Another victim of misogyny or is it Shariah!

Just about everyone, including UN Commission on Human Rights, has heard and condemned how Farzana Iqbal was pelted with stones and bricks outside Lahore High Court. Farzana was attacked by her family including her father, brothers and former fiance because she chose a marry a man she loved and her family did not approve of that union. She died as a result of that attack, her unborn child also died with her. As if that was not tragic enough, the newspaper report manage to push in a quote by a useless policeman  judging the husband for fleeing the scene to save his life and not being there to die with his wife.  The exact line was

A police official said Muhammad Iqbal was not near Farzana as she was attacked but did not try to prevent the attack, instead saving himself from the members of her family.

It was a brutal crime – a horrific murder – that was committed in front of many witnesses but given the way shariah has literally screwed with most laws in Pakistan, the murderers would not be apprehended because this is how qisas and diyat roll. Your family, instead of state has the power to pardon or seek money instead of justice. As most honour killings are committed by families, they decide pardon.  Husbands, fathers and brothers kill their female family members with impunity because they know that they can get away with it. At times, when they feel like killing someone else, they kill a female member of the family along with the other person to save their hides citing honour killing as a valid reason.

A good 15 years ago, I was interning for a human rights organization and I was given the task to go to court with one of the lawyers and to report on the way court works from a layperson’s view. I was quite excited because I had never seen a real court room before. My colleague was representing a woman seeking khula because her husband was violent and a serial rapist. I naively suggested that getting divorced under those circumstances would not be difficult. My colleague, who spent most of her professional life dealing with douches of all variety was a lot less optimistic. We went in the court room and my colleague presented a couple of witnesses who testified that the husband was indeed a sadistic violent man. The judge seemed uninterested through out and looked outside the tiny window during most of the proceedings. The minute we stepped out of the court room and into the veranda, the husband grabbed his wife and started beating her right there, in that corridor, in front of literally hundreds of people.

My colleague and I tried to stop that man, but after he pushed my colleague too hard, I did not go after him and tried to get the police constables on the duty to stop him, they did nothing more that to verbally ask him to not beat his wife. In the mean time, my lawyer colleague caught hold of the judge presiding that case and asked him to order the police or other court officials to stop it. The judge’s response was something that I will not forget till the day I die. He asked my colleague if the couple are still under nikah which was stupid because the lawyer was arguing for dissolution of that same nikah only a few minutes back. He then went on and said that as long as the woman is married to that man, he cannot do anything about it as it is a domestic matter, in any case, the religion allows it  (Jab tak yeh aurat apnay shuhar ke nikah mein hain, hum kuch nahen kar saktay, yeh gherloo azdawaji mamla hai, waisay bhi  mazhab ne ijazat dee huee hai). The husband also got his message across that he basically owns his wife so he left his sobbing wife behind and walked out of the court as if he did not break multiple laws in front of many witnesses. That was the day I realized for the first time that I was a second degree citizen in my own country and it was not just misogyny but the argument supporting misogyny that is at fault. Yes, I am talking about religious legislation and religious sanction that basically endorses every misogynist idea – be it polygamy, underage marriage, making husbands and fathers wali, Qanoon-e-shahadat, qisas, diyat, hudood to name a few.

The incident that happened 15 years back in Karachi High Court is responsible in a way for what happened with Farzana outside Lahore High Court. If that  judge had taken action against public display of violence against the wife back then, it would have set a precedent and perhaps more judges would have shown sensitivity in matters of gender discrimination.

Every one and his dog has condemned this murder but condemnation is cheap, it did not save Farzana and nor will it save future Farzanas. Everything is set against women – the legislation is against women when they get half the share in inheritance and their witness is considered to be half of that of a man. The society favours men, the economy favours men by recognizing their labour and paying them more for the same job, the familial set up is designed to put men on the pedestal and it all is rooted in religion. As long as religion forms the core of the legislation and how we conduct ourselves in public and private spaces, things will not change. Continue to blame the tool, (man and misogyny) because that is necessary and take measures to deal with it but also blame the argument (religion and how it supports that men are superior, women are subservient etc) that feeds that tool. Unless we are brave enough to address that, things will remain the same.

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  • I’m not sure if religion is the culprit – or those who interpret it in a way that results in these incidents.
    And frankly, the vast majority of rural Pakistanis are too drowned in poverty to worry about God. They propagate social norms, rituals, customs and traditions – not religious knowledge. And society – not religion – teaches them that women are commodities. If they were truly Muslim, they’d learn from the Prophet’s life and those of his wives.

  • Hi Tazeen,

    There is not much to say about those horrific proceedings. A society that treats its members in this way will probably disappear slowly but certainly, triggered by its own inherent stupidity.

    On BBC World I saw some faces of people involved. They should be fed on grass.


  • Good article. Agree with all of it. Glad to see more Pakistanis are finally beginning to address the “holy” elephant in the room.

  • The incident of stoning to death of an innocent girl is tragic and condemnable in the strongest words. But linking it with the religion and Sharia is quite inappropriate. The religious scholar, religious party or any Islamic school thought in Pakistan or any part of the world support such horrific acts

  • Hi Tazeen

    I am not sure if you are talking about karachi or lahore courts . Because i myself has taken khula some 7-8 years back. The reason was medical issues on the other side which i was reluctant to discuss, so my lawyer told me that you can give any reason, even if you want to say that “i don’t like his face” the judge is bound to grant you khula and it happen same way. I got just in one sitting with no arguments. So i don’t know why your colleague required witness? I understand it was easy at my end because both the sides are not violent . Problem occurs because the police standing outside the court room is hopeless and yes i am amazed on the judge remarks you have quoted.

    • I am not sure how it works. I think it is easily granted when the husband is not contesting it. There were children involved as well. But I will never forget the Judge’s face, that was the day I was truly terrified for the first time in my life.


  • Did the woman you were with at least get a divorce?

    • She did get the divorce in the end. That was the silver lining to the whole drama. Hats off to the non profit that dealt with her case.

  • Glad to see you have addressed the issue of religion in your country’s judicial system.
    Get it out of the system and you will see a marked improvement.

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