ISLAMABAD: Holding the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) responsible for the rise in incidents of violence against women, senators on Thursday called for making murders in the name of ‘honour’ a “non-compoundable” offence.
During a discussion on the death of 18-year-old Zeenat Rafiq, who was burnt alive by her mother in Lahore, the senators said ‘honour’ killings would continue as long as parliament failed to legislate to make such murders non-compoundable.
For the first time in parliamentary history, the Senate suspended its proceedings for five minutes to “sensitise” society and – as Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani called it – provide a shock to society over such incidents.
At the outset of the session, Mr Rabbani drew the attention of the house towards the incident, in which a young woman was killed by her mother on Wednesday for marrying a man of her own choosing. The chairman condemned the incident, and referred it to the house functional committee on human rights to suggest legislation.
During the discussion that followed, Opposition Leader Aitzaz Ahsan and Farhatullah Babar of the PPP called for abolishing the CII, saying that “the anti-woman bias of the CII as expressed in its recommendations and pronouncements” allowing violence against women had “contributed to crimes against women with impunity”.
The CII is currently being led by Maulana Mohammad Khan Sherani of the JUI-F. A number of JUI-F members, including Deputy Chairman Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, were present in the house when the PPP senators spoke against the council, but remained silent, realising the sensitivity of the matter.
Mr Babar also called for the urgent adoption of a bill against ‘honour’ killing that had been moved by former PPP senator Sughra Imam. The bill was passed unanimously by all the political parties in the Senate in March last year, but was not passed in the recent joint session for want of a consensus.
Mr Babar said it was beyond comprehension that the bill was opposed by some of the very parties in the joint sitting of parliament that voted for it in the Senate.
He said the CII had lost its relevance as well as its constitutional basis, and called for examining the validity of its continued existence and the submission of annual reports to parliament.
Mr Ahsan said it was painful to see a woman “burning” her own daughter and having no regret over the act. He said the 14 alleged killers of Ambreen, a woman who was burnt alive in Abbottabad last month, had been arrested but the suspects were putting pressure on her father.
He feared that soon all the alleged killers would be roaming free, taking advantage of the weakness of the country’s laws.
He also criticised the government for allocating Rs100 million for the CII. He said council members could see nothing except women, and supported Mr Babar’s assertion that the council should be abolished because it had no constitutional or legal standing.
In other developed nations, he said, individuals were being given importance whereas in “our society we are still killing women and children in the name of honour for family or tribes”.
He asked the government to convene the joint sitting of parliament within a day or two, to pass the bill against ‘honour’ killings. He added that there were still people sitting in parliament who were opposed to the bill.
“Had the bill been passed, the killers of Ambreen, Zeenat and Maria might have been convicted,” he said, referring to three victims of recent ‘honour’ killings. He expressed the hope that religious parties may review their decision on the bill after this latest incident.
The bill against ‘honour’ killings, which was passed by the Senate, could not get through the joint sitting after it was opposed by religious parties, mainly the JUI-F and Jamaat-i-Islami. However, last year, JUI-F members pilled their votes in support of the bill.
In an apparent reference to Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s recent documentary of ‘honour’ killings, PPP’s Sherry Rehman said the prime minister had seen the film on ‘honour’ killings, and Pakistan had received an Oscar for it, but the bill to prevent the crime was still pending before parliament.
Leader of the House Raja Zafarul Haq said he had supported Sughra Imam’s bill in the Senate and as a member of the committee as well. He also called for early legislation on the matter, before it was too late.
Mr Haq said the incidents of the ‘honour’ killings had now acquired a “viral stage”. He was of the view that the number of ‘honour’ killing incidents which did not come to the light could be higher.
However, he gave no assurance if the government would convene the joint sitting of parliament to pass the bill that would make ‘honour’ killing a non-compoundable offence.