After the ghastly incident of the gang rape of two dalit (untouchable) sisters in Katra, Uttar Pradesh, whereby they were violated — with the connivance of police officials — and found swinging dead from a tree, we in Pakistan consoled ourselves by thinking such an abhorrence could not happen here. Well, we can scrap that bit of naivety. Reinforcing the notion that women are little less than chattel to be done with as pleased by the men in this patriarchal society, a 21-year-old woman has been found raped and hanging dead from in a tree in Layyah district, Punjab, on Friday. The girl’s fiancé has allegedly been taken into police custody for the gruesome crime after admitting he killed her because she refused to have sex with two of his friends. The heinous crime further confirms the fact that India and Pakistan have one very strong bond and thread in common: savage treatment of women.
What we are seeing in Pakistan of late is not just a continuation of the perpetuation of violence against women, we are witnessing an increasing amount of hostility and hate against the fairer sex. Does anyone need reminding of the brazen daylight murder of a 25-year-old pregnant woman — Ferzana Parveen — by stoning, carried out by the male members of her family right in front of the Lahore High Court (LHC)? That was a shocking incident but what makes it even worse is the fact that it occurred on a crowded street in the presence of a large number of people, including police personnel. No one intervened to stop the father, fiancé and brother of the girl from killing her in such a barbaric manner right in front of the doors of ‘justice’. Do we really hate our women that much? Or how about the latest incident of police brutality in Lahore where police officers opened fire on a group of unarmed Tahirul Qadri supporters, two of whom were women, one of them pregnant — usually a condition that would stop all forms of violence against a woman and her unborn child? How about the many women murdered in the name of misguided ‘honour’ for doing nothing worse than wanting to marry of their own accord and not be bartered off to settle family disputes. The sorry fact is that we just do not know the actual number of women who are disposed off in this way because most victims never make it to the news. Reports cite as many as 1,000 female honour deaths a year but that, one fears, is only the tip of the iceberg. Internationally, Pakistan is referred to as having an honour killing epidemic. What a shame indeed.
From India to Pakistan, it seems no woman is safe. New Delhi might be called the rape capital of the world but Pakistan has enough instances of rape, gang rape and acid attacks against women for it to give our neighbour some tough competition. To add to the deeply embedded discrimination against women, we have the likes of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) and other fundamentalist right-wingers who are agitating to roll back some of the small mercies women may enjoy through the Pakistan family laws. The CII wants to abolish the minimum age restriction for marriage and the need to ask the existing wife’s permission before taking on another wife. It is a sorry state that women find themselves in in the subcontinent, with male oppression and radical ideology clawing at them everywhere they turn. Successive governments have tried — albeit halfheartedly — to quell this tide of hate but what is needed is more awareness of women’s rights ingrained in the law and harsher punishments for those who treat women like animals. There really is no other way.