Skip to main content

VIEW: Alibi


“Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander”
Holocaust Museum, Washington, DC

Somewhere in the remote region of Baluchistan, a few women are killed and buried, and not necessarily in that order. Their exact number is debatable and the manner of death is still under investigation. If the unofficial version is to be believed, they were buried alive on the whim of the elders, with perhaps just a little backing from some influential quarters. This chilling murder involves antiquated customs which unfortunately, have never gone out of style.

To the bewilderment of the civilized world, this incident goes unnoticed for nearly two months. When the Parliaments Upper House finally asks why, Senator Israrullah Zehri, dismissively shrugs it off as ‘Tradition’ – one of the most powerful and disturbing words in tribal culture. He is not alone for Acting Chairman Senate Jan Muhammad Jamali goes further by advising those ignorant of tribal culture to refrain from debating such issues. Fortunately, the feeling is not mutual and these two Senate members are censured while the rest of the nation is scandalized.

Those who knew that human rights violation is a fairly common phenomenon in this part of the world now understand that it has been with the tacit support of such authority figures all along. And so, these cherished traditions have endured over time and thrive in tribal societies despite the existence of numerous bills supposedly designed to protect women.

While the Senator’s mulish stance has outraged the Senate and shocked the world, 9 years ago, previous resolutions against honor killings had been rejected by the Chairman of the Senate, along with majority of its members on much the same grounds. This time, however, the House has been unanimous in its condemnation, barring the two traditionalists. In such circumstances, the HRC member’s kind suggestion that these two be excluded from Senate appears well justified.

Hasil Bizenjo, VP National Party Baluchistan links this incident to a possible blood feud, for Balouch traditions have never endorsed this extreme form of brutality. But what ever prompted this gruesome act, preliminary findings implicate the Umrani tribe’s jirga and the ruling itself is very much in keeping with tribal laws - what the tribesmen did was simply brutal innovation.

Over the years, many bills have been drafted, while some were rejected, others became law and none have been effective to date. The 2005 bill recognizing honor killing as a crime punishable by death was considered to be a major breakthrough, but those who attempted to fix glaring loopholes that allowed culprits to buy pardon, met with strong resistance and the amended version ended up being vetoed by a majority. No wonder thousands are killed and victimized in honour-related crimes every year despite the existence of these protection laws.

For 61 years, our laws have been neither respected nor feared; why should they be when 5 of the 6 convicted in the Mukhtaran Mai case, are not only freed by the Courts, none of them are on death row.

Now that the once iron clad alibi of ‘tradition’ stands exposed as a flimsy pretext to mask decadent practices, this can be used as necessary leverage to bring change in patriarchal sections of society across the country.

The End


Popular posts from this blog

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…

FILM REVIEW: West Bank Story a live-action short film (2007)

Published in The POST May 17, 2007

Directed by:Ari Sandel
Written by: Kim Ray and Ari Sandel
Duration: 21 Minutes
(An official selection of the 2005 Sundance Film Festival)

The Middle East is better known for staging violent uprisings, certainly not for inspiring comedic masterpieces.

Since 1967, the West bank has spawned a surge in Arab hostility, frequent visits to the Middle East by Condoleezza Rice and lately, a small little inspirational musical comedy about competing falafel stands, directed, co-written and produced by Ari Sandel (part Israeli, part American Californian native). Since there is no easy way to represent both sides fairly, the very notion of West Bank Story is greeted with a justifiable mix of scepticism, wariness and resentment at first. No doubt, it is a precarious balancing act that mandates such a film to be witty without being offensive, show compassion without discrimination and entertain without losing substance. So does West Bank Story deliver?

West Bank Story

BOOK REVIEW: The Last Sunset — The Rise & Fall of the Lahore Durbar Author: Amarinder Singh

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times under the heading: Lahore Durbar in free fall

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

After the Mughals exited, but before the British arrived, the Lahore Durbar was presided over by Maharaja Ranjit Singh Bahadur, affectionately known as the ‘Lion of Lahore’, who makes a brief appearance in Amarinder Singh’s narrative, but leaves a lasting impression on his history.

