Farzana Iqbal, a 24-year-old Pakistani woman was stoned to death in a horrific incident of honor killing outside the Lahore High Court for marrying against the wishes of her family. The pregnant woman, whose maiden name was Farzana Parveen, was attacked with bricks outside the high court building by over two dozen assailants, including her brothers, cousins and father.
While the remaining assailants fled, Iqbal’s father, Mohammad Azeem surrendered on the spot and was quoted by Rana Mujahid, a police investigator, as saying that he killed his daughter because she had insulted the family by marrying a man without their consent, and that he had no regrets. Police official Mushtaq Muhammed said police were seeking five other family members – two brothers and three cousins, who were absconding.
Iqbal was on her way to the Lahore court to testify against her family, who had charged her husband, Mohammad Iqbal, with kidnapping and coerced marriage. She was going to assert that she had married her husband out of her own choice, having rejected a family-approved arranged marriage to her cousin. The decision to marry for love would result in the murder of Iqbal and her unborn child.
According to Mustafa Kharal, the woman’s attorney, the incident occurred when his client’s family attacked the couple, fired shots into the air, and tried to snatch the three-month pregnant Iqbal from her husband. Upon facing resistance, they started beating the woman and then hurled bricks from a nearby building site. According to Iqbal, the women of his wife’s family held her down and helped the men kill her. Shockingly, the violence against the couple occurred on a busy thoroughfare of Lahore, and more than 30 witnesses stood by and did nothing to help the woman and her husband. This apathy, according to human rights activists, is because many Pakistanis believe that a woman marrying of her own choice brought dishonor to the family. According to Tahira Abdullah, a well-known women’s rights advocate, Pakistan is on a rapid path toward “extremist and un-Islamic interpretations of Talibanized Islam,” which are being compulsorily enforced upon society.
The gruesome honor killing is just one such example of increased radicalization. Iqbal, 45 started seeing Parveen, after the death of his first wife. He has five children. “We were in love. I simply took her to court and registered a marriage,” he said, which infuriated her family. He alleges that his wife’s family wanted to to get money from him before marrying her off to someone else.
As appalling as it is, honor killings and stoning of women are not unusual in Pakistan, though such public executions are rare. According to a local Pakistani women’s rights group, The Aurat Foundation, over a 1000 women are killed every year by their husbands or other family members for alleged adultery or deemed illicit sexual behavior, in the name of restoring family honor. This number is assumed to be a drop in the bucket since the group uses newspaper reports to compile their statistics while many such incidents of violence remain unreported.
While there is no mention of honor killings in the Koran and Muslim-majority Pakistan has passed a bill in 2004, which makes honor killing a punishable crime, studies have found that there is little awareness of the law in society and shockingly, within the police, the judiciary and legal professionals. Additionally, the 2004 law directly contradicts the Islamic law of Qisas and Diyat, which allows the family of a victim to ‘forgive’ the criminal, reduce the punishment or forgo it altogether. This religious loophole is regularly used by assailants to walk free after committing heinous murders in the name of family honor.
The unwillingness of the legal system to implement the law due to overwhelming social acceptance of the act, contradictory legislation, and the overarching power of jirgas or extra-judicial tribal court systems, which reserve the harshest punishments for women trying to buck the patriarchal system in place, has allowed many to get away with murder.
The honor killing of the Pakistani woman, who was brutally stoned to death in public has shocked many Pakistani activists. Zia Awan, a prominent lawyer and human rights activist expressed horror at the fact that the woman was killed outside a courthouse. However, many women’s rights advocates also noted that the reaction in the media has been relatively muted, and blamed it on a growing apathy within society towards rising extremism. But the bereaved husband appears steadfast in his focus to punish the killers of his young wife and unborn child. Addressing the issue of justice for his family, Iqbal, who is in his village Jaranwala, where has gone to bury his wife, said, “We demand justice, we were being threatened since we got married.”
By Monalisa Gangopadhyay