By Patricia Lee Sharpe
A father (with accomplices)beats his daughter to death right in front of the courthouse in Pakistan’s most sophisticated, most cultured, most refined city—and the police behave as if they’re watching TV! That this could happen in Lahore reveals the depths to which Pakistan has sunk. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, a brilliant lawyer and Pakistan’s Founding Father, would be aghast.
No One Intervened
Since there’s always a crowd around a courthouse in Pakistan, there would have been plenty of witnesses. Casual passers by, of course, and peddlers of snacks and soft drinks, but also many figures directly involved with courthouse routines. A dozen or more otherwise jobless graduates would have been writing letters and pleas for the illiterate. A swarm of opportunistic courthouse lawyers would have been hoping to pick up last minute clients. The more successful lawyers and their assistants would have been going in and out, pursuing their more profitable advocacy. Trial witnesses, family members, unrelated observers, journalists, miscellaneous court employees, shoe shine boys and barbers squatting on mats—these, too, would have been close enough to intervene, close enough to save a young woman’s life. But no one did.
A crowd, then, plus the police, but not a soul rushed forth to restrain the father and his cronies in order to rescue the girl, who was pregnant, though that wouldn’t have been evident. Her killers didn’t have guns, only bricks and stones they’d picked up and put to use, but still the police did nothing. They just stood there, sympathizing with the father who was beating a young woman to a pulp right before their eyes.
Propping Up the Male Ego
This was a so-called honor killing, the cold-blooded slaughter of a daughter who defies patriarchal authority and marries the man of her choice, which has nothing to do with badmouthing Islam. It’s a cruel anachronism, a tribal matter, a clan custom, an unwritten relic of a cruder age. There’s absolutely no case here for the capital crime of blasphemy. Yet, even if there were, a death sentence belongs to the courts, not the mob.
What’s more, Lahore isn’t in North Waziristan where brutal tribal imperatives still reign more or less unimpeded. No, the victim and her assailants don’t hail from some remote mountain valley. Their village is located in prosperous Punjab, a mere fifty miles from the city. People there would enjoy TV and mobile phones. Most likely ox power has long since been supplanted by tractors, and bicycles are giving way to motorcycles and even cars.
The Key is Impunity
So, no, this father didn’t kill out of simple tribal obligation. He killed because his will was thwarted, because he’d wanted to use his daughter as a tradeable, sellable property to further his own ends, but she’d defied him, which meant he’d lost face and so, since he expected to get away with it, he set out to redeem himself by killing her. As he would have known all too well, “honor” killing, in Pakistan, is seldom punished. Families and clans close ranks. Spineless witnesses refuse to testify. Male judges side with murderous fathers and male relatives. And so, every year, countless girls and women are slaughtered with impunity……
….Indeed, they certainly are! The latest news reveals that the victim’s husband had murdered his first wife a few years ago,* which suggests that the father, if he knew about this (and how could he not have known, in a village?), had at least one good reason for not wanting his daughter to marry the guy. Even so, daddy did not have the right to kill the foolish headstrong girl.
What a melodrama! In the environs of sophisticated Lahore: two women dead, one murderer free (thanks to a payment of blood money) to marry again, the other also likely to escape punishment. Poor fellow! His slut of a daughter wouldn’t obey him! I hope that daddy doesn’t have another independent-minded daughter—or his wife doesn’t make eye contact with the milkman.
The Legal Shell Game
Pakistan has the semblance of a modern legal system, but it’s mostly an empty shell when it comes to women’s rights. More often than not, the police don’t protect or arrest, the state doesn’t prosecute and the courts don’t convict.
It’s fairly easy to ignore an honor killing in the tribal areas, but this one took place in front of innumerable witnesses right in front of a courthouse in the elegant city of Lahore. This, then, is a very important test case. Will this father be held responsible for killing his daughter in cold blood? Even if the father is charged with a crime, it will probably take years for the case to work its way through the system. Will anyone see that justice is done?
*She evidently resisted sharing her husband with a second wife, so he killed her and avoided prosecution by paying blood money to their son, who says he’s satisfied!!!!