it impossible to fight them all. Unless the Zina ordinance goes, and honour killing is made severely punishable, the ordinance will continue to be used to frame women, and as a cover up for rapists to go free.

Incidentally, the National Commission of Women has now taken up the matter strongly, and the government in fact for the first time has expressed its dissatisfaction with the law. 

(Najma Sadeque)
Women's Action Forum;
and SHIRKAT GAH (Women's Resource centre)

Professor Dr. Riffat Hassan,
P.O. Box 17202,
Kentucky 40217,
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