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Pakistan ought to bury the male chauvinist tribal customs

Five women buried alive, allegedly by the brother of a minister

Sunday 31 August 2008, by siawi

Book the defenders of Honour Killings

A compliation of media editorials, commentary, protests and appeals from a human and womens’ rights organisations [new update on 4 September 2008]

Contents:

  • Murders and musings (Sarah Humayun)
  • No ’honour’ in killing (Beena Sarwar)
  • Celebrating the ’culture’ of burying women alive (Farzana Bari and Sarwar Bari)
  • Buried truth? (Editorial, The News)
  • WHRD: demand the end to killing of women Stop killing women human rights defenders
  • Stop killing women (The News)
  • Defending barbarism (Editorial, The Post)
  • Dark ’Traditions’ (Editorial, The News)
  • Jahalat: There is No Honor in Murder; Criminality is not Culture (Adil Najam and Owais Mughal)
  • Asian Human Rights Commission - Urgent Appeal

Murders and musings

by Sarah Humayun (Daily Times, September 04, 2008)

It would mean little to establish in theory whether the murder of the women was justified in terms of tribal tradition or condemnable in terms of the law of the land. If the law could be enforced without hesitation or hindrance in the land, our situation would be very different

As I write this article, I have fresh in my mind a discussion on the murder and alleged live burial of five women in Naseerabad which was on tv. Senators Yasmin Shah and Israrullah Zehri, the two individuals who have taken emblematic positions in the controversy, were part of the programme hosted by Qatrina Hussain. It was at once in the thick of thorny questions.

The murders had been brought to notice by Senator Shah. Senator Zehri had earlier defended the murders as tribal tradition. In the programme, he did not appear to be positively advocating the tradition, but reiterated that it was, nevertheless, tradition. Take it or leave it.

When reminded that he himself had undertaken an oath to uphold the law of the land and not of the tribe, he reminded the moderator in turn of the distance between Balochistan, which he represents, and the rest of the land. When asked how tribal customs fared vis-à-vis the demands of human rights, his riposte was that scant regard was shown to those very rights in the military operations conducted in Balochistan (if I understood him correctly). The implication was that much was being made of this and little of that.

What the Senator said was unconvincing. It was in some respects strictly condemnable. But it was clear that this is an argument that the senator can neither win nor lose. Nor can his opponents.

It would mean little to establish in theory whether the murder of the women was justified in terms of tribal tradition or condemnable in terms of the law of the land. If the law could be enforced without hesitation or hindrance in the land, our situation would be very different. I would be inclined to assume that, in Lahore, most people’s instinctive reaction would be that the murders are intolerable. But enough people have shown discomfort in outrightly condemning them to tell us that these assumptions are a little cavalier.

The hesitation in enforcing the law, what some might call its weakness; the distance between ‘tribal’ and ‘urban’ Pakistan — between a place where tradition is the last word in justice and a place which conforms to, or at least tries to conform to, standards of human rights and constitutional justice — these cannot be wished away by winning an argument. And we all know too well that the tribal can exist in the heart of the urban. In some places it may not be so much a compulsion to act in certain ways as a claim that is open to people to make.

What then can be adequate to finding a ground of common understanding? I certainly cannot hope to offer an answer, but I think it is important to think about this, as well as to protest and to call for action. Justice should be seen to be done, but enough people have watched the enfolding debate with the uneasy sense that Senator Zehri and others are not convinced that anybody else’s justice is justice.

We can of course dismiss it as a case of simple vested interests, but that would be partly to avoid the issue. For it is not by accident that certain interests are vested in certain things. For instance, women’s honour, women’s right to self-disposition, women’s desires.

As I watched the programme, I felt that different sorts of horror were at work. One was a horror that the murdered females were not being acknowledged human: is this not self-evident; how can it not be? Another was sexual horror — how can a man bear to catch his wife in the act? This, offered by Senator Zehri, was specially interesting as there has so been no indication that the women were caught in the act. Three of them, admittedly very young, wanted to marry of their own will, and the two elder women apparently protested their treatment at the hands of their male relatives. There was no ‘wife in the act’. But there was, presumably, a horror of it.

Then there is the whole question of the manner of their death. Were they tortured? Buried alive, as was first held? Were their burial rites performed? Part of effort of the ‘cover-up’ job that is being alleged is to dissociate the murders from their terrible manner, to make them cleaner, as it were. Not burying alive in an effort to bury alive. Not dishonoured even beyond death.

Why, finally, does the question of a woman as a loving, desiring, self-giving creature make people so uncomfortable? Is it because if she can want something, she can also not want it? Is it because a sanitised exchange is better, where desire is not involved?

I am reminded here of two of Shakespeare’s plays, Othello and TheWinter’s Tale, where jealous husbands murder their wives, wives who married them for love, for no very good reason — except perhaps that what they had given they can also take away.

Hermione in the Winter’s Tale is returned to her husband Leontes at the end of the play as a stone statue, which then miraculously comes alive. There has been suffering, there has been repentance. But why, you wonder, stone? Stoning is also a way of punishing adultery, a way that seems shockingly oblivious to pain. And here’s Wittgenstein in the Philosophical Investigations: ‘Could one imagine a stone’s having consciousness? And if anyone can do so — why should that not merely prove that such image-mongery is of no interest to us’.

The writer is former Assistant Op-Ed Editor of Daily Times and loves to find affinities in objects where no brotherhood exists to common minds

No ’honour’ in killing

by Beena Sarwar (The News, September 03, 2008)

Given the multiple issues facing Pakistanis, the last thing we surely need is for a legislator to defend a heinous crime in the name of tradition or custom. We don’t need the heinous crime either, in this case the murder of women who were apparently defying their families by trying to marry of their own choice.

