No country for women

July 6, 2014

No country for women

Sajjad Ahmed, 31, a driver by profession and resident of village Hasanabad in Sialkot district, married Muafia Bibi, 23, niece of his sister’s husband and resident of Satrah village of the same district on June 18 in a local court. The couple tried for months to convince the girl’s family to agree but failed. Consequently, they decided to get married without approval of the girl’s family.

A week after their marriage, on June 27, Muafia’s parents, grandfather and two uncles including brother-in-law of Sajjad came to their house at Hasanabad and said they had accepted their marriage and took them back.

"Since my brother-in-law was among them, we were satisfied that my brother would not be harmed. But, at around 9pm, our sister told us on phone that the family had brutally killed the couple," says Murad Ali, Sajjad’s brother who is a complainant in the case. He adds that after intoxicating the couple, the family locked his sister and her children in a room and killed the couple with a butcher’s knife.

The resident of Satrah village say the couple was slaughtered in front of scores of people. Muhammad Shahbaz, who lives in the same street in the village, says the family dragged the unconscious couple in their courtyard and announced loudly they were going to punish the couple for contracting love marriage. "In no time, scores of people gathered on surrounding rooftops. The couple’s legs and arms were tied," says Shahbaz, adding that nobody in the crowd tried to stop the family.

"Somebody in the crowd said that the children should be sent away but the family members of Muafia Bibi said they should stay and watch. They should learn what would happen to them if they commit this mistake," he says. "Most of the people in the village support the murder."

"In the last one year, more than 15 girls of our village have left their house to marry men of their choice. After this incident, girls in our village, would at least, think twice before taking such step," he says.

Murad Ali says that the police has registered a case and all culprits including Muafia’s parents, grandfather and uncles have been arrested. "We still cannot understand why they killed our brother. In most cases, families only kill their daughters."

Murad’s confusion over the fate of the case is not unexpected. His family at some stage would have to decide whether it wants to pursue the case which involves his brother-in-law or save the ‘home’ of his sister.

In a majority of honour killing cases culprits are close relatives of the victims which are usually women. According to Aurat Foundation’s findings, 227 cases of honour killings were reported in Punjab in 2013. The report says that most of the accused were male members of the women’s families.

One in five cases of honour killing internationally every year, according to UN statistics, comes from Pakistan. Of the 5000 cases reported internationally, 1000 each are from Pakistan and India. Non-governmental organisations put the number at 20,000, four times the figure of UN.

The conviction rate on the other hand in such cases is not more than one to two per cent. "The conviction rate in cases of honour killing and other cases of violence against women like rape and domestic violence in Pakistan is not more than two per cent," Rabeea Hadi, in-charge gender based violence programme of Aurat Foundation, tells TNS.

She says the state is not serious about protecting the people who marry of their own choice. "There is not even a single safe institution in Pakistan where such couples can stay. There are some Darul Amans but only girls can stay there." She says that last year she produced such a couple before the federal secretary for law and human rights who advised them to ‘disappear’ in such a big country to avoid their families as state could not provide them protection.

Senator Kazim Khan, senior lawyer and chairperson of Senate’s committee on law and justice, says "both state and society are responsible for the situation." One of the major reasons for the poor conviction rate in cases of violence against women, he says, is that police and lower judiciary is not sensitised or trained to handle such cases. "The ratio of women among ranks of police and lower judiciary is also minimal. The attitude of officials who handle these cases remains casual."

A senior police officer tells that in most of cases of love marriages, the family of the girl manages to produce a fake marriage certificate of the girl showing that she was already married; if that tricks does not work they succeed in getting a case of kidnapping registered against her husband; if this does not work as well they get register a case of theft of money and ornaments against the girl. "Police in most of the cases sides with the family," he admits adding that 99 out of 100 honour killing cases ended in the heirs of victim forgive the culprits.

"The cases at the police stations are registered by an officer of head constable level. Majority of them are not even aware of the new legislations in the country regarding violence against women," he says.

Khawar Mumtaz, Chairperson National Commission on the Status of Women, says that law, court and religion allow the girls to marry a person of their choice but the controlling mentality of families which consider women as a possession are not ready to accept it. She says that instead of glorifying the brutal murder of Muafia and her husband, the people of Satrah village need to ponder on why 15 or 16 girls reached a point where they had to leave their homes. "They are brave girls who have courage to take decisions of their choice. The parents need to sit with the girls and talk to them. They are no more their dolls or property," she says.

Making new laws solely will not help, she says. "We need to have radical changes. People who committed crime or who abet them including officials need to be punished."

She says that insanity and brutality have reached a point that a rape victim (Amina Bibi) had to put herself on fire just to prove that she was raped. "Society has become very brutal. The way extremists have been killing our people with impunity has convinced the people that they can get away with brutality too. The culprits in honour killing cases should not be treated under Sharia laws. They know that they would be forgiven by the heirs who, in most cases, are close relatives."

No country for women