Celebrating the 'culture' of burying women alive
The News, September 03, 2008
Dr Farzana Bari and Sarwar Bari
In the midst of massive political, economic and social crisis faced by the country, the shocking news of the barbaric incident of burying five women alive in the name of tribal honour in the district Nasirabad, Balochistan, and the subsequent defence of the brutal act as the Baloch tradition in the Senate by Israrullah Zehri and Jan Mohammad Jamali, has made many think that with such a misogynist and criminal mindset of our public representatives, what hope do we have to survive as a nation and pull ourselves out of multiple crises. The response of the senators from Balochistan is a repeat of the response of Ajmal Khattak of the ANP and some other members of the senate who defended the "honour killing" of Samia Imran by her family in 1991 as the Pukhtun tradition.
The way provincial government tried to cover up the incident and manipulated the local administration and the law enforcement agencies because of the alleged involvement of Abdus Sattar Umrani, a brother of Sadiq Umrani, provincial minister of housing shows that there is no hope for justice for the poor and women as long as tribal, feudal and monied classes continue to dominate the social and political structures of our country. Due to the involvement of tribal influential in the gory incident, no FIR was registered. It was only after one and a half month that the Balochistan High Court took a suo moto action and ordered the registration of a FIR. However, the Quetta High Court has already disposed of the case as DPOs and the local administration denied that any such incidents took place in the area. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) investigated the case and brought irrefutable evidence to the public attention to prove that this human tragedy did in fact take place. They have already sent the case with all the supporting evidence to the United Nations Court of Human Rights. Our Senate finally passed a resolution to condemn the incident and has set up an inquiry committee to investigate the case. However, no one from the civil society or human rights organisations is invited to be on this committee.
The public uproar regarding the incident and the statements made by the two Baloch Senators, is highly justified. However it is important for us to understand why the male elite in tribal, feudal and sardari cultures is so obsessed with controlling women's lives and their sexuality. This will help to come up with a more informed and comprehensive response to such incidents.
It must be understood that gender and class are the two key organising principles in the social and cultural formation of tribal, feudal and capitalist societies. The dual system of exploitation and oppression works in tandem. The hierarchy in gender relations cuts across class lines and men irrespective of their class position directly benefit from the subordinate status of women. Therefore, when the tribal and feudal lords exercise their absolute power by doling out the most inhuman punishment to protect cultural norms and traditions that help to keep women under the control of men, they get the support of the majority of men and some women who subscribe to masculine thinking from their communities and tribes. By reinforcing and recreating the gender status quo they acquire the legitimacy for their authority and absolute power to maintain other social hierarchies of class and social differences. Since gender inequalities reinforce class formations, it becomes absolutely critical for local power elite to ensure that no threat is posed to the existing gender status quo in their culture.
That is why any challenge to the gender status quo in these areas is taken far more seriously and is considered more threatening to the local culture than any other challenge coming from other sections of the society. That is why in the case of transgression of the local traditions and customs, the most inhuman and barbaric punishments are awarded to women to teach them and others a lesson. This is done so that no one dares to speak or challenge the tribal and feudal status-quo by taking a decision about their own lives again.
Also, it is equally important to understand why these male politicians especially belonging to tribal and feudal regions enjoy so much impunity and make such chauvinistic statements on the floor of the parliament without any fear and public reprimand. One of the reasons is that women are considered neither a constituency nor a vote bank by these politicians. Women are not autonomous citizens who are free to exercise even their right to vote with their own free will, therefore, the politicians do not take them seriously.
Political parties secure women votes indirectly through the male members of their families. Therefore, male politicians are often more concerned to represent and protect the interests of men in their constituency as they face no political consequences by ignoring women voters and their concerns.
The deeper conceptual understanding of gender based crimes such as the recent incident of five women buried alive in Balochistan demands a much more comprehensive and structural response from the public and the state in order to prevent and protect women from gender based violence and crimes.
Our first immediate demand should be the impartial professional inquiry and investigation of the case and then bringing the culprits to justice. The most stringent punishment should be awarded to those who will be found to be involved in committing this heinous crime. In past experiences when inquiry committees were formed and suo moto notices were taken on the violation of women's rights there were no concrete results. A similar committee was constituted in the case of Samia Imran who was killed with the support of her mother in the office of AGHS in 1991. No one in her case has been given any punishment to-date as her father Sarwar Mohmand was a socially and politically influential man. He was the president of the Chamber of Commerce of Peshawar and thus managed to escape from the grip of the law. Therefore, it is suggested that if the government is serious in making this incident a test case, they must include representatives of women and human rights organisations in the inquiry committee. Also there should be a clear timeframe for this committee to submit its report and the conclusion of the case. Otherwise such inquiry committees have become to be known as delaying mechanisms to kill the matter.
Another important step is to immediately purge both houses of parliament from this misogynist tribal/feudal mindset. People who subscribe to such criminality, should be declared disqualified as they shame all of us. It is vital that the political parties take action against such legislators and cancel their party membership. Civil society organisations should not allow the case to rest, rather they should take it up in a court of law, as the statement made by Israrullah Zahri is in complete violation of article 25 of the Constitution. Both senators, Asrarualla Zahri and Jan Mohd Jamil, should be disqualified from the Senate.
Finally, it is high time that the government takes concrete steps to abolish the feudal and tribal systems in the country as this creates the structural basis for women's vulnerabilities and all forms of violence against them. We need to remove structural barriers to gender quality and empower women socially, economically and politically so that they can emerge as a constituency whose interests cannot be dared to be ignored by the political parties and the power elite.
Farzana Bari is acting director of the Centre of Excellence in Gender Studies at Quaid-e-Azam University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Sarwar Bari is national coordinator of the Pattan Development Organisation. Email: email@example.com
No 'honour' in killing - Beena Sarwar, The News