The resistance of conservative families to expressions of autonomy by their daughters is an ongoing problem in patriarchal, conservative societies like ours. Some parents accept their children’s wishes. Others submit to the inevitable, cutting off inheritance or refusing to meet them. In Pakistan, some misuse the legal system to gain submission, filing cases of zina (adultery) against daughters who elope, preferring to see them tried for a crime punishable by death rather than married to someone ’unsuitable’. Others resort to physical violence, locking up the erring child without food, cutting off all communication in an effort to gain submission. In the most extreme cases, some family member uses a gun, a knife or an axe to end the defiance once and for all — termed a ’crime of passion’ in much of the world. Here, it is called ’honour killing’.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan recorded over 600 cases of ’honour’ killings or karo kari last year – just the reported incidents, compiled from reports appearing daily in the media. The actual number may be higher, as not all cases are reported. Is the violence actually rising or is it just that the media is reporting such cases with greater frequency? The media boom is certainly instrumental in bringing more such stories to light. However, such cases may also be on the rise because of emerging conflicts within a rapidly modernising conservative, patriarchal society where women are traditionally seen as family property and the repositories of honour.

Greater exposure to media and more education leads to a heightened awareness of human rights issues. Those who defy the old order have greater support – legal, moral, and financial — from various non-government and even some government organisations.

Pitted against these developments are conservative elements fearful of their culture and traditions changing before their eyes, who then seek to codify ’culture’ and ’tradition’, until now fairly amorphous. This may be the context of the inexcusable justification that Senator Israrullah Zehri of the BNP presented in defence of the brutal murders reported in his home province Balochistan: five women reportedly beaten, shot and then buried alive for defying their families.

This is hardly the first time that culture and tradition, or even religion, were used to justify violence and suppression of women. The prosecuting lawyer in the Samia Waheed ’love marriage case’ argued that in the sect of Islam to which Samia belonged, a woman must seek the wali or guardian’s approval to marry “even if she is sixty years old”. Although she won the case, fearful for her life, she fled abroad along with the man she had eloped with.

Samia Sarwar wasn’t so lucky. The young woman from Peshawar had left her abusive, drug-dependent husband. Her parents accepted that but drew the line at her intention to divorce him and re-marry. She took refuge at a women’s shelter in Lahore. In April 1999, her mother asked to meet Saima at AGHS, the office of her attorney Hina Jilani, arriving with a manservant. As Saima entered the room, he pulled out a pistol and shot her dead. Her mother escaped in a rickshaw but a plainclothes policeman at AGHS shot the murderer dead as he left the office. Upstairs, the victim’s petite black-clad body lay on the floor by Hina Jilani’s desk, a bullet lodged in the wall behind it.

What many found astounding was that Saima’s parents were not some illiterate people from a remote tribal area, but educated, influential, city dwellers. The father was a businessman who had headed the Peshawar Chamber of Commerce and Industry while the mother was a gynaecologist.

Then too, the issue had been raised in the Senate, when former law minister Iqbal Haider initiated a resolution against the murder. Like Israrullah Zehri of the BNP, a secular, nationalist party, Ajmal Khattak, the supposedly progressive leader of the ANP, a party with similar credentials, had shouted Mr Haider down. He held that Samia Sarwar had disgraced her family who had acted according to Pakhtun tradition. Some senators from FATA physically attacked Mr Haider. Only four senators stood in support of the resolution: the PPP’s Iqbal Haider, Aitzaz Ahsan, then leader of opposition in the Senate, the late Hussain Shah Rashdi, and the MQM’s Jamiluddin Aali. Twenty-four Senators including now-presidential-candidate Mushahid Hussain Syed, and luminaries like Javed Iqbal and Akram Zaki stood to oppose it.

Flash forward to another democratic era barely a decade later. Another horrific murder, another voice raised in the Senate (this time by a woman), and another Senator’s justification in the name of tradition.

Whether the women were buried alive or whether they were already dead when buried is beside the point. First of all, no one has the right to take another life. Second, the women’s ’crime’ (to want to marry of their own choice) was no crime under any law or religion. Third, even if murdering women who disgrace their families is accepted in some areas, not every aggrieved family resorts to such action. And fourth but not least, slavery too was once a widely accepted custom. So was the burying alive of baby girls. Neither practice is condoned now, in any way, anywhere in the world.

Interestingly, both these Senate debates for and against the murder of women for ’honour’ took place after particularly gruesome crimes committed under a democratic dispensation. This is certainly not because there was less gender violence when the military was at the helm of affairs. Violence against women has risen over the last decade. It was at its peak under Gen Ziaul Haq and his discriminatory ’religious’ laws that strengthened reactionary forces and reinforced negative stereotypes about women. But democracy, with elected representatives answerable to their constituencies, opens up spaces to discuss and debate such issues rather than sweeping them under the carpet, going beyond knee-jerk responses like incident-specific legislation such as that enacted after the public denuding and humiliation of women in the infamous Nawabpur case of 1984.

Some would prefer not to discuss such issues because this ’brings a bad name to the country’ (or province). They need to ask themselves who is responsible: those who perpetuate the violence, or those who are its victims? What would make us a better, stronger nation: dealing with the issue, or burying it in the sand?

