Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has ordered authorities in the state of Punjab to take stern and immediate action against the perpetrators of a so-called honor killing. Farzana Iqbal, a 25-year-old pregnant woman was stoned to death on Tuesday, outside the Lahore High Court by her own family members, for marrying a man of her own choice. Sharif has demanded a thorough investigation into why the court police, who were allegedly in the vicinity as the heinous crime was being committed, did not intervene and stop the brutal stoning of the woman. All the suspects, except the father, who is in custody, are absconding. Among those being sought by the police are two brothers, cousins and a former fiancé of the slain woman.
According to the prime minister’s press official, the public murder of the young woman is “totally unacceptable” and prompt action has to be taken to ensure justice. The statement said that Sharif had directed the Punjab Chief Minister’s office to take immediate action and submit a report the same evening.
Even as the prime minister of Pakistan, a majority Muslim nation with a population of 180 million people, sent a scathing order to the local authorities, Shafiq Ahmad, Lahore’s police chief, denied the presence of any police during the commission of the crime. Ahmad said that police had seized the father, minutes after the stoning stopped but by then, Iqbal was already dead.
Iqbal was battered with bricks, for refusing to marry a cousin, who had been chosen for her by her family. Instead, she married Mohammad Iqbal, a 45-year-old father of five, whose first wife had died. Iqbal had gone to the court to testify that her marriage was genuine, while refuting charges of kidnapping and coercion brought against her husband by her family. The couple was waiting outside the heavily guarded courthouse gate on a busy thoroughfare, when they were attacked by a group of people, wielding a gun and bricks.
According to Muhammad Aurangzeb, Iqbal’s stepson, one relative fired a gun at her, then yanked at the scarf covering her head, pulling her to the floor. When one of her husband’s group members managed to take the gun, Iqbal was attacked by a woman cousin, who hit her with a brick. The stepson remembered how Iqbal begged them to stop, promising them money. According to him, there was a point when six people were striking Iqbal simultaneously as she kept screaming for mercy. When he tried to help the victim, the young man says he was beaten back by a group of more than 20 people. Finally, Iqbal stopped screaming.
Local news outlets have reported that Iqbal’s husband and her stepson begged the police to assist them but the police did nothing to stop the violence, which lasted 15 minutes. Iqbal said, “…I took off my shirt [as a gesture of supplication] and begged them to save her” but allegedly the police refused to help saying, “…this is not our duty.”
The apathy shown by the policemen, who were on duty at the time, can be assigned to a deeply held societal belief that a woman, who refuses an arranged marital relationship, and instead, marries a man of her own choice, brings dishonor to her family. Such dishonor can be redeemed by killing the source of the shame, which is usually the woman, who is said to have ‘strayed’ from the path of sexual and societal propriety.
Amidst global horror and anger at the brutality of the honor killing in Pakistan, Prime Minister Sharif ordered immediate action but many activists claim that this murder could have been avoided, if proper laws had been implemented. Iqbal’s lawyer, Rai Mustafa told the media that this was not Iqbal’s first encounter with her family. In an earlier incident on May 12, some of Iqbal’s relatives had barged into his office while she was there. At that time, Mustafa’s colleagues were able to fend them off. Later, the same group attacked her near a local police station. Officers broke up the melee and held the attackers for a short period before releasing them without pressing any charges, Mustafa said.
Unfortunately for Iqbal, who was three months pregnant at the time of the final attack, the next public encounter would lead to her gruesome death. Even as the world reels under the horror of this public execution, the reaction within Pakistani media and society has been relatively muted. Pointing to the rising violence against women in the name of religious and societal mores, Farzana Bari, a women’s rights advocate said that the criminal justice system was failing. A group of 40 activists gathered in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, and protested against unpunished crimes targeting women, shouting, “Hang the killers of Farzana!” and “We don’t accept this injustice.”
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, there had been more than 850 honor killing-related attacks reported by the media in the previous year. But this is likely to be the tip of the iceberg since most cases are not reported and remain in the shadows. As Prime Minister Sharif ordered immediate action over the latest reported honor killing, women’s rights advocates in Pakistan hope that it would deter future gendered violence in the country, all in the name of family honor.
By Monalisa Gangopadhyay
The Globe and Mail
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