A call for more violence?

Sentiments for violence against a murderer are understandable but should not give the state leeway it no longer deserves

Photo by Rahat Dar
Photo by Rahat Dar

Women all over Pakistan sat through Eidul Aza in shock and disbelief. A woman, Noor Mukadam , was brutally murdered and then beheaded in Islamabad. As details of the incident poured in, women cowered in fear. It could have been them.

The incident embedded a deep sense of mistrust for the men around us, be they our fathers, partners or brothers. We could no longer tell if we were safe; we simply knew that we were not.

The police took quick action against the prime suspect who was booked under a criminal complaint by Noor’s father. He, his parents and staff have been arrested; they are being interrogated and evidence is being collected. The FIR registered primarily operated on a charge under Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code (Qatl-i-Amd).

In all of this, more violence was demanded. There was a public outcry for the culprit to be tried under the country’s anti-terrorism laws, for him to be publicly hanged or for him to be slaughtered.

Public hanging of even the most unworthy criminals was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 1994. But let’s come to the anti-terrorism debate. The last time this offence was included in a crime against a woman was in the Sialkot motorway rape case reported in September 2020.

It was also expected that a charge under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism laws would be included in the first information report (FIR) in this case. This was in response to the question of whether the state would take this heinous crime as an offence against itself.

However, many were against the notion. And rightly so. Expanding the scope of these provisions beyond their mandate will open them to abuse, especially in cases of gender-based violence. In the alternate, the inclusion of fasad-fil-arz as defined under Section 299 (ee) of the Pakistan Penal Code should be considered. Fasad-fil-arz includes, “the past conduct of the offender or whether he has any previous conviction or the brutal or shocking manner in which the offence has been committed which is outrageous to the public conscience or if the offender is considered a potential danger to the community or if the offence has been committed in the name or on the pretext of honour”. In such a situation, the punishment under Section 302 of the Penal Code would be limited to either the death penalty or imprisonment for life.

In addition, even if the parties were to reach a settlement, the inclusion of an offence of fasad-fil-arz would still give the court the discretion to punish the offender (pardoned by the victim’s heirs) with death, life imprisonment or ta’zir (discretionary punishment) for a term extending to fourteen years. This would limit his chances of acquittal under any potential settlement and would allow the state to further take the matter into its own hands. Fighting Noor’s case in a system as difficult as ours is cumbersome, especially for her grieving family. It seems only appropriate that the state should assume maximum responsibility.

Public hanging of even the most unworthy criminals was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 1994.

But one must really ask: does the state have the will to prosecute offences against its women in the way legislation demands? Sentiments for violence against the culprit are understandable but should not give the state leeway it no longer deserves.

The state has ignored and largely remained silent on what can only be called a femicide. Columns in newspapers and a hashtag are dedicated on a daily basis to women falling prey to gender-based violence. However, as laws keep pouring in, their implementation is far from robust. If Noor Mukadam ’s name was not the subject of both international and domestic media, would the state have prosecuted the crime in the same way? Would the investigation be as robust? Would the prosecution have still acted responsibly if the case was not dealt with in a metropolis, but in a remote location where a maimed woman’s name was not a subject of the news? These questions are regrettable, but ones which citizens must continue to ask instead of demanding more violence. A sustained effort to protect all victims of gender-based violence is the need of the hour.

In the same vein, we as a society must introspect. Drawing room discussions about Noor’s relationship with her killer became the central topic as opposed to the gruesome murder itself. This very nature of moral policing absolves perpetrators and the state of responsibility. It becomes easier for perpetrators to place the blame on the victim’s character or the relationship itself to justify their crimes and we as a nation forget the larger question. The woman in the Sialkot rape case had no relationship with the accused and Qurratulain was married to her murderer. In fact, the collective failure of our nation is indicated by the very fact that we stood as passersby, doing nothing but simply watching Noor being dragged by her assailant into his house. We are quick to judge, but slow to act.

Therefore, the larger question is always: have we made our women feel unsafe? It is this victim blaming that prevents them from reporting crimes. It is the prosecution’s inability to secure convictions that keeps them from pursuing cases.

Noor’s case reminds us that we must always demand effective prosecution and conviction and nothing that Noor Mukadam did absolves her killer of this heinous crime. We must remember: nothing justifies the murder of another individual.

Ultimately, justice delayed is truly justice denied and women in Pakistan have been victims of systematic injustice for far too long. Today, I can only but ask one question: how long before all of us are a hashtag?

The writer is a lawyer. She tweets at @noorejazch

A call for more violence?