JUST when the shock at the last grotesque outrage begins to wear off, Pakistani society seems to throw up a new incident to recoil at. As reported in this paper, the Supreme Court on Friday came down hard on the Punjab administration over reports that a woman had been stoned to death in a village near Khanewal. Adding to the shocking — though, can it be termed as shock anymore? — Maryam Bibi, a 25-year-old mother, was lynched on the orders of a local panchayat. She had reportedly refused a landlord’s advances, which led to the man levelling questionable charges against her and to the woman’s eventual lynching in her own home. The incident reflects a frightening proclivity for violence on the flimsiest of contexts.
The negative role jirgas and panchayats have played in Pakistan, particularly where the abuse of women is concerned, is no great secret. Going on the available facts of this incident, this sort of twisted system of ‘justice’ punishes women even if they try and defend themselves from rape and assault. Passing laws and making commissions is great, but two major steps need to be taken to check incidents such as these. Firstly, the specific laws regarding human and women’s rights must be taken up in a methodical way. This includes punishing police and administration officials who look the other way or are complicit in the crime by protecting ‘influential’ suspects. For example, in this case the apex court has censured the police for not taking action despite knowing about the crime. Secondly, a social catharsis and rebirth of sorts is needed — difficult as it may be. It would be a slow process and would require civil society, politicians, community leaders and the clergy working together to end such crimes. The road towards eradicating violence in the name of tradition in Pakistan is long and bumpy. Yet the state and society cannot sit idle and must act to ensure incidents such as the one in Khanewal do not occur in this country, while those responsible for the woman’s murder must be punished.