The writer is an independent journalist and documentary filmmaker. Email: beena.sarwar gmail.com

Celebrating the ’culture’ of burying women alive

by Dr Farzana Bari and Sarwar Bari (The News, September 03, 2008)

In the midst of massive political, economic and social crisis faced by the country, the shocking news of the barbaric incident of burying five women alive in the name of tribal honour in the district Nasirabad, Balochistan, and the subsequent defence of the brutal act as the Baloch tradition in the Senate by Israrullah Zehri and Jan Mohammad Jamali, has made many think that with such a misogynist and criminal mindset of our public representatives, what hope do we have to survive as a nation and pull ourselves out of multiple crises. The response of the senators from Balochistan is a repeat of the response of Ajmal Khattak of the ANP and some other members of the senate who defended the “honour killing” of Samia Imran by her family in 1991 as the Pukhtun tradition.

The way provincial government tried to cover up the incident and manipulated the local administration and the law enforcement agencies because of the alleged involvement of Abdus Sattar Umrani, a brother of Sadiq Umrani, provincial minister of housing shows that there is no hope for justice for the poor and women as long as tribal, feudal and monied classes continue to dominate the social and political structures of our country. Due to the involvement of tribal influential in the gory incident, no FIR was registered. It was only after one and a half month that the Balochistan High Court took a suo moto action and ordered the registration of a FIR. However, the Quetta High Court has already disposed of the case as DPOs and the local administration denied that any such incidents took place in the area. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) investigated the case and brought irrefutable evidence to the public attention to prove that this human tragedy did in fact take place. They have already sent the case with all the supporting evidence to the United Nations Court of Human Rights. Our Senate finally passed a resolution to condemn the incident and has set up an inquiry committee to investigate the case. However, no one from the civil society or human rights organisations is invited to be on this committee.

The public uproar regarding the incident and the statements made by the two Baloch Senators, is highly justified. However it is important for us to understand why the male elite in tribal, feudal and sardari cultures is so obsessed with controlling women’s lives and their sexuality. This will help to come up with a more informed and comprehensive response to such incidents.

It must be understood that gender and class are the two key organising principles in the social and cultural formation of tribal, feudal and capitalist societies. The dual system of exploitation and oppression works in tandem. The hierarchy in gender relations cuts across class lines and men irrespective of their class position directly benefit from the subordinate status of women. Therefore, when the tribal and feudal lords exercise their absolute power by doling out the most inhuman punishment to protect cultural norms and traditions that help to keep women under the control of men, they get the support of the majority of men and some women who subscribe to masculine thinking from their communities and tribes. By reinforcing and recreating the gender status quo they acquire the legitimacy for their authority and absolute power to maintain other social hierarchies of class and social differences. Since gender inequalities reinforce class formations, it becomes absolutely critical for local power elite to ensure that no threat is posed to the existing gender status quo in their culture.

That is why any challenge to the gender status quo in these areas is taken far more seriously and is considered more threatening to the local culture than any other challenge coming from other sections of the society. That is why in the case of transgression of the local traditions and customs, the most inhuman and barbaric punishments are awarded to women to teach them and others a lesson. This is done so that no one dares to speak or challenge the tribal and feudal status-quo by taking a decision about their own lives again.

Also, it is equally important to understand why these male politicians especially belonging to tribal and feudal regions enjoy so much impunity and make such chauvinistic statements on the floor of the parliament without any fear and public reprimand. One of the reasons is that women are considered neither a constituency nor a vote bank by these politicians. Women are not autonomous citizens who are free to exercise even their right to vote with their own free will, therefore, the politicians do not take them seriously.

Political parties secure women votes indirectly through the male members of their families. Therefore, male politicians are often more concerned to represent and protect the interests of men in their constituency as they face no political consequences by ignoring women voters and their concerns.

The deeper conceptual understanding of gender based crimes such as the recent incident of five women buried alive in Balochistan demands a much more comprehensive and structural response from the public and the state in order to prevent and protect women from gender based violence and crimes.

Our first immediate demand should be the impartial professional inquiry and investigation of the case and then bringing the culprits to justice. The most stringent punishment should be awarded to those who will be found to be involved in committing this heinous crime. In past experiences when inquiry committees were formed and suo moto notices were taken on the violation of women’s rights there were no concrete results. A similar committee was constituted in the case of Samia Imran who was killed with the support of her mother in the office of AGHS in 1991. No one in her case has been given any punishment to-date as her father Sarwar Mohmand was a socially and politically influential man. He was the president of the Chamber of Commerce of Peshawar and thus managed to escape from the grip of the law. Therefore, it is suggested that if the government is serious in making this incident a test case, they must include representatives of women and human rights organisations in the inquiry committee. Also there should be a clear timeframe for this committee to submit its report and the conclusion of the case. Otherwise such inquiry committees have become to be known as delaying mechanisms to kill the matter.

Another important step is to immediately purge both houses of parliament from this misogynist tribal/feudal mindset. People who subscribe to such criminality, should be declared disqualified as they shame all of us. It is vital that the political parties take action against such legislators and cancel their party membership. Civil society organisations should not allow the case to rest, rather they should take it up in a court of law, as the statement made by Israrullah Zahri is in complete violation of article 25 of the Constitution. Both senators, Asrarualla Zahri and Jan Mohd Jamil, should be disqualified from the Senate.

Finally, it is high time that the government takes concrete steps to abolish the feudal and tribal systems in the country as this creates the structural basis for women’s vulnerabilities and all forms of violence against them. We need to remove structural barriers to gender quality and empower women socially, economically and politically so that they can emerge as a constituency whose interests cannot be dared to be ignored by the political parties and the power elite.

Farzana Bari is acting director of the Centre of Excellence in Gender Studies at Quaid-e-Azam University. Email: farzana comsats.net.pk. Sarwar Bari is national coordinator of the Pattan Development Organisation. Email: bari pattan.org

Buried truth?

