By: Azmat Abbas
The unanimous approval of bills against honour killing and rape by a joint session of parliament might serve as a cloak of pride for the ruling party, but is there any guarantee that it would aid in addressing the issue of killing of women for “honour” and rape, in a patriarchal society as ours?
Initially tabled by a former member of the Senate, Sughra Imam, the bills were moved in the joint session by Pakistan Peoples’ Party Senator Farhatullah Babar and carried the backing of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his cabinet. The bill on anti-honour killing makes it difficult for the family to pardon the accused while the anti-rape bill makes it difficult for a perpetrator to escape punishment. However, the implementation of the new bills would require the unequivocal support of the legislature, additional financial resources and a change in the mindset of the law enforcement agencies at the grassroots level and the society in general.
The anti-honour killing bill makes it tougher for a perpetrator to escape punishment and if found guilty could face death penalty. However, it would not be possible for the family to pardon the accused and once convicted and awarded capital punishment, the bill grants the right to the victim’s family to pardon the killer, which would commute the punishment from hanging till death to 12 and a half years in prison. This raises questions as to what would stop the family from not terming it a case of honour killing in the first place. With limited chances of seeking family pardon under the new bill, what would stop the perpetrator from pleading family dispute as the motive or increase in corruption at the time of FIR registration? Similarly, the bill on anti-rape promises a verdict within three months and makes DNA test a mandatory part of the investigation. The government needs to figure out how the evidence would be gathered from remote areas in the absence of basic medical facilities, necessary equipment or trained staff when there are perhaps a handful of reliable facilities for DNA testing in the country. Also, in the absence of a supportive mechanism, the promise of a verdict in three months appears more of a political slogan than a sincere intent.
As the parliamentarians patted one another on the back and congratulated the prime minister for his “practical” demonstration of aggressive stance on women’s rights, the member of National Assembly from Muzaffargarh, Jamshed Khan Dasti, criticised the bills arguing that parliament has been subdued by the American NGOs and their Jewish agenda. Dasti is not alone in his approach, while he was expressing displeasure inside parliament at steps aimed at improving the status of the women, a police official from his home district was accusing a woman of “drinking acid” and laying the blame on her husband and in-laws. The case is fabricated, claimed the investigating officer while talking to the scribe, insisting that the woman “put a drop of acid” on her tongue to frame her “innocent” husband and father-in-law for attempt to kill. He blamed the media for highlighting the case resulting in action against the accused and ignored that fact that the woman remained hospitalised for several days due to acid burns on her tough and mouth. The police officer expressed his “resolve” to see justice done. He said that by the time he was done with his investigation, no bill for protection or any other law would be able to keep the “innocent” husband and father-in-law in prison.
It would be a miracle if the recently passed bill would make a difference in the presence of such a mindset that not only condones but encourages violence against women. It’s not the promulgation of new laws that would benefit the women in the long term, it’s the strict enforcement and necessary amendments to existing ones and a concerted effort to change the mindset that would help. A first step could be to amend the law of evidence and grant more reliance on circumstantial evidence, as opposed to direct evidence, which in cases of honour killing and rape is a often difficult to establish. Indeed there is no honour in honour killing, as the prime minister said on the floor of the house, but does the police investigating officer of a remote village in Jatoi, Muzaffargarh, feel the same?