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A dishonourable tradition

The burying alive on July 13 of five women in Balochistan – three teenaged girls for allegedly wanting to have a marriage of choice in consonance with Islamic law, and two older ones for intervening to stop the gruesome act – has utterly shocked anyone with civilised sensibilities and respect for human life. No less shocking is the fact that two of the province’s senators from the privileged tribal background have been brazenly defending the incident.

First, it was Mir Israrullah Zehri who termed it a part of 700-year-old tribal traditions that needed to be protected. The Mir warned against any attempt to change the tradition. Obviously, he would not like any threat to the status quo and hence the immensely advantaged position he and other tribal chieftains and their families enjoy.

He has unwittingly identified, though, the reason responsible for the horrible practice, and also its solution, which is one big leap for Balochistan from the tribal order to one of economic modernisation. Another Baloch Senator, Jan Mohammad Jamali, senior enough to serve as Acting Chairman of the upper house while the Chairman is away occupying the president’s office till the presidential election, vented anger at the media for giving “out of proportion” importance to the incident.

Said he, “The media gave the matter such a colour as if heavens have fallen.” Such callous disregard for human life is deeply reprehensible. It amply demonstrates why there is nothing to be proud of in the 700-year-old tribal traditions that Mir Zehri wants to preserve even though they directly clash with Islamic teachings as well as the law of the land.

Sad as it is, the incident is not the first of its kind. The so-called honour killings have gone on unabated in Balochistan’s tribal culture and in the interior of Sindh where feudal customs and traditions are most dominant. In the feudal and tribal cultures family honour is a convenient tool with which women can be killed or given away in grossly mismatched marriages – as in the ‘vani’ custom – to enemies by way of an appeasement gesture.

Unfortunately, leaders of our religion-oriented political parties tend to condone these anti-Islam, anti human practices with a deafening silence. The loudest voices of protest in the present case have come from civil society and rights groups, while the ‘Maulanas’ have shown little interest in it. As a matter of fact, such killings were treated as normal practice until the media started reporting them and a general sense of horror they created in the public mind.

A while ago, the government felt compelled to respond to the situation with the enactment of a law under which the so-called honour killings were to be treated as plain murder. In the present case, too, it was a media report that brought the case to light and then the Balochistan High Court took suo motu notice of it, ordering an inquiry. Hence Senator Jamali is miffed at the media. The media people, of course, have only been doing their duty of reporting facts.

If those facts look bad to him while sitting in Islamabad, they should look bad too in the places where they occur. Meantime, versions of the story have changed, including that the number of victims was two, not five, and that it was not a case of honour killings but involved a property grab.

Which is unsurprising given that many of the so-called honour killings in Sindh have often been traced to property issues. The PPP-led government at the Centre, also a part of the ruling alliance in Balochistan, must ensure that whosoever is involved, directly or indirectly, is brought to justice.

Since some of the accused are believed to be politically influential, the government must not allow exigencies of power to prevent it from doing the right thing. For now it must extend the necessary assistance to the Human Rights Commission as well as women’s rights groups to visit the scene of the crime and establish the truth independent of the police inquiry.
Source: Business Recorder
Date:9/5/2008

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