Saturday, June 7, 2014

FEISAL NAQVI: The death of a woman // MARVI SIRMED: Die my daughter, die quickly!

I am tired of writing outraged columns. Outrage has become a cliché, the one mode of expression that never dulls in this country because there is always something new to be outraged about. My television offers me 57 flavors of outrage—liberal outrage, Fauji outrage, mullah outrage, feminist outrage. And yet, surrounded as we are by professional outragers—outragists?—nobody found the time to be outraged about the death of a woman who had the misfortune to find love & the greater misfortune to believe in justice.

On Tuesday morning, (May 27, 2014) a 25-year-old woman by the name of Farzana Iqbal was beaten to death by her family. Farzana was on her way to the Lahore High Court when her father, her brother, and a mob of family members attacked her with guns. When they missed, she ran but her brother grabbed her headscarf, making her fall down. As she lay on the ground, she begged for her life. In response, her family members smashed her head in with bricks.
Farzana was killed because she had married a person of her choice. Her family reacted to the love marriage in time-honored fashion; that is, by accusing her husband of kidnapping. Farzana was coming to the court to tell the judge she had not been kidnapped but had married of her own free will. She was three-months pregnant when she died.
Farzana died perhaps 10 to 20 yards from the gate of the Lahore High Court. To be more specific, she died on the potholed surface of Fane Road, next to where Turner Road branches off. Across the road—as in literally across the road—are the offices of the advocate-general of the Punjab and the Federal Judicial Academy. I suppose if the learned judges undergoing instruction at the Academy had been disturbed enough to come out and check what was going on, the dead body could have been used to instruct them in the finer points of criminal jurisprudence.
The judges were not alone in their indifference. Turner Road and Fane Road are Ground Zero for legal offices. There are at least a few thousand lawyers who work within a few blocks of where Farzana was killed. In the morning, which is when Farzana was killed, that particular crossroads is full of people hurrying to court. None of them did anything to stop her murder.
To be fair, the trainee judges and the passers-by have an excuse: they are not in the business of maintaining law and order. In Lahore, that privilege belongs to the Punjab police. There are at least two squads of police within 50 yards of where Farzana was killed. One squad guards the entrance to the Lahore High Court. The other guards the entrance to the Academy and the advocate-general’s office.
It takes time to beat a person to death, especially when the instrument in question is as blunt and unwieldy as a brick. In Farzana’s case, the attack reportedly lasted for about 15 minutes. During that time, Farzana’s husband ran to the police officers stationed at the court entrance and begged them to intervene. They refused.
This was not the first time that Farzana had been attacked. Her family members had first tried to kill her at her lawyer’s office but had been repulsed. They had then waited outside and tried to kill her again. This time, they were stopped by officers from a nearby police station. The relatives were then held for about an hour before being released without charge.
Fifty years ago, on March 13, 1964, a young woman by the name of Kitty Genovese was attacked and killed in New York City. The New York Times reported that, “For more than half an hour, 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks.” The Genovese murder touched a raw nerve in America’s conscience. For decades thereafter, it has been used as a symbol of all that was wrong with city life and the anonymity of urban existence.
I cannot speak as to why the police officers concerned did not respond. I cannot speak as to why the people there at the scene did not intervene. It is easy enough to be heroic in print; it is far more difficult to do something when confronted by an armed mob.
What I can speak to is the aftermath. Right after the killing, there was silence. As much as I detest suo moto actions, this was perhaps one moment when the chief justice of Pakistan should have demanded answers. But he didn’t. Even the chief justice of the Lahore High Court, the head of the august institution to which Farzana had turned for justice, said nothing. It was only on Thursday, 48 hours after the killing, that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif issued a statement condemning Farzana’s murder as “totally unacceptable” and directing the Punjab chief minister, his brother, to take “immediate action.”
I am tired of writing outraged columns. Outrage has become a cliché, the one mode of expression that never dulls in this country because there is always something new to be outraged about. My television offers me 57 flavors of outrage—liberal outrage, Fauji outrage, mullah outrage, feminist outrage. And yet, surrounded as we are by professional outragers—outragists?—nobody found the time to be outraged about the death of a woman who had the misfortune to find love and the greater misfortune to believe in justice.
According to newspaper reports, a bench of the august Supreme Court of Pakistan has demanded assurances from the federal government that the citizens of Pakistan will not be allowed to starve to death. If this is how institutions now work, perhaps their Lordships would like to assure Farzana’s husband his dead wife will receive justice.
MARVI SIRMED: Die my daughter, die quickly!
Farzana Perveen’s murder was not the first time men played the game of honour on a woman’s body. In societies like Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and much of the Middle East and Africa, this is an everyday reality women have to live with. According to a 2000 UN report, around 5000 women are killed every year around the world. There exists no UN research after that. In 2012-13, the global figure estimated by independent organizations was 20,000 killings per year. In Pakistan, HRCP reported the number of killings in 2012 at 949 and in 2013, at 869.

Just to freshen up the memory, two women were shot dead a few months ago in Sindh for ‘bringing shame’ to their families by choosing their husbands. Earlier, four women were killed in Qila Saifullah for similar reasons. Three girls from Kohistan were killed because their images were seen in a video wherein they were singing in the presumed presence of boys who were also reportedly killed later. A couple was shot dead in Kashmir on the suspicion of ‘illicit relations’. A famous actor in Lahore was beaten, humiliated and her eyebrows shaved on suspicion of infidelity.


