Saturday, September 13, 2008

Karo-Kari, Part 6

We continue from Part 5 reviewing a 1999 Amnesty International report entitled PAKISTAN: Honour killings of girls and women.

Honour killings for choosing a marriage partner

Expressing a desire to choose a spouse and marrying a partner of one’s choice are seen as major acts of defiance in a society where most marriages are arranged by fathers. They are seen to damage the honour of the man who negotiates the marriage and who can expect a bride price in return for handing her over to a spouse.

Oh, the things we take for granted.

And let's not kid ourselves about this -- yes, there are many Muslims who will say that arranged marriages and honor killings are un-Islamic.

And, after you subtract out al-taqqiyah, many of them truthfully believe that.

Yet, it is the people with the most backwards beliefs who are trying to spread their beliefs with the most wonton violence.

If Islamic militants get their way, all women will be veiled, subject to arranged marriages and honor killings.

And, yes -- the veil is a sign of a woman's subjugation to men in the Islamic world.

Frequently fathers bring charges of zina (unlawful sexual relations) against daughters who have married men of their choice, alleging that they are not validly married. But even when such complaints are before the courts, some men resort to private justice. According to local press reports, Sher Bano, for example, was murdered outside a court in Peshawar. She had earlier eloped with a man she wanted to marry but was arrested on charges of zina. On 6 August 1997, when she emerged under police guard from the court room after submitting her bail application, her brother shot her dead.

Women who are disowned by a family over a marriage are cut loose from their social moorings and become vulnerable to exploitation. R. [name withheld] told Amnesty International that at the age of 15 or 16 she married a man from another tribe against her family's wishes. Three years later her husband verbally divorced her. Her family had threatened to kill her for marrying a man of her choice, so she had nowhere to go. She took up begging. Eight years later she married another man but one day was recognized by her first husband who wanted her to work for him as a beggar. He threatened to bring charges of zina against her for living with another man as he denied having divorced her. She was arrested by police. The local wadera (landlord) intervened and had her brought before a magistrate who sent her to the Hyderabad Darul Aman, a government-run women’s shelter. She does not know what will happen to her next.

It is an evil system.

Satta-watta marriages, which involve exchange of siblings, put an additional burden on women to abide by their father's marriage arrangements. Shaheen was allegedly set on fire by her husband Anwar in Gujjarpura in December 1998 in a satta-watta context. Their marriage had run into trouble. Anwar wanted to send Shaheen back to her parents, Shaheen's brother, married to Anwar's sister, refused to send his wife home as well. Anwar found no other way to remove his shame than to kill his wife.

An evil system....

Often women choosing a spouse are abducted and not heard of again. At the time of writing this report, the whereabouts of Uzma Talpur who had married Nasir Rajput against her father's wishes in November 1998 were unknown. Police arrested the couple in November on the charge of Nasir Rajput's abduction of Uzma and charges of zina [fornication] against both partners despite their being validly married. In December, police handed the young woman over to her family but when her husband filed a constitutional petition in the Sindh High Court for the release of his wife from parental custody, they claimed that she had been abducted by unknown men from the court premises. In June 1999, police stated before the High Court that such an abduction had not taken place. The High Court ordered a general search for her.

Honour killings of women seeking divorce

Women who have sought divorce through the courts have been attacked, injured or killed. Seeking divorce is seen as an act of public defiance that calls for punitive action to restore male honour within the traditional setting.

On 6 April 1999, 29-year-old Samia Sarwar, a mother of two young sons, was shot dead in her lawyer's office in Lahore. She was murdered apparently because her mother and her husband's mother are sisters and Samia's attempt to divorce a husband she described to her lawyer as severely abusive, was seen to shame the family. In the 10 years of her marriage, Samia had suffered high levels of domestic violence. In 1995 she returned to her family home after her husband had thrown her down some stairs when she was pregnant. Samia fled to Lahore on 26 March 1999, seeking help in the law firm AGHS and taking refuge in the women's shelter Dastak run by AGHS lawyers. The lawyers included Hina Jilani and Asma Jahangir, who is currently UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, arbitrary and summary executions and then chairperson of the HRCP. On 6 April, when Samia Sarwar was at her lawyer's office, Samia's mother arrived accompanied by Samia's uncle and a driver. The driver shot Samia in the head, killing her instantly.

The fact that the killing was carried out in the presence of well-known lawyers indicates that the perpetrators were convinced they were doing the right thing, were not afraid of publicity and felt no need to hide their identity as they felt sure that the state would not hold them to account. They were right. Despite a First Information Report (FIR, the report filed by the complainants with police which initiates a police investigation) filed the same day, nominating Samia’s father, mother and uncle for murder, no one has yet been arrested.

Newspapers in the North West Frontier Province reported that the public overwhelmingly supported the killing, with many arguing that since it was in accordance with tradition it could not be a crime. The Chamber of Commerce in Peshawar, of which Samia's father is President, and several religious organizations demanded that Hina Jilani and Asma Jahangir be dealt with in accordance with "tribal and Islamic law" and be arrested for "misleading women in Pakistan and contributing to the country's bad image abroad". Fatwas [religious rulings] were issued against both women and head money was promised to anyone who killed them. In April 1999 Asma Jahangir lodged a FIR with police against those who had threatened her and her sister with death. Simultaneously, she called on the government to set up a judicial inquiry headed by a Supreme Court judge to investigate almost 300 cases of honour killings reported in 1998 in Pakistan. No action is known to have been taken on either issue.

That they "be dealt with in accordance with 'tribal and Islamic law'" -- Islamic law....Up jumps the devil!

On 11 May, Samia’s father lodged a complaint with Peshawar police accusing the two women lawyers with the abduction and murder of Samia. They obtained bail before arrest. A month later, the Peshawar High Court admitted their petition to quash the case and ordered police not to take any adverse action against the lawyers on the basis on this complaint.

Lawyers who specialize in Islamic law... and we complain about our attorneys!

Stay tuned!

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