Editorial, The News, September 3, 2008

The issue of the incident in Jaffarabad district in Balochistan, where five women were reportedly buried alive, has finally created a national furore. This of course is as things should be. Protests have been staged outside parliament over the remarks made by Senator Israrullah Zehri attempting to defend the gruesome ’honour’ killing as ’tribal custom’. Other leaders from Balochistan have denied such practices are a part of tradition.

But, sadly, even as the Senate passed a unanimous resolution condemning the incident and demanding punishment for its perpetrators, an attempt at a cover-up is on. The government presented an extremely dubious report before the Senate, stating three women and not five had been killed, that the incident involved a property dispute and was not a case of ’honour’ killing and that the women had been killed before being buried. The adviser on interior, perhaps realizing that all this sounded blatantly unbelievable given mounting evidence of the horrific event that had actually taken place, has conceded that this version based on local police accounts differs from the report by the IG and a full investigation is on. But an obvious attempt seems to be on to bury the truth, alongside the hapless women who met so terrible an end. The interior adviser himself shied away from making any reference to a live burial, focusing instead on ’honour’ killings that he emphasized also took place outside Balochistan. While three arrests have been made, including that of the fathers of the girls and the brother of two, and two bodies exhumed, authorities insist the brother of a PPP provincial minister was not involved. They have maintained media reports accusing him of playing a part in the whole sordid incident are inaccurate.

This is a distinct diversion from accounts from NGOs that have investigated the happening. People in Usta Muhammad, the principal town of Jaffarabad, had reported a vehicle with government number plates had been used to whisk away the three teenage girls – and possibly another woman accompanying them – from a hotel. They speak of a ’tribal influential’ being involved. It is thought the young women, all of them educated, who had chosen to exercise their lawful right to make their own choice in marriage, had come to the town to enter into court marriages with the men of their choosing. Many details, lost amidst various cover-ups, remain hazy. Police now say two and not five women were killed. Local people, in the village of Babakot where the event took place, are clearly too terrorized to talk. The arrested brother of two of the women killed has reportedly taken responsibility. This seems like a replication of the pattern seen in numerous ’honour’ killings, where a brother accepts blame, and is then ’forgiven’ by the father of the victim, thus ensuring that under the country’s Qisas and Diyat law his son escapes scot-free and no one is punished.

The fact that the Balochistan High Court has taken suo motu notice of the incident is good news. This raises some hope the truth will eventually emerge from amidst the sands in which an attempt is being made to bury it. The central government must ensure it participates fully in the effort to punish all those involved in the crime and join hands with civil society for this. The fact that in the first three months of this year, at least 90 women suffered ’honour’ killings according to the Aurat Foundation indicates how grave the problem is. Thousands are believed to have died over the past five years for the sake of family ’honour’. The 2005 law that set in place tougher penalties for such crimes remains poorly enforced. These are the wrongs a government, led till the end of this year by a woman in whose name it still speaks, must right. Attempting a cover-up would only add to the crime itself.

WHRD: demand the end to killing of women Stop killing women human rights defenders

Tuesday, 02 September 2008

Women human rights defender staged a protest demonstration in front of Karachi Press Club on Monday, 1 September 2008 to condemn the brutal act of burying five women alive in Balochistan on the pretext of ’Tribal Custom’. Holding placards inscribed with slogans such as ’Stop killing women’, Murder is no custom’ and ’No honour killing’, the protestors condemned the outrageous remarks of Senator Israrullah Zehri in the Senate to justify the abhorrent incident of burying women alive. The defender WHRDs urged the government to initiate a probe into the matter instantly and to stop violation of human rights in the name of traditional customs and punish the criminals involved in the matter.

Stop killing women

By our correspondent (The News, September 9, 2008)
Karachi

Women rights activists staged a protest demonstration in front of Karachi Press Club on Monday to condemn the brutal act of burying five women alive in Balochistan on the pretext of ‘Tribal Custom’.

Holding placards inscribed with slogans such as ‘Stop killing women’, Murder is no custom’ and ‘No honour killing’, the protestors condemned the outrageous remarks of Senator Israrullah Zehri in the Senate to justify the abhorrent incident of burying women alive.

The protestors were representing different rights groups and media channels, including South Asia Women in Media (SAWM), Shirkatgah, PILER, Women Action Forum (WAF) and others. They warned the senator who passed remarks during the Senate session, defending the tribal customs and urged him to ‘apologise or quit’. The activists urged the government to initiate a probe into the matter instantly, stop violation of human rights in the name of traditional customs and punish the criminals involved in the matter.

Furthermore, they called upon the Federal government and government of Balochistan not to turn a blind eye and ensure registration of the case against these murderers, their immediate arrest and prosecution without any further delay, fear or favour. The governments should also ensure that such stone-age inhuman and barbaric customs and practices are abolished forthwith, they urged. Denouncing the remarks of the senator on the floor of Senate, they said he must be punished for defending such a crime that is condemnable.

Defending barbarism

Editorial, The Post, August 31, 2008

It was shocking to see Senator Israrullah Zehri from Balochistan informing the Senate on Friday that the killing or burial of women alive for ‘honour’ is a tribal tradition and should not be portrayed negatively. Responding to Senator Yasmeen Shah’s statement on reports of five women being buried alive in Balochistan in the name of honour, Zehri asked members not to politicise the issue, as it was a matter of safeguarding the tribal traditions. The women, three of whom were teenagers, were first shot and then thrown into a ditch. It was reported that they were still breathing as their bodies were covered with rocks and mud, and their only ‘crime’ was that they wished to marry men of their own choosing. Senator Zehri had the guts to defend such heinous act and said, “These are centuries-old traditions and I will continue to defend them.” “Only those who indulge in immoral acts should be afraid,” Senator Zehri added. As it is, this is an outrageous statement and coming from a Senator, it is totally unacceptable. Defending barbarism in the name of tribal ‘justice’ is a crime in itself. The Baloch Senator must immediately apologise to the nation for making such a statement.