Sürücü, a 23 years old girl, Turkish by origin living in Berlin, who married a non-Turkish man of her choice, was killed by her six brothers aged 16 – 25. Laura Wilson was the first white victim of honour killing in UK. In 2010, Ashtiaq Asghar, her boyfriend of Pakistani origin, killed her for conceiving a baby as a result of her brief fling with another guy.
Methal Dayem, a 22 year old girl from the West Bank was killed in Cleveland by her cousins Yezen Dayem and Musa Saleh for driving her car, for being too independent and refusing to marry her cousin. In Toronto, five year old Farah Khan’s father and stepmother killed her because the father suspected that she was not his child. Jagir Kaur, a politician in Indian Punjab killed her daughter Herpreet who fell in love with Kamaljeet Singh, her party’s political worker. She and six others were charged for murder but not arrested.


Susheela, the daughter of a Jat shopkeeper in Haryana, married Rajpal, a Dalit. A few days after she told the court she had chosen to marry Rajpal, she was poisoned to death. After Sushela’s murder, Rajpal was charged with her abduction and rape. He is now serving life term in jail, while Susheela’s killers are leading their normal lives. Naz Perveen, a 25 year old in Utter Pradesh, married Kasif Jamal, 35, against her family’s wishes. Both were killed in broad daylight in a busy market. Dozens from the community came out to claim responsibility. No investigation was ever done.


Hatice Peltek, a 39 years old Turkish woman was killed by her husband because she was ‘a shame on the family’ after being molested by her brother-in-law. Yasser Said shot his 17 year old daughter Amina because of her ‘western ways’, while his wife helped him. Palestina Isa, a 16 year old Palestinian- American was stabbed to death by her father Zein Isa while her mother Maria Isa helped him by holding her tight. The murder surfaced two years later when the FBI accidentally heard the audiotape of Zein’s bugged home.


Back in 1999, Saima Sarwar’s murder by her family in the office of veteran human rights defenders and lawyers, Asma Jehangir and Hina Jillani, was one of the most publicized honour killing cases in Pakistan. No one pursued the case further because her family was well connected politically. Like in a number of other honour killing cases, no one was prosecuted for the murder of Ayman Udas, a young Pashtun singer from Peshawar whose brothers killed her for not being ‘chaste’ after she divorced, remarried and pursued a singing career.


This story is endlessly repeated whether it is Pakistan or may be the West Bank, Gaza, Turkey, Afghanistan, Somalia, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Russia, Canada, USA or UK. If a woman dares to live on her own terms, make her own choices and challenge societal norms.


Most – almost all – cases of honour crimes happen in conservative societies with strict codes of social engagement especially for women. Everyone in these societies – men and women – are perceived as roles, not individuals. You have to always act in your role as mother, daughter, sister, wife, husband, brother, father etc. The moment you move out of these well-constructed roles and start living as an individual, you ‘bring shame’ to the family and ‘dishonor’ it.


The ‘honour’ is not only violated by a woman’s decision to marry against her family’s wishes. There is a wide range of things that make her unchaste and thus liable to be killed, tortured and humiliated, in some cases even raped. She is worth nothing if she doesn’t fulfil moral standards dictated by ‘culture’. Doesn’t matter even if she dies or is raped. She deserved that. 
Family honour can be disrupted if she asks for a divorce, moves out of an abusive relationship, refuses a marriage proposal, chooses her profession, insists on wearing clothes of her choice which may be ‘western’ and thus unworthy of a chaste woman. She can hurt honour by just moving out of the house.

Murders however, are the extreme form of honour crimes that include an array of other ways to target women. Shaving off the head and eyebrows, beating, torture, acid burning, chopping off limbs, confinement to the home and forced marriages are various other forms of honour crimes.


When onlookers and the police did not help Farzana in front of the Lahore High Court, the judges were not moving and the Prime Minister was ‘taking notice’ after 48 hours of a gruesome murder when the international media shrieked, all of them were just following this code. Not a big deal. The state and society, in these cases, mostly act as accomplices or witness the violence silently because the act is not a crime in the social consciousness. It is an obligation.


A female relative of Palestina Isa summarized it very finely when a journalist interviewed her after her parents were sentenced. “Palestina left no choice. You guys need to understand our culture and religion.” Another of their family friends’ Mrs. Abraham said, “I feel it [the sentence] is not right. We follow our religion. Isas had to discipline their daughter or lose respect. They’d be embarrassed in front of everybody in the country like somebody going outside without their clothes on.”


In this scenario, no law in however strong language it is drafted, can save women (and men) from perishing at the altar of honour. The FBI tape played in the courtroom and carried voices of Isa shrieking for help from her mother, while her mother told her to keep quiet and her father screamed, ‘Die quickly. Die, my daughter. Hurry up.’ Hurrying up is the only recourse for us it seems.
This article was originally published in The Nation on June 3, 2014


Democratic and secular voices in Muslim majority countries have too often been sacrificed by the left in the west in the name of anti-imperialism and identity politics.




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