Centuries have passed, countless books have been written, technology has surpassed barriers, innumerable studies have been carried out yet the perception of a woman as mere possession is still remains deeply rooted. Many times a woman is equated with a few acres of land. She can be exchanged or be sold or killed for preserving the disposition of land. Nelson in his book “In the Shadow of Shariah” (2011) explains that the fundamental basis for gender inequality and the discriminatory customs against women have stemmed due to land itself. This can primarily be seen in post-colonial Punjab where the land and women are seen to have an old co-relation. The land denotes power for the tribal clan while the woman is seen as a tool of preserving the land by not making her a part of the inheritance as it is believed that once married her share of the land will lead to fragmentation of the local estate.
This prevailing custom has a direct effect on marriage patterns and the overall status of women especially regarding inheritance and disinheritance. Interestingly some cases of karokari or even honour killing happen under the garb of property issues between two tribes. These may not be cases of original karokari yet a woman is forsaken and killed to preserve land in the name of honour. These drastic orders by prevailing jirga system to kill under the false illusion of maintaining honour is because the jirga/panchayats that give decisions are clan based rather than caste based. Preservation of land means preservation of a clan, which has a direct relation with preserving women’s honour. Therefore in many cases it is that women who are married off in the same clan or tribe so that the land that they will inherit remains within the territorial jurisdiction of the same tribe. If she marries outside out of choice she is either killed in the name of honour or completely banished from the community. This concept is seen to be deeply rooted in rural Punjab and Sindh. Many of the vices prevailing against women have originated due to feud over land. The core issue here is the inherent indifference of man accepting the individuality of a woman, who is deemed as an easy substitute for an immovable property. This is the mindset that needs to be eradicated. There are laws such as the Muslim Family Law Ordinance 1961, and Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010, etc, that are pro-women laws. However while these may seem good on paper, it is a whole different story in reality. Even as a matter of practice, the formal courts are seen as a systematic tool that does not provide justice to a woman seeking legal refuge. The courts abuse the discretionary powers of evidence or delay by adjourning the matter. This aids and widens the gap of inequality towards women. The laws may exist but until the gender-biased mindset is not reformed, order and justice cannot prevail in society.
Woman and her role are much more than mere preservation of land and honour. Her victimisation needs to be curtailed by engaging with institutional and policy making members of the society through which reforms can be brought and implemented in reality. Many NGO’s in Pakistan have been effortlessly working by carrying out advocacy training of police, lawyers, judges, etc, to sensitise them regarding the importance and protection of woman in society rather than being preserved as a symbol of chastity, domesticity and honour. In the last century the sociological status of Pakistani women may have improved but this is restricted to the educated and advantaged group rather than the vulnerable and the weak. The lack of education in the rural belt of Pakistan is a major issue that leads to such heinous crimes committed against women.
Despite having laws in place, the government has failed to protect the vulnerable. Unless an act committed is followed by a severe punishment, there shall be no recourse. It can be said that it is the lack of will on the part of successive governments that has not allowed the laws for protection of women to be implemented. There is a need to prioritise the implementation followed by enforcement of penalty for serious crimes like rape and honour killings. This process has to be streamlined through perpetual training and educating those who hold powerful posts in the government. Only then can the process not be futile and we can see a promising and safe future for our next generation.
This article has previously been published in Pakistan Today.