Gulmina Bilal Ahmad
A country where a simple law on domestic violence cannot be passed because of the resistance put up by the so-called religious parties, says it all
Weddings are supposed to be occasions for celebration and joy; at least that was the case until now. Especially in our culture, they are colourful events where friends and family members meet and share the happiness of a holy matrimony. But now, I will have to think twice before rejoicing at any wedding. The law of the land in Kohistan, propagated by the mullahs, forbids this and the penalty is nothing less than death. Kohistan has been able to make headlines twice this year already and both times with a notorious aspect. First was February, when 18 Shia were shot dead in a sectarian target killing of horrendous proportions. Currently, the issue of a jirga handing down a death sentence to five women and two men for singing and dancing at a wedding has emerged. What is more perplexing about the situation is that due to an information black hole present in the area, varying accounts and statements are being presented. These range from denial of any such decree by the jirga to claims that the accused have already been executed.
Government again seems to be sitting on the sidelines as a mere spectator, waiting for something to happen. In the case of Kohistan, the ministries of human rights and women development seem to be numb. The apex court has taken notice due to the outrage created in the media and have ordered the women to be produced in court. Unfortunately, it might be too late for the people involved, especially women, caught in the eye of the storm. Government is finally sending a fact finding mission to the area and by the time this article is printed, perhaps the fate of the five women will be clear to the world. After watching the video, I fail to understand how the accused tarnished the images of their family. If someone is to be held responsible, it might as well be the person who uploaded the video on the Internet. Is honour only associated with women and are women only responsible for tarnishing it? Unfortunately, again I find that women are being specifically targeted and this is not an isolated event in Kohistan; many such examples can be found throughout society. Women are being led to the sacrificial altar for the sake of pretentious honour.
In fact, every day one may find news emanating from various parts of the country where women are being subjected to violence. In another corner of Pakistan called Pakpattan, far away from Kohistan, a father (if he deserves to be called that), clubbed his daughter to death in the name of honour. These and I believe many other stories, which do not make it to the news, illustrate the extent of gender-based violence. Actually, these so-called elders and religious clerics have tarnished the image of our country, our society and even our religion. The image which is being portrayed depicts our society to be consisting of barbarians, who have no regard for life. The decadent customs, lack of education and a male-dominated mindset have resulted in this deteriorated situation. A country where a simple law on domestic violence cannot be passed because of the resistance put up by the so-called religious parties, says it all. Countering the issue of domestic violence is considered to be promotion of ‘western culture in the Islamic state’. There is nothing Islamic about domestic violence, honour killings or any other form of violence, as is being portrayed by these mullahs. The teachings of Islam are quite opposite to what these Taliban apologists preach to their followers.
Honour killings, rape, domestic violence, forced marriages are all prevalent and during 2010, at least 8,000 cases on violence against women were reported. These are actually measures that are carried out by the local jirga and panchait as part of their justice system. As I have mentioned earlier, there are many such cases, which are brushed under the carpet and these have only been the number of reported cases. Most of the times victims and their families are reluctant to approach the justice system because of the taboos created in the society. A country where the democratically elected parliament is unable to address and counter the issue of domestic violence, how can a lonely victim ask for justice for the violence inflicted upon her? In fact, the absence and void of a fully functioning legal and justice system in various parts of the country contribute to the situation. The victim’s demands for her rights are also considered a part of the cultural imperialism where the local customs might be challenged. The women are being increasingly secluded; their representation in various professions and participation in the development of the country has remained at a minimum. There have been individual role models and success stories for women where they are pilots, police officers and represented in the parliament, but there is also a mammoth dark side where women are buried alive for violating local traditions.
Kohistan is only a single case that came into the limelight due to national and international media’s attention. We might not know the five women accused and perhaps, killed by their names, but they do have a face, which is being broadcasted to every household. Again, I would stress, what about the several other such cases where victims remain unknown and have no name or face. The stories never surface because they are either not newsworthy or the families and the victims have accepted it as their fate. The media may give some of the victims an identity, but in the end the responsibility lies with the pillars of the state for not only providing justice to these victims but also to prevent the occurrence of such acts further. Religio-political parties have taken the entire system as a hostage and are manipulating the issue of women rights. The citizens will have to create the required pressure on their elected representatives so they may take the initiative on the challenges facing women.
The writer is a development consultant and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org