PUBLISHED IN MUSLIM WORLD TODAY(calif.) SEP 12, 2008
“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.