Hundreds of women die each year in Pakistan as a result of honour killings. Many of the killings go unreported and in almost all cases the perpetrators, who are often close family members, go unpunished. These so-called ‘honour’ killings are based on ignorance and disregard of morals and laws. If a lawmaker of this country thinks that these cruel acts should not be highlighted ‘negatively’ in public and are justified, the future of this country indeed is bleak. Senator Zehri’s statement bears testimony to the fact that ours is a patriarchal system where ‘customs’ and ‘rules’ are based on male chauvinism and there is a complete disregard for humanitarianism.

Pakistan is still a male-dominated society where women are treated like a non-entity. Over here, violence against women takes a dismaying variety of forms, from domestic abuse and rape to child marriages and honour killings. All are violations of the most fundamental human rights. This is because Pakistani women face systematic discrimination from entrenched power relations that perpetuate the almost universal subordination of females. This leaves them highly vulnerable to being harmed physically, sexually or psychologically by the men in their families and communities. They live in fear of torture and violence, their basic human rights ignored. Our women have long fought for their rights. Despite this, violence against women usually goes unpunished. The situation about status of women in Pakistan is very bleak despite the allocation of 33 percent seats to women in parliament. Despite the presence of a law and the Women’s Protection Act, the incidents of violence against women have not decreased. The patriarchal mindset of society is full of refusal to recognise women as equal human beings deserving of equality, human rights and justice.

Raising awareness of the issue of violence against women, and educating boys and men to view women as valuable partners in life, in the development of a society and in the attainment of peace are just as important as taking legal steps to protect women’s human rights. Breaking the cycle of abuse will require concerted collaboration and action between governmental and non-governmental actors, including educators, health-care authorities, legislators, the judiciary and the media. A system based on equality and cooperation would lay the foundations for eliminating all forms of exploitation and oppression.

Dark ’Traditions’

Editorial, The News, August 31, 2008

The defence put up in the Senate of an incident in which five women, including three teenage girls who wished to marry by choice, were buried alive in Balochistan is appalling. The older women, shot and then buried with them, were presumably mothers or relatives who had sought mercy for the girls. A senator from the province, who should surely know better, defended the barbaric act as ’tribal custom’. Still more shockingly, the acting chairman of the Senate lashed out against the woman senator from the PML-Q who had raised the issue, advising her, rather sarcastically, to go and see the situation in Balochistan herself before raising such matters in the House.

A voice or two was raised against the practice, with another Baloch senator insisting it was not a traditional practice and such events did not routinely take place in his province. But this does not take away the fact that political representatives from Balochistan made an effort to justify the incident. The event took place almost a month ago in a remote village near Jaffarabad. What is extraordinary is that the matter has not been raised before more vocally. The senator who brought it up deserves credit; she has been quite unjustly attacked by others in the Upper House. It has been reported the PPP-led government in Balochistan tried to cover up the atrocity. This too of course signals a deeply flawed pattern of thinking. Surely the government should be seeking the murderers, who first used guns to ensure their victims were injured and could not escape, and then covered them with earth muffling forever their screams of terror are punished and exposed, not protected through some dark conspiracy of silence. The fact the act was ’kept quiet’ in fact means the government sympathizes with such doings.

Not just in Balochistan, but elsewhere across the country too, a distorted belief seems to exist that ’traditions’ are invariably good and need to be protected. We have seen such thinking used to defend practices that include ’honour killing’, vani, swara, the marriage of small children, the beheading of people on orders of illegal ’jirgas’. Other equally barbaric customs too are carried out from time to time, in many cases, despite laws which bar them. There is an urgent need for greater recognition of the fact that ’tradition’ is not invariably good. All too often it has been used to oppress the most vulnerable. Women are the most frequent victims. While preserving what is good about our heritage is important, it is equally important to discard what is bad. This after all is what progress is all about. It is due to development, education, greater enlightenment, that much of the world has changed, broken with its past when the need to do so arises. This is why Chinese women, in a society as deeply traditional as our own, no longer have their feet bound at birth but can instead stride confidently into workplaces and educational institutions alongside men. The practice of tying up feet to keep women immobile, able only to shuffle feebly along in slippers in a manner that was thought to enhance their worth as docile wives and daughters, has been prevented by law, education and the active effort made over the decades to do away with evil elements of China’s past while keeping intact the good. Traditions that inflict suffering and death on hapless victims in particular need to be done away with here too. There can be no excuse for living on in darkness.

It is deeply saddening that political leaders find it so arduous to understand this reality. It is due to the views we heard expressed in the Senate that we still live in a society where human beings can be buried alive while representatives of people argue this is acceptable. It is true Balochistan has suffered over the decades from a lack of development. The federal government has a lot to answer for in this regard. But it is the province’s leaders who must too play a part in guiding it towards a brighter future, not shoving it backwards and making an attempt to defend practices that are quite obviously indefensible.

’Taliban’ in the Senate?

Editorial, Dawn, 31 August 2008

SENATOR Israrullah Zehri’s defence of a barbaric incident involving the burying alive of five women in Balochistan smacks of a medieval mindset — and one that is totally in tune with the Taliban’s own obscurant worldview. It takes one back nine years when similarly regressive-minded legislators in the Senate refused to condemn the ‘honour’ killing of Samia Sarwar who was shot dead at the behest of her own parents over a marriage-related issue in 1999. At the time, a fair number of senators who had initially agreed to support a resolution condemning Samia Sarwar’s murder backed out at the eleventh hour under pressure from their respective political parties’ leadership, leaving only four brave ones to raise their voice against the killing. Clearly, then, this mindset that trivialises the sanctity of human life — especially if the life is that of a woman — and is dominated so easily by the interests of those who wield political, economic and social clout, is not confined to the representatives of the backward provinces alone. It has come to be a national state of mind.

