Sunday, July 24, 2016
By Naila Inayat
Qandeel, a social media celebrity, was strangled to death on July 16, allegedly by her brother in the name of family honour, in Multan, Punjab province. After the police officers assigned on the case bungled the investigation, woman inspector Attiya Jaffari has been given the challenging task of getting justice for her. Qandeel’s father filed a report against both his sons, Mohammad Aslam and Waseem Baloch, who was the killer. Police are also questioning Aslam, a junior Pakistan Army officer. The Multan police are including cleric Mufti Abdul Qavi in the probe.
The last four months have witnessed a surge in such cases. Last month in Lahore, Zeenat, 18, was burnt alive by her mother. Her crime was to marry her childhood friend rather than succumbing to her mother’s pressure for an arranged marriage.
The brutal machismo behind the honour killing of Internet star Qandeel Baloch and the uproar that followed show a socially divided Pakistan with reformists and rights activists taking on age-old gender biases
She was forcefully married off at age 17 to an elderly man, had a son whose custody she lost after ending her abusive marriage. Fled from her house and took refuge in a shelter home and struggled as a bus hostess before taking up modelling as a career. She lived on her own terms, was unapologetic, spontaneous and definitely was not causing any harm to anyone. Was Qandeel Baloch a threat, was her presence as dreadful as the looming fear of terrorism? Why does the freedom enjoyed by one woman become a stigma on Pakistan society, values and above all the ‘honour’ of a brother who she supported financially?
Retired judge, Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid, said, “There is a lot of pressure on the judges to settle such cases amicably. The biggest loophole in the law is that of compromise and there should be no compromise on murder. No religion and law allow forgiveness after murder. The Qandeel Baloch case has now become a public interest story because of media’s interest. In such cases, the police lose focus and do not collect evidence with seriousness.”
Today Qandeel has become yet another figure in the long list of thousands of Pakistani women who are victims of femicide every year. Honour crimes across Pakistan have been on the rise since the last three years. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 1,096 women and 88 men were killed for honour in 2015. In 2014, 1,005 women, including 82 children, were murdered, up from 869 women in 2013.
In another case, near Gujranwala, a mother slit the throat of her seven-month pregnant daughter Muqaddas Bibi who three years ago had married a man she loved.
A young schoolteacher in Murree, Maria Sadaqat, 19, was tortured and set on fire for refusing a marriage proposal from a school principal’s son who was divorced and twice her age.
Earlier this year, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resolved to eradicate the evil of honour killings.
The vow came in the wake of the Oscar-winning documentary, A Girl in the River, which highlights the issue. However, since then no fresh legislation has been tabled and the existing bill has been marred by controversies.
Imaam Mohammed Abdullah of Lahore said there is no place for women like Baloch in an Islamic society. “I laugh at the people who are saying she was wrongfully killed. She brought Allah’s wrath on herself and may I ask you what was so honourable in what she was doing?” he asked.
Despite an increased number of women in parliament and government, Pakistan has not moved forward significantly with regard to violence against women and discriminatory laws. Honour killings take place in virtually every part of Pakistan. In Abbottabad, Ambreen, a teenager who helped her friend elope, was tortured and then tied to a bus seat and set on fire. A jirga—a traditional Pashtun assembly of leaders that make consensual decisions in accordance with the Islamic law—ordered Ambreen’s killing as a warning to others.
“One of the main reasons is the law of qisas and diyat, which protect murderers who can pay the diyat (compensation) and get away with impunity. If the father is the killer, the son can forgive him and if the son is the killer, the father forgives him and this law enables the criminal to go unpunished,” says Dr Rubina Saigol, a Lahore-based sociologist.
Saigol explains that as long as property relations are there and women are seen as (property/chattel), they will not get full status as humans and citizens with the right to life (as guaranteed in the constitution). The practice of killing on the pretext of honour will continue —as it is an easy way to get rid of unwanted women and seize their property or otherwise gain economically or to get rid of an enemy by making him a co-accused. The practice is thus a product of the socio-economic relations of Pakistan and is rooted in material conditions which rely upon and support patriarchy as a material and ideological system that benefits men and subordinates women.
The extent to which Pakistan has complied with human rights standards set out in the International Convention of the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), will be assessed by a United Nation’s expert committee in Geneva on August 16-17, this year. The committee will look at a report to be presented by the government of Pakistan, encapsulating three periodic reports — 21st, 22nd and 23rd. The previous two reports were not submitted on time, hence the assessment period of six years (2009 — 2015).
This convention is one of the core human rights treaties that the international community managed to achieve as early as 1965. Pakistan, considering itself a supporter of a world free of racial equality, became a party to the treaty without any reservations soon after it was offered voluntary ratification in 1966.
Through the Treaty Implementation committee, the federal ministries for law and justice and commerce have been leading the preparation of the Pakistan’s compliance reports since 2014 — a burden that previously rested on the foreign office.
Now that clarity has been achieved on the institutional responsibility of adherence to international commitments on human rights, the focus must be on improving the quality content of the reporting as well as achieving the recognition, protection and fulfilment of those human rights in Pakistan.
International reporting, representing Pakistan’s official narrative, has relied on denial of facts, citing normative assurances and a deflection of issues because officials and consultants preparing the reports were handicapped by the stalled progress on human rights and proper functioning of institutions. Unfortunately, the current report to the UN CERD committee hasn’t succeeded in overcoming these difficulties.
The report claims that racial discrimination is “non-existent” in Pakistan. This can be challenged on several accounts. For instance, the claim is challengeable in the consistent economic, social and political deprivation of Pakistanis of African origin (Sheedis), the diminishing rights of the Kalash people as a result of forced conversions and occupation of means of their subsistence, and the government’s inability to document nomads, gypsies and tribesmen. The report’s claim can also be challenged on account of the mass killings of minority sects.
The government’s comprehension of racism grossly ignores the pervasive ethnocentrism that creates extremely dangerous sense of ‘otherness — a cause behind interprovincial conflicts and different forms of violence. If ethnocentrism had not plagued politics and society, linguistic groups, including the Punjabis would not be complaining about their language being ignored by the state. Therefore, it is a convenient claim as long as we do not recognise racial discrimination.
Pakistan was not a signatory to the International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Family Members. The report stated that Pakistan was not a labour-receiving country, and hence not a party to this convention. Why then, is Pakistan a party to the convention on racial discrimination, as accession to it relies on the acknowledgement that problems do exist.
Seemingly, the reporting to international treaty bodies will have to get rid of the state’s narrative, crafted to defend dictatorships that relied on the techniques of denying facts and averting all chances of accountability. Our image in the outside world cannot be starkly different than our internal reality and our relation and place among the nations will depend on the quality of improvement of internal processes.
The world has come to realise that racism is a historical as well as contemporary phenomenon. No state or society is immune to it. Therefore, there is no way forward than admitting its existence, engaging in reforms and repairing the harm through social processes. Although the Constitution of Pakistan discourages discrimination in several forms, we do not have a proper law that defines and punishes discrimination.
Racial discrimination does exist in Pakistan in several subtle as well as manifest forms, and unfortunately, in state policies as well. We can choose to turn a blind eye, but the price will be social conflict, underdevelopment and political instability.
We have to choose between continuing to live in a society fragmented on the basis of caste, colour, descent, ethnicity and language, or make efforts to ensure equality, justice and accountability through internal and external scrutiny according to international standards of human rights. The earlier choice will leave us with the status quo the on the other hand, the latter can deliver rule of law and better governance. The choice rests with us.