Dehumanization of women

Dawn January 20,2004

Tuesday 20 January 2004, by Safdar ALI SEEHAR

Whenever a nerve-racking crime against women is
reported, there is some protest by the saner elements
for a few days, and then it subsides till a new
tragedy jolts us. Never before have the women of our
society found themselves so brutally victimized and
helpless as they are today.

The way they are being tortured, dehumanized, forcibly
married, sold off, murdered and paraded naked through
the streets speak volumes about the degradation and
victimization of our weaker gender in a male-dominated
traditionally sick society. The law seems toothless,
the legislation ineffective, and the authorities
indifferent.

About a month ago, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled
that an adult, sane Muslim girl could marry on her own
and she did not need her guardian’s consent for the
validation of her marriage. Though, the Federal
Shariat Court in 1981 had already resolved the issue,
a bench of the Lahore High Court, while disposing of
the famous Saima-Shabina cases simultaneously, had
overruled the FSC’s verdict on the matter and stirred
up an uproar.

An appeal against the verdict by the LHC bench had
been pending in the Supreme Court since 1996 - a long
period indeed for straightening out a very simple
matter.

Forced marriages of adult Muslim girls are still the
order of the day in our society. Not only adult girls
but even minor ones are forcibly married, obviously
against their will on the pretext that they are not
sane enough even to know what a marriage stands for.

Thanks to our pre-historic, inhuman practices, ours
might be the only part of the world where even infant
and child marriages are solemnized with fanfare. Such
tradition-stricken sick clans and tribes would prefer
to sacrifice hundreds of lives, but would never
compromise over their barbaric practices, which they
unabashedly call as ’traditions.’

Look at the traumatized, forcibly divorced,
shelterless Shaista Almani. A young, educated sane
Muslim girl from a remote town in upper Sindh, who
left her home and married Balakh Sher Maher against
her parents’ will. Since Balakh belonged to another
clan, her marriage with him was not only against her
parents’ will but also against her clan’s traditions
for Almanis do not marry their girls out of their
clan.

Pressure was mounted through different tribal
chieftains by the Almanis on the Maher clan for the
early retrieval of Shaista. Sensing a bloody tribal
feud and a political backlash for Maher tribe, the
chief sardar of the Maher clan reportedly managed to
pressure Balakh for divorcing Shaista. However, the
timely intervention by the judiciary did save Shaista
from being crucified at the altar of karo-kari by the
Almanis. She lost Balakh, who gave her a "forced
divorce" for whom she put her life at stake and even
left her family and tribe.

Take Afsheen Mussarat’s case, for example. A computer
science graduate from Multan, an adult sane Muslim
girl, she wanted to marry her maternal cousin and
classfellow, but her parents forcibly married her to
her paternal cousin. Later, she ran away with her
maternal cousin and the duo took refuge with some
family acquaintances in the upcountry. Afsheen’s
parents, after tracking her down and convincing her
that she would be pardoned and allowed to live with
her husband, managed to bring her back to Multan. Few
days later, she was reported dead. It was only after
some NGOs and the media took up the case and launched
a campaign that President Musharraf took notice of the
case and ordered inquiry into it.

The initial inquiry and the medical report of the
exhumed body proved that she was strangd. Her
father, Mussarat Sahu, later confessed that he
single-handedly strangled her, but the medial report
claims that more than two people were directly
involved in her murder. While the authorities are
still to come up with the exact number of her killers,
the poor Afsheen lost her life.

Why had Shaista and Afsheen to suffer such a fate?
Their only crime was that they wanted to marry of
their own free will - the inalienable right granted to
them by their religion and the law of the land. The
punishment: one lost her husband through "forced
divorce" and the other was killed by her own parents
to ’save’ their ’honour’.

The heart-rending stories of helpless women are
endless. There is another horrendous addition. Ms.
Faiz Batool, an elderly woman councillor from
Sillanwali Tehsil in Sargodha District, was recently
paraded naked through a local bazaar by the members of
the Kalaryar tribe, an influential clan of the area,
in order to settle some old scores. The disgraced Ms.
Batool and her family are now reportedly being
pressured by the same influentials to withdraw the
complaint they have lodged with the local police
against the perpetrators of such barbaric crime.

It goes without saying that we are witnessing an awful
rise in such grisly and ghastly crimes against women
in our society which now occur on a daily basis, and
majority of them are not even reported. The worst is
that the perpetrators of such crimes are not brought
to book in the manner they should be.

The unabated, unquestioned oppression of women by male
chauvinists thus seem to have crossed all previous
moral and criminal benchmarks.A multitude of factors
contribute to such a sorry state of our women.
Widespread ignorance and illiteracy, compounded by
anti-women bias in our feudal polity, have not only
deprived women of their basic rights but also led to
their brutal oppression. As a consequence, the inhuman
practices of karo-kari, swara, walwar and other
barbaric customs and traditions are still intact in
this modern era and swallowing up the female populace
of our society at an unprecedented rate.

The feudal lords, who rule our rural areas like
personal fiefdoms, have always tended to tacitly
encourage such barbaric customs for their petty ends.
They fear that if they let their tribesmen disregard
the tribal traditions, they might lose their hold over
them. That is why they invariably discourage
enlightenment and mass awareness through education and
media.

On the other hand, the law enforcers and the local
authorities always appear to be in collusion with
these feudal lords in committing heinous crimes
against women. The police do not even bother to
register FIRs against them, not to speak of arresting
them. Left with no recourse, the victims either remain
silent to avoid inviting the wrath of the local lords,
or, in rare cases, approach the local courts. And only
on the intervention of these courts are the police
compelled to entertain the FIRs.

It is high time the government took drastic measures
to emancipate our women from age-old practices that
degrade and dehumanize them and enable them live a
respectable life. In this regard, the discriminatory
Hudood Ordinance must be revised and made
women-friendly. Female education should be made
mandatory through proper legislation, and the feudals
and tribals who oppose female education must be
prosecuted and punished.

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