In the recent case, three of the five women were going to contract a court marriage with men of their choice against the wishes of their tribal elders, when they were killed. Unfortunately, because of the alleged involvement of a political figure, the report of their death was suppressed, with the police even refusing to register an FIR. Can we hope for corrective steps to be taken, the case thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice regardless of their political and feudal stripes? Considering our sad track record vis-à-vis human rights, this could be wishful thinking. For in a tribal order where traditions involving human rights violations are not even condemned, let alone rooted out, how can we hope for the miracle of justice for the oppressed — especially women — or for the reformation of a society in dire need of change?

While Senator Zehri staunchly defended the incident as a tribal custom, Senator Jamal Leghari chose to bury his head in the sand saying that no Baloch could carry out such a reprehensible act. A cursory look at statistics shows us how wrong he is. Honour killings are rampant across the country — Balochistan is no exception — with women, already in a position of economic and social disadvantage, being the main victims. The facts are undeniable; and it is inexcusable that those who have the power to change things for the better and to discourage primitive customs should refuse to even acknowledge them. Others turn a blind eye to the abhorrent practice for purely political expediency. The government talks ad nauseam about the need to counter the threat of Talibanisation. But it chooses not to recognise, and therefore to condemn, similar traits in mindsets and practices that are not linked to religion alone. It would do well to come out of its self-inflicted stupor to condemn those who perpetuate myths about the sanctity of traditions. A beginning could be made in the two Houses of parliament.

Jahalat: There is No Honor in Murder; Criminality is not Culture

by Adil Najam and Owais Mughal (Posted on Pakistaniat.com, August 30, 2008)

Let us be as clear and unambiguous as we can. Those who think they can “restore” their honor by murdering others have no honor to begin with. There is no honor in murder. Ghairat cannot be gained or regained by butchering the weak. Indeed, murder is beghairati personified.

And let us never - never - let anyone confuse criminality with culture.

Yet, two members of the Pakistan Senate insist on doing exactly that. In defending (or seeming to defend) the most barbaric of so-called “honor killings” (in this case the burying alive of three young girls) Senators Israrullah Zehri and Jan Mohammad Jamali have not only shamed the Senate and all of Pakistan, they are in fact abusing and shaming the culture and traditions of all Baloch. They are conflating criminality with culture.

No, Senators, murder and criminality is NOT a part of “tribal tradition.” Clearly murder and criminality is not part of any religious tradition. It is certainly no part of Islam. There have been criminals and murders in all cultures and in all religions in all times. But criminality and murder is not part of any culture, any tradition, any religion. Even if some murderous actions have gone unpunished in the past, they do not define tradition, they define criminality. Those who confuse the criminal behavior of the murderous few with the essence of any culture (their own or someone else’s), abuse that culture and tradition itself. Not every tradition needs to be defended, and many need to be abandoned.

Let us never let anyone defend criminality and murder in the name of tradition and culture. Indeed, instead of defending criminality and murder in the name of culture and tradition, we should be defending culture and tradition from criminality and murder committed in its name.

For those few who may not know what we are talking about, here are the essentials from a news report in Dawn:

Balochistan Senator Sardar Israrullah Zehri stunned the upper house on Friday when he defended the recent incident of burying alive three teenage girls and two women in his province, saying it was part of ?our tribal custom.? Senator Bibi Yasmin Shah of the PML-Q raised the issue citing a newspaper report that the girls, three of them aged between 16 and 18 years, had been buried alive a month ago for wishing to marry of their own will.

The barbaric incident took place in a remote village of Jafarabad district and a PPP minister and some other influential people were reported to have been involved. The report accused the provincial government of trying to hush up the issue. Ms Shah said that the hapless girls and the women were first shot in the name of honour and then buried while they were alive. She also said that no criminal had been arrested so far.

Acting Chairman of Senate Jan Mohammad Jamali, who was presiding over the session, said: ?Yasmin Shah should go to our society and see for herself what the situation is like there and then come back to raise such questions in the house.? Maulana Ghafoor Haideri of the JUI-F said there was no tradition of burying women alive in Baloch society because it was against Islam?s teachings. Jamal Leghari of PML-Q emphatically stated that there was no custom of burying people alive, adding that the Baloch people did not believe in it.

Senator Jan Jamali commented: ?This is a provincial matter and it is being investigated at the provincial level and let us wait for the report of the investigation.? Leader of the Opposition Kamil Ali Agha accused the Balochistan government of ignoring the incident and said no jirga could order the burying of women alive and no law allowed anyone to commit such a crime and go unpunished. He urged the government to punish the people involved in it. Leader of the House Mian Raza Rabbani said: ?We condemn the heinous act and assure the house that a complete report on the incident would be submitted on Monday.?

One can be shocked and angry and aghast at what one has been hearing. But one cannot remain quiet. To merely speak out may not help in itself, but to remain silent is to condone that which is horrible and inhuman with our silence. Even if speaking out does nothing except provide us with catharsis, silence emboldens the criminals and murderers who commit their henious barbarism in the name of cultur; and in doing so kill not only the innocent and the weak but the very culture and traditions that they speak of.

So, speak we must. But as we speak, let us also remain focussed on what it is that shocks us and makes us angry and aghast. Yes, it is the words of these Senators - people who should know better - that cannot be reconciled. But, even more than that it is the act of barbarism that triggered the controversy in the first place. One does not want these two Senators to get away with what they have said, but even more than that those who have committed the henious act of burying three young girls alive must not get away with it.

