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December 6, 2019

Women and tradition


December 6, 2019

Another teenage girl in Sindh has become a victim of the cruel and reactionary medieval tradition of KaroKari (honour killing). An 11-year-old girl, Gul Sama Rind, was brutally killed on the orders of a local jirga on November 21.

This gruesome and horrifying killing has once again exposed the fact that reactionary medieval feudal and tribal social traditions not only exist but are practised widely in some areas of the Pakistan even in the 21st century.

Police are still trying to find out whether a jirga was held and if it passed the order to stone the young girl to death. They are also looking into reports that the alleged jirga was chaired by the son of a ruling party leader and tribal chief of the Rind tribe Sardar Yar Muhammad Rind.

A medical board on Wednesday (December 4) exhumed Gul Sama’s body to perform a post-mortem examination to ascertain cause of death. According to the police, the parents of the deceased girl are insisting that their daughter died as a result of land sliding.

If one wants to know how the police and local administration work in such cases then take the case of the Kohistan honour killing in which five young women and two boys were killed in the name of honour. This case shows how difficult it is to bring out the facts in such cases.

The only crime in the Kohistan case was that a video of the young men and women dancing and clapping was leaked and a local jirga considered it a matter of honour and violation of the social code in that conservative area. When the matter surfaced in 2012 and the Supreme Court took notice of it, both the local administration and the police denied that any such killing had taken place.

The brother of the deceased young men, Afzal Kohistani, decided to fight for justice – and in the process got killed himself. After years of denial, the police finally registered a case of honour killing in 2018 – only after the Supreme Court intervened three times and human rights activists campaigned and the family fought for years to get justice. The case was taken up by the Supreme Court on at least three occasions and the killing of the women was established after the tireless efforts of some brave men and women for six years. Three culprits were sentenced to life imprisonment in September this year.

This case tells us how difficult it is to go against the decision of a jirga. Afzal Kohistani went against it and got killed. He was killed even though the Supreme Court had ordered to provide him protection. He refused to bow down and sacrificed his life in the fight against injustice, cruel and inhuman traditions and social norms.

The jirga system is so strong in these areas that one needs extraordinary courage and determination to challenge it. Even though the jirga system is illegal and unconstitutional, it exists and imposes the tribal and feudal social code. The jirga system works as a protector of reactionary, repressive, anti-women medieval customs and moral code. The local influential tribal, feudal and conservative religious leaders join hands to impose the decisions of the jirga. The local police and administration generally avoid intervening in these decisions.

Despite the fact that some good legislation has been passed in Punjab and Sindh to protect women and young girls from honour killing, sexual harassment, domestic violence, forced and underage marriages and abuse the situation has not changed much in many areas. Laws do exist but their implementation in letter and spirit is still a problem.

Socio-economic conditions cannot be changed or transformed just through laws for the protection of women. Practical steps are needed to wipe out the inhuman and medieval feudal and tribal traditions and customs. It is necessary to abolish the feudal and tribal structures and social form. Social and economic transformation is necessary to free men and, especially, women from the clutches of feudal tribal social-economic conditions.

Gender discrimination and deprivation is a reality in Pakistan. Women face direct cultural and structural violence through a deeply entrenched system of patriarchy at all tiers of public and private life. Uneven socio-economic development creates conditions in which feudal, tribal and capitalist social and economic forms simultaneously coexist. So the conditions faced by the women vary from area to area.

The Punjab government passed the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act 2016. This relatively progressive legislation to protect women however received much criticism and resistance from religious groups as being ‘unIslamic’. The Sindh government passed the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill in 2013. But implementation of such laws is the real concern. The authorities often succumb to the pressure of the religious right and conservatives, and lack the will to implement these laws.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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