Friday September 17, 2021

Justice for Noor

July 24, 2021

It was only two weeks ago that we had reiterated how unsafe this country has become for women, and how just the simple act of quietly existing is a never-ending challenge with daily reports of violence and abuse both inside and outside the home. Unfortunately, here we are yet again condemning another woman’s murder – killed in the most gruesome and appalling manner possible. While details of what exactly transpired leading to the incident in the heart of the capital Tuesday night will be disclosed as the investigation proceeds, the facts at the moment reveal that Noor Mukadam, around 27 years of age, was killed by decapitation while at the home of her friend, Zahir Jaffer, who is now in police custody as the prime suspect. First off, since the accused hails from a prominent business family and is reportedly a dual national, the state must ensure that his family privilege and power is not able to bend the law in his favour, as has occurred many times in the past.

Can this brutal murder finally be a moment of introspection for our society, especially men, to look inwards and ask why we condone those indulging in physical and emotional abuse of women and not call them out? Why is it that our response on witnessing signs of disturbance is to either look away or see violent behaviour against women as ‘private’ matter, regardless of the potentially fatal dangers involved, instead of standing up for the woman? It is unclear at the moment whether Noor’s murder was premeditated or an act of unjustifiable rage. If it is the former, then the ring of suspects should be widened to include possible abettors. Another troubling revelation has been that the accused had reportedly become a mental health counsellor after first seeking therapy for his mental health issues. While mental health is a delicate subject which does not receive the attention it deserves in this country, this also raises questions about regulating the mushrooming private therapy sector in the country.

Every time a woman is raped or murdered or harassed or brutalized in any fashion, the constant refrain over social media in the face of justifiable outrage is that if women adhered to some pre-decided code of conduct, they would stay safe. We ask where that safety was in just the last few days for Noor, killed in Islamabad, for Quratulain killed by an abusive husband within her home in Karachi, and for Saima murdered in Peshawar. These crimes against women – of varying backgrounds and education and class structures – have once again highlighted the need for both state and society to listen to women suffering abusive relationships and provide a safe and dignified way out. But our state seems to want to ignore and wish away the problem. In fact, the government thought it best to send the proposed law on domestic violence to the Council of Islamic Ideology for vetting with no deadline for the all-male body to decide what constitutes abuse of women. The fact is that violence against women has reached epidemic proportions in this country. Every such incident serves as a costly reminder that change is long overdue. And while transforming the regressive mindset at the top which belittles crimes against women by attributing it to their clothes or ‘character’ may not happen overnight, we can start by ensuring swift justice in the Noor murder case, as well as the countless others that do not end up trending on Twitter.