One fears that the outrage has been not only triggered by but is focussed on these two Senators and only on their words. Yes, indeed, what the Senators have tried to defend is indefensible and their words must be condemned in the strongest. But, and for exactly that reason, let us never forget that this story is not only about what the Senators have said, it is about the vile an venomous act of murder and criminality that triggered those words in the first place. Ultimately, even more than being about the words of two Senators this has to be about the actions of the murderers who killed and the lives of the women who are no longer alive because of those actions. It is important, but not enough, to have the Senators take their words back. It is far far more important to make sure that what happened to these three young girls must never happen to anyone, anywhere, ever again.

It was jahalat that killed them. But let niether the words of these two Senators nor the silence of the rest of us condone that jahalat.

Asian Human Rights Commission - Urgent Appeals Programme

PAKISTAN: Five women buried alive, allegedly by the brother of a minister

11 August 2008

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from a remote area of Balochistan province, that five women were buried alive, allegedly by the younger brother of Mr. Sadiq Umrani, the provincial minister and a prominent leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, the ruling party. However, police have still not arrested the perpetrators after one month of the incident.

CASE DETAILS:

The Umrani tribe is mainly concentrated in the Jafarabad and Naseerabad districts of Balochistan provice that are about 300 kilometers from Quetta city, the provincial capital. Mr. Sadiq Umrani, the provincial minister for housing and construction, was elected to the Balochistan Assembly in the February 18, 2008 elections from Dera the Murad Jamali constituency of district Naseerabad.

The incident of the women being buried alive occurred in a remote village, the Baba Kot, 80 kilometers away from Usta Mohammad city of Jafferabad district. It is believed that due to the influence of the minister and his brother the incident was not reported in the media.

According to the information received, five women were Ms. Fatima, wife of Umeed Ali Umrani, Jannat Bibi, wife of Qaiser Khan, Fauzia, daughter of Ata Mohammad Umrani, and two other girls, aged between 16 to 18 years. They were at the house of Mr. Chandio at Baba Kot village and to leave for a civil court at Usta Mohammad, district Jafarabad, so that three of the girls could marry the men of their choice. Their decision to have marriage in court was the result of several days of discussions with the elders of the tribe who refused them permission to marry. The names of two younger girls were not ascertained because of strong control of tribal leaders in the area.

As the news of their plans leaked out, Mr. Abdul Sattar Umrani, a brother of the minister, came with more than six persons and abducted them at gun points. They were taken in a Land Cruiser jeep, bearing a registration number plate of the Balochistan government, to another remote area, Nau Abadi, in the vicinity of Baba Kot. After reaching the deserted area of Nau Abadi, Abdul Sattar Umrani and his six companions took the three younger women out of the jeep and beat them before allegedly opening fire with their guns. The girls were seriously injured but were still alive at that moment. Sattar Umrani and his accomplices hurled them into a wide ditch and covered them with earth and stones. The two older women were an aunt of Fauzia and the other, the mother of one minor. When they protested and tried to stop the burial of the minors that were plainly alive, the attackers were so angry that they also pushed them into the ditch and buried all alive. After completing the burial, they fired several shots into to the air so that no one would come close.

The minors were educated and were studying in classes from 10 to 12. They were punished for trying to decide about their marriages.

After one month the police have still not registered the case and it is difficult to get more detailed information. The provincial minister is so powerful that police are reluctant to provide details on the murder. When the AHRC contacted Mr. Sadiq Umrani, provincial minister, he confirmed the incident by saying that only three women had been killed by unknown persons. He denied his or his brother’s involvement. He went on to say that the police will not disclose any information about the case as to do so now would be implicate themselves. However, concerned officers of two different police stations have confirmed the incident and explained that no one is providing any information. Also as they could not find the graves of the victims it is difficult to register the case. The victim’s family members have since left the place and their whereabouts are unknown.

The alleged perpetrator, Mr. Abdul Sattar Umrani, the brother of the provincial minister, was also involved in murder of three persons, including one young woman, in January 2006. That case was similar in that a school teacher, Mr. Mohammad Aslam, was going with his lover in a taxi to a civil court to court marry. The perpetrators stopped them at Manjo Shori, sub district Tumboo, District Naseerabad and killed all three persons by gun fire. The dead included the taxi driver, Mr. Jabal Aidee. The police were unable to institute a murder case for five months until the intervention of Mr. Iftekhar Choudhry, the deposed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and also the deputy speaker of Senate. But only one person was arrested and the perpetrator Abdul Sattar Umrani remained at large.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Every year in Pakistan hundreds of women, of all ages and in all parts of the country, are reported killed in the name of honour. Many more cases go unreported. Almost all go unpunished. The lives of millions of women in Pakistan are circumscribed by traditions, which enforce extreme seclusion and submission to men many of whom impose their virtually proprietarily control over women with violence. For the most part, women bear the traditional male control over every aspect of their bodies, speech and behaviour with stoicism, as part of their kismat (fate), but exposure to media, the work of women’s rights groups and the greater degree of mobility have seen the beginnings of women’s rights awareness seep into the secluded world of women.

But if women begin to exert these rights, however tentatively, they often face more repression and punishment: the curve of honour killings has increased parallel to the rise in the awareness in rights. State indifference, discriminatory laws and the gender bias of much of the country’s police force and judiciary have ensured virtual impunity for perpetuators of honour killings. It is paradoxical that women who enjoy such a poor status in society and have no standing in family should become a focal point of a false and primitive concept of family honour, which they are accepted to uphold at the expense of their inclinations and preference in the matters of marriage. [Honour Killings in Pakistan by Neshay Najam]

Originally a Baluch and Pashtun tribal custom, honour killings are founded in the twin concepts of honour and commodity of women. Women are married off for a bride price paid to the father. There is no concept for girls to get marriage on their own choice and if it is found then, they are killed in the name of honour. (Please also refer to LESSON Series 35 May 2004 of Human Rights Correspondence School)

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write letters to the following mentioned authorities demanding to file the case of murder of five women by burial alive by the perpetrators.

