Monday, July 11, 2016

Beware Of Your Mothers, Daughters Of The East!


As honour killings in Pakistan are on the rise and rulings of religious bodies further disparage the status of women, the neighbouring is in dire need of a positive social change.

Can a mother as a normal human being kill her own teenage daughter on any pretext? Can she be so cruel and heartless as to burn any of her progeny to death?
Yes, she can, and that too in a country where a few years back, a girl rose to become its elected Prime Minister, the first woman to have earned this honour in any Muslim-majority nation. Benazir Bhutto, lovingly called the Daughter of the East (also the title of her autobiography), must be turning in her grave to find that a mother of her country burnt to death her own daughter, 16-year-old Zeenat, in Pakistan’s cultural capital, Lahore, only because the innocent soul decided to tie the nuptial knot with a man of her own choice — she a Punjabi and he a Pashtun. The blood-curdling incident — a mother tying her daughter to a cot with a rope and then setting her ablaze by sprinkling kerosene on her body in the name of family honour — occurred on June 9.

Only a few days before this painful incident, a jirga (council of elders) in Abbottabad had ruled that a girl who had helped her friend elope with her boyfriend be punished by burning her to death.

Hundreds of girls lose their lives in Pakistan almost every year as sacrificial goats for their family’s honour. In 2015, as many as 1,096 women were done to death in Pakistan by their close relatives because they had brought a “bad name” to their family, according to thePakistan Human Rights Commission. The figure of honour killings for 2013 was 869, which shows that the problem is getting worse by the day. It is, therefore, not astonishing that Pakistan is considered one of the most unsafe countries for women today.

The problem is best described in an Oscar-winning documentary, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, a brilliant filmmaker of Pakistan. The film depicts the chilling story of a girl called Saba, shot at by her own father and brother for daring to marry a man of her choice, against the wishes of the family. Believing that she is dead, they pack her body in a bag and throw it in a river. The girl, however, survives the ordeal with the help of a passerby. As she grows up, she forgives her tormentors under various kinds of pressures because of a loophole in Pakistan’s law. The film was well received, yet it could not move people to launch a powerful drive to end this social crime committed by both men and women on the pretext of saving the so-called family honour.

The law as it prevails in Pakistan today considers honour killing an act of crime against an individual, not against the state. So, the accused can be set free if a kin of the victim forgives him/her.

Experts believe that law alone cannot help find a solution to honour killing, also called karo-kari in local parlance. According to surveys, honour killings are confined to mostly illiterate or semi-literate families, but, paradoxically, the maximum number of such incidents are reported from Pakistan’s Punjab province, far ahead of other provinces in literacy. That is why it is difficult to believe that widespread literacy can help in effectively tackling the menace.
More than anything else, there is a need to change the societal attitude towards the female gender through a powerful social movement. Social customs and traditions mixed with religious and cultural practices have created an environment in which women have little chance of being treated differently unless there is a drastic change in people’s thinking.

The problem begins at the foetal stage as the sex of the baby can now be determined with the help of technology. Efforts are made to get rid of her even at that stage where she can commit no crime. Her very birth is an unwanted happening in Pakistan, like in many other Asian countries. The lucky ones who somehow manage to see the light of the day are never treated as something to be proud of.

Girls have to undergo different kinds of tormenting experiences in Pakistan. In tribal areas, very few families prefer to get them educated enough like boys. It is believed in tribal communities that an educated girl can be a greater threat to family honour than an uneducated one. The emergence of Malala Yousufzai on the international scene has only highlighted the tribal attitude against girls’ education, but it has not changed the bitter reality as it exists at the ground level.
Even after they are married, only women are supposed to make all kinds of compromises for a peaceful marital life. They can be beaten if they refuse to obey the diktats of their husbands, according to the latest pronouncement of the Council of Islamic Ideology in Pakistan. The Express Tribune newspaper quoted, “A husband should be allowed to lightly beat his wife if she defies his commands and refuses to dress up as per his desires; turns down the demand of intercourse without any religious excuse or does not take a bath after intercourse or menstrual periods.”

The Council’s ruling, given recently following the enactment of a law in Punjab province for the protection of women’s rights, led to protests by civil society members, but in vain.

Interestingly, religious extremists raised much hue and cry when Benazir Bhutto became the Prime Minister of Pakistan. They expressed the view that “going by what Islam says”, Pakistan could not be safe in the hands of a woman head of government. This led to a heated debate, causing much embarrassment to the late leader and her supporters. The situation got normalised when the example of Hazrat Ayesha, the daughter of Islam’s first caliph Hazrat Abu-Bakr and widow of Prophet Mohammed, was forcefully quoted to silence those questioning Benazir’s right to rule as a democratically elected leader.

Hazrat Ayesha commanded an army battalion in the Battle of Jamal against the Islamic fighters led by Hazrat Ali, her own son-in-law, opposing him on an issue involving some basic principles. History has it that she mounted a camel and marched from Mecca at the head of a 1,000-strong unit of fighters.

Benazir heaved a sigh of relief when it was conclusively established that being a woman was no disqualification for her to function as the head of government in “Islamic Pakistan”

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