Ranjit Singh, who has been described in the book as a great man and an outstanding military commander, was a mass of contradictions. For instance, he was against the death penalty but not averse to robbing widows, believed treaties were meant to be broken but treated the vanquished with kindness, and thought nothing of inviting guests only to divest them of their most prized possession — like the Kohinoor diamond. He may have spent the better part of the day leading military campaigns, yet he did not always harbour territorial designs and is said to have waged a war on hi…

BOOK REVIEW: Hira Mandi / Author: Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson

Published in Daily Times Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reproduced on Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson's Website

Translated from French by Priyanka Jhijaria

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

A programme about Hira Mandi did the internet rounds a couple of years ago. It claimed, among other things, that the sons of the ‘dancers’ reportedly end up as lawyers, doctors, artists — a few join politics and some even reach the military. These outrageous statistics may be one of the reasons the documentary was banned from the mainstream media. That and its primary premise — the plight of the fallen women — would prompt the conservatives to howl with dismay before scurrying off to bury any evidence in the backyard along with other bodies.

Claudine Le Tourneur d’Ison embeds such wrenching moments in a bold narrative where its doomed protagonist can hail the brave new world and its genteel patrons from an extraordinary vantage point. The expedition to the underworld with the unfortunate progeny and the hapless…

BOOK REVIEW: Inside the Pakistan Army: A Woman’s Experience on the Frontline of the War on Terror

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, December 10, 2011

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Author: Carey Schofield

First Abbottabad, then Admiral Mullen, and now the BBC — whispered allegations against the Pakistan Army have picked up pace. Thus far it has been unable to build an effective counter against the barrage of accusations headed its way. Thus far it has watched its credibility plummet and the problems mount. That the military’s weakened standing can be attributed to a series of unfortunate events — some of their own creation, others beyond their control, have left their image tarnished. Even the fact that a Pakistani checkpost recently came under NATO fire and suffered heavy casualties did little to alter the negative perception.

Carey Schofield, the author of Inside the Soviet Army, who admits to having spent seven years studying the Pakistan Army, is off to vindicate her hosts. Since she does not practice the military’s customary caution, her…

OP-ED: Fashion Week – More Than A Pretty Footnote

First Published in Economic Affairs June 2013 Issue

‘Artists are the gatekeeper of truth. We are civilizations radical voice’. Paul Robeson

There was a conference on counter-terrorism underway in Hyderabad as fashion week was winding down in Lahore. One of the presenters, a Dutch with a Phd and a thesis on the effects of fear on social behavior had indicated resilience as part of the counter-terrorism strategy. ‘We had a fashion show, does that count?’ I later asked Dr. Mark Dechesne who was in town recently. If he was startled, he did not show it.

Two things have been trending on twitter since April 2013. Fashion week finds itself in the same time slot as politics and as politicians perfect their strut on the political ramp, the fashionistas have taken to the red carpet and designer-wear floods the catwalk. Though fear overshadows both events, people refuse to let the claustrophobic environment dictate their social calendar.

The famed fashion week which started from Karachi and co…


First Published inDaily Times / 5 Jan 2013

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Demigod fans who bade farewell to Percy – (son of Poseidon) & the Olympian franchise a few years ago must have wondered what the writer was up to as they came across a ‘final’ Prophesy conveniently left unresolved at the end of the saga.

The Last Olympian’ concluded the five part series wrapping up Percy Jackson & his merry band of demi-gods' extended arc with a high-octane finale and an emotional send-off. Though Rick Riordan had moved on to explore Egypt in ‘The Kane Chronicles’, he wasn’t done with Olympus, its ever shifting centre of power or its hoity-toity god population for that matter.

The cryptic warning heard in the final pages is used to establish the credentials of this spin-off. The gods return in the ‘Heroes of Olympus’ series - distant as ever and in Roman form heralding a brand new dawn with the promise of new crusades, a shiny new quest, fresh faces and an ancient threat. And Percy is b…