Please be informed that the AHRC has also written letters to the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions calling for an intervention in this case.

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear ________,

PAKISTAN: Five women buried alive, allegedly by the brother of a minister

Names of victims;
- 1. Ms. Fatima wife of, Umeed Ali Umrani, 45 years old
- 2. Ms.Jannat Bibi wife of Qaiser Khan, 38 years old
- 3. Ms.Fauzia daughter of Ata Mohammad Umrani 18 years and two other girls, in between 16 to 18 years of age
- (All are residents of village Mir Wah, Tehseel Tumboo, District Naseerabad, Balochistan province, Pakistan)

Name of alleged perpetrators: Mr. Abdul Sattar Umrani, residing at Usta Mohammad city, Jaffarabad, District, Balochistan province-Pakistan and his six accomplices
Place of incident; Village Baba Kot police station, Jafferabad, District, Pakistan

I am shocked to know that five women, including three minors, were buried alive in the remote of the Balochistan on the charges of choosing their life partners on their free will and not obeying the tribal tradition in their free choice. It is also of very grave concern for me that still the parallel judicial process is continued in the Pakistan in the name of Jirga which was banned by the higher courts of the country. Due to the powerful persons involvement the police is avoiding to register the case of killing of five women since first week of the July 2008.

According to the information that I have received, all five women were at the house of Mr. Chandio at Baba Kot village and to leave for a civil court at Usta Mohammad, district Jafarabad, so that three of the girls could marry the men of their choice. Their decision to have marriage in court was the result of several days of discussions with the elders of the tribe who refused them permission to marry. The names of two younger girls were not ascertained because of strong control of tribal leaders in the area.

As the news of their plans leaked out, Mr. Abdul Sattar Umrani, a brother of the minister, came with more than six persons and abducted them at gun points. They were taken in a Land Cruiser jeep, bearing a registration number plate of the Balochistan government, to another remote area, Nau Abadi, in the vicinity of Baba Kot. After reaching the deserted area of Nau Abadi, Abdul Sattar Umrani and his six companions took the three younger women out of the jeep and beat them before allegedly opening fire with their guns. The girls were seriously injured but were still alive at that moment. Sattar Umrani and his accomplices hurled them into a wide ditch and covered them with earth and stones. The two older women were an aunt of Fauzia and the other, the mother of one of the 16 year- old-girls. When they protested and tried to stop the burial of the girls that were plainly alive the attackers were so angry that they also pushed the women into the ditch and buried them alive. After completing the burial they fired several shots into to the air so that no one would come close.

The girls were educated and were studying in classes from 10 to 12. They were punished for trying to decide about their marriages.

After one and a half months the police have still not registered the case and it is difficult to get more detailed information. The provincial minister is so powerful that police are reluctant to provide details on the murder. When human rights activists contacted Mr. Sadiq Umrani, provincial minister, he confirmed the incident by saying that only three women had been killed by unknown persons. He denied his or his brother’s involvement. He went on to say that the police will not disclose any information about the case as to do so now would be implicated themselves. However, concerned officers of two different police stations have confirmed the incident and explained that no one is providing any information. Also as they could not find the graves of the victims it is difficult to register the case. The victim’s family members have since left the place and their whereabouts are unknown.

It is disturbing for me that anyone could be so inhumanly cruel as to bury someone alive. Whether or not Mr. Sadiq Umrani, is involved it is an established fact that a vehicle of the provincial government was used in the incident and that is why no police officer has dared to file a case against the perpetrators.

I request you to please take immediate action in this case and investigate this case as a matter of primary so that those responsible are brought to justice.

Yours sincerely,


PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. General Pervez Musharraf
- President
- President’s Secretariat
- Islamabad
- PAKISTAN
- Fax: +92 51 922 1422, 4768/ 920 1893 or 1835
- E-mail: (please see-> http://www.presidentofpakistan.gov.pk/WTPresidentMessage.aspx)

2. Mr. Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani
- Prime minister
- Prime Minister House, Islamabad,
- PAKISTAN
- Fax: +92 51 922 1596
- Tel: +92 51 920 6111
- E-mail: webmaster infopak.gov.pk

3. Mr. Rehman Malik
- Advisor for Ministry of Interior
- Room No. 404, 4th Floor, R Block,
- Pak Secretariat
- Islamabad
- PAKISTAN
- Fax: +92 51 920 2624
- Tel: +92 51 921 2026
- E-mail: minister interior.gov.pk

4. Mr. Farooq Naik
- Minister of Law, Justice and Human Rights
- S Block Pakistan Secretariat
- Islamabad
- PAKISTAN
- Fax: +92 51 920 2628
- E-mail: minister molaw.gov.pk or naelaw786 hotmail.com

5. Nawab Aslam Raisani
- Chief Minister of Balochistan
- Chief Minister House, Quette,
- PAKISTAN
- Fax: +92 81 920 2240
- Tel: +92 81 449582 / 440661
- E-mail: mirlashkari yahoo.com

6. Nawab Zulfiqar Magsi
- Governor of Balochistan
- Governor House Balochistan,
- Quetta- Balochistan province,
- PAKISTAN
- Fax: +92 81 920 2992.

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
- Asian Human Rights Commission (ua ahrchk.org)

P.S.

Compiled with support